It’s time for map makers to map wiser.
Let’s take this series of maps, aka small multiples, published in the New York Times Travel section this past Sunday as an example of a wise map graphic:
Maps like these start with a vision. That vision springs from the cartographer’s ability to empathize with the reader’s needs first and foremost. Don’t minimize risk by going with the old-standby single map with everything crammed together. Don’t try for maximum whiz bang by producing a widget-laden interactive map with non-relevant functionality. Think about the user, the reader, before choosing a format and act accordingly.
The vision that starts the map design process is informed by a thorough understanding of the discipline of cartography. For example, without a doubt the map makers knew about the small multiples technique* and many others before embarking on this particular map production. They have those types of map products, those “patterns”, in their toolkits, ready for action.
You need the vision and you need the tools. After that it is just a matter of having the smarts to put them together and, often, the boldness to present your potentially novel solution to the boss or the client. If you wax poetic on the ways in which your product meets the exact needs of the map reader, the map will be an easier sell than you think.
See Tufte’s book Envisioning Information.