Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Penning Titles

October 31st, 2010

The titles of maps, presentations, and papers have many flaws.* Does anyone stop to think more than two seconds about the title of their work? Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. The major flaws in titles these days are twofold:

They don’t tell you about the work


They are boring

The problem with the first flaw is that you waste half your audience’s time because they thought they were going to look at, listen to, or read something different than what is actually being presented. Also, half the people who might have been interested are not paying attention because the title doesn’t tip off the subject matter adequately.

The second flaw is an aesthetic issue. A boring title does not necessarily guarantee a low audience count but a very interesting title, without a doubt, will increase the audience count. This is probably caused by the inordinately large number of instances of boring titles that audiences are bombarded with, making the audience somewhat immune to them but also thereby making the interesting ones stand out all the better.

A boring title is not necessarily bland. It might contain too much jargon or too many words, for example. A simple title that gets straight to the point is not necessarily boring. Some of my titles that I am particularly keen on include:

Remember, a good title leaves no doubt as to what the content is about. A great title hooks the audience. Have you heard any good titles lately?

*I know someone is going to think that papers in journals can’t possibly adhere to these guidelines. I really wish journal papers could have more interesting titles. Don’t you?

Mapbiquity Launched!

October 30th, 2010

My husband, Kris, just launched a new web service called mapbiquity. I’ve been given the okay to announce it on this blog and hopefully get some folks to go check it out!

Of course I am biased but I think it is an absolutely fabulous solution for people who don’t want to tinker with coding but who still want to put a map on their website. You upload your own shapefile(s) and style them – it has a great response time – see a preview of what you’re doing – then export to a couple of lines of html code that you can copy and paste into your own site. You can give it a test drive with some data that is already pre-loaded on there.

Pricing is pretty easy to figure out as it is based on the amount of storage space you need for your shapefiles. He plans to add support for raster data soon. He’s very receptive to comments and suggestions too!


October 27th, 2010

Trying to make a decent map with a lot of data? Relax.
Striving for perfection at work? Relax.
Solving a major problem? Relax.

High achievement does not come from stress and anxiety. The best ideas come from the subconscious, which is working on your problems while you are actively thinking about other things. There are many ways to relax.

One of them is to break your foot and the concomitant forced relaxation it causes. If you would rather read about how this works as opposed to actually doing it yourself, check out this great, short read: Life In the Slow Lane.

Here I am telling people to just relax already:

In reality I am making this seem too simple. The counter-argument is that slothfulness never got anybody anywhere either. It stands to reason that one must alternate between states of actively thinking about a problem with states of subconsciously thinking about it via relaxing. And it also follows that one must recognize when the problem is solved and then act on the solution.

On The Use Of Logos In Maps

October 26th, 2010

Logos are awful. They weren’t made to complement your map in any way, shape, form, or especially color. They were made for an entirely different purpose: perhaps for a letterhead or website. So not only do they look strange when placed on a map, geoprofessionals tend to slap them on the map layout without regard to anything except the fact that they were asked (or sometimes not even that!) to do so. It is so much better to simply mention the company name(s) in the text on the map. If you can’t get away with that, put the logos in a place where they are not seen right away. Definitely do not line up 5 logos on the very top of the map layout. This causes the map reader to sit there and “read” the logos first!

However, even though I am usually against these things, I’ve seen a few examples lately where some really good cartographers have managed to incorporate the logos very nicely. In these cases the color schemes for the maps complement the logo colors – most likely this was intentional – and the logo tends to blend in well enough and be in such a position that it does not overwhelm the rest of the map. I don’t know if this is a trend or not, but the most effective logos out there lately are on tourist maps. For example, the logo for a neighborhood or commercial association that sponsored the map might be placed in the lower-right hand corner.

Here’s an example from Daniel Gray who designed this for the City of Moncton. He even manages to place this logo effectively at the upper-right hand corner:

What are some of the challenges you’ve had with logos?

Geologic Map Units

October 25th, 2010

Two major standards for geologic map unit symbolization are the International Commission on Stratigraphy and the American standard. In general, younger map units are given light colors and older map units are given dark colors. However, not all organizations apply this methodology. Traditionally the legend is displayed with the youngest map unit at the top and the oldest map unit at the bottom. Often, the agency from which the data are received has a color and symbolization standard that should be asked for in conjunction with the data.

Lithology (type of rock) codes will have optional subscripts. These should be separated into their own attribute column so that they can be displayed on the map (if labels are desired) as subscripts. The subscript labels require a bit of advanced labeling knowledge.

See the USGS Suggested Colors for Geologic Maps (pdf) for more information as well as the International Commission on Stratigraphy.

More on ATMs: Who Knew?

October 23rd, 2010

Oddly enough, I’m flipping through the November 2010 Fast Company, which arrived in my mailbox yesterday, and see an article on ATM design! Apropos of my post on ATM design from the other day.

According to the article they are focusing even more on aesthetics (by way of futuristic looks, apparently, but also by way of simplification) with these new machines. The article, ATMs of the Future Boast Sleek Consoles, makes the claim that ATM producers want to improve their product because ATM usage has been declining. However, I wonder if this is misguided given the fact that ATM use might be more a function of how many people are using electronic point-of-sale transactions instead of cash.

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration