Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Map Critique Friday

November 14th, 2014

It’s time to play…

What’s Wrong With This Map?

Take a look, jot down what you think, then see if your ideas match mine. If they don’t, let us know what you think is good/bad about this map.*



  • The legend is old-school. Needs to be more of a floating-type. Maybe in the ocean area at lower-left without the white background and most certainly without the black border.
  • Blue vegetation fill? Avoid pattern fill like this where possible. Especially the use of blue pattern for vegetation. I thought it was denoting wetlands at first.
  • Bright yellow roads near thick red highways are evocative of McDonald’s signs. These colors clash.
  • We know they used the default legend-making button in the software here. Because of the black outlines around the symbols, when the map, in fact, does not have black outlines around either the vegetation or the urban areas (which it shouldn’t, but neither should the legend).


*No offense to the creator of the map or to The Economist–which happens to be one of my favorite things to read when I’m traveling. I’m not above making mistakes. Look at one of the slides I tried to make for a talk, which didn’t turn out too well. Inkscape is still my friend, but we did get in a fight during the making of it.

stab me in the eye with this whiteboard



  • Hannes says on: November 15, 2014 at 3:50 am


    In addition to your points I would say it is cluttered. The OSM basemap is really not a good all-purpose background. I guess this map is relevant for locals mostly. They would not need all those roads as references or even their classification. The things this map is about (Vegetation vs built-up area) are not the most prominent aspect.

  • Koen says on: November 17, 2014 at 2:54 am


    With everyone having his own opinion on this, it is hard to discuss what makes a map attractive. It is not my cup of tea, but perhaps someone else would find this great. I try to avoid repeating patterns like this one as much as possible. It looks a bit like a mess. And blue for vegetation? You are very right on this one :-)The legend does not bother me that much. It is clear and to-the-point. Using no fill behind the legend may work for this map (and I agree, it would be much nicer), but when you have a project involving several maps it is hard to avoid using some sort of background fill behind the legend and yet make everything as readable as possible. To make it less hard to the eye I sometimes add some opacity to the fill and no black border. I did not know it was that much of a problem when using black borders around the symbols. I never really thought about it.Thanks for your map game :-) It is fun to discuss things like this.

  • Marc G says on: November 17, 2014 at 7:14 am


    Yeah the visual hierarchy is all wrong. I assume that the most important parts of the map are the vegetation and built-up areas as they are in the legend, but they almost blend into the background.

  • Chris says on: November 18, 2014 at 2:39 am


    Since the map is based on OSM data using a derivative of the standard OSM style it should be noted that the blue pattern is in fact denoting wetland, not vegetation – this wetland here happens to be vegetated wetland (mangrove) but the pattern was intended for generic wetland use (for which it is also unsuited though since it implies vegetation – a matter which is subject to discussion in OSM style development).

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration