Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Web Mapping Basics: Some Good Resources

September 30th, 2011

I’ve been getting deeper into web mapping lately, and have started to accumulate some good resources for learning. Here are the sites I’ve been using. I’m sure there are a lot of others to add. Please let us know what they are in the comments!

  • Don Meltz’s Geo Sandbox blog series wherein he gives us the play-by-play as he implements his own web mapping server from home.

  • This OpenGeo Architecture white paper describes what’s in the OpenGeo map stack. It also mentions what the alternatives are, which is great if you have no idea in the first place.

  • Take Control of Your Maps is a well written introduction to the map stack (hint: memorize what the map stack is, there will be a quiz later. Okay, not really but you should definitely know what this term means).

  • This JavaScript tutorial is simple and easy to plow through.

If what you really want is for someone else to do this for you, check out mapbiquity. It’ll host your shapefiles, which you can style the way you’d like, and put them on a nice basemap. It gives you a small amount of HTML code to place on your website and that’s all there is to it.

If you are creating a web map from scratch but need help getting your GIS data created (say you need the locations of your school districts delineated, for example), then let me know because I’ve been doing a lot of that kind of GIS data prep-work lately and would be happy to help you out too!

Mapping Laughs

September 26th, 2011

I’ve been wanting to add to the “Crazy” category (See categories, at right) on this blog for a while but had too much “serious” content to get through first. So finally, here’s another Crazy entry. This special map cake comes to us courtesy of the Cake Wrecks blog:

Matt Rosenberg has posted a fine compilation of one-liners dealing with maps here including this one:
Q. Why didn’t the map have any meridians?
A. It was a map of a parallel universe.

And I couldn’t help but post this t-shirt design from BustedTees. You see, sometimes the map can be really simple and still get the point across!

Map Generalization

September 22nd, 2011

Feature generalization is a key cartographic concept missing from many GISer’s skillsets. There are quite a few ways to generalize a feature layer*, but the big one that tends to get overlooked by the GIS crowd is line smoothing. For example, a detailed county boundary dataset is great when you are mapping just a few counties but if you are mapping the entire U.S., you want to have fewer vertices, especially around the shorelines, where the line can get quite complicated. If the scale is the entire U.S. those shorelines do not need to be representing every single bay and inlet as if it were a local boating map.

To smooth lines in ArcMap you have to have the ArcEditor license or above. You use the Advanced Editing toolbar, generalization tool after making sure the data are in an edit session (via the editor toolbar). If you’re in Illustrator, there’s always the smooth tool and the path > simplify tool. Or you can just find another dataset that’s already smoothed (for example, detailed counties versus general counties). If you are using ArcView (now called ArcGIS for desktop basic) you can get ET Geowizards and use the smooth polylines or smooth polygons operations.

The basic idea is that while we GIS professionals are very much interested in maintaining the integrity of our data, this often is to our detriment when we try to create cartographic quality maps out of data that’s meant more for analysis than for information display.

*Other ways include: merging features, changing data (from counties to continents as you zoom out to a world-wide scale, for example), and removing labels.

Map Elegance: Putting the Data First

September 16th, 2011

If I give someone a map and they talk about the map more than the data, I have failed.
~Kristin Warry, GISgroup, LinkedIn

Assuming your map audience isn’t cartographers*, this statement is a perfect way to describe how effective map design should be in most cases: extremely usable. It takes very good design skills and a lot of time to make a map that is so useable that people forget about the mode of communication and listen only to the message.

Some of the best examples of informative and non-showy mapping come from the New York Times. Here are a few:

Hurricane Irene Damage Map

Joe Burgess, Amanda Cox, Alicia Parlapiano, Archie Tse, Lisa Waananen, Tim Wallace

Mapping America, Census Map

Matthew Bloch, Shan Carter, Alan McLean

Super Bowl 2011 Twitter Chatter Map
Twitter Chatter Super Bowl New York Times Map
Matthew Bloch and Shan Carter

* If you show a map to cartographers, of course they’ll talk about the map design. A few other exceptions exist as well, such as when a map is made primarily for advertising purposes, in which case it may be more beneficial to make something outlandish that attracts attention first, and is useable, second. Another exception is brand-new map design inventions, which may take a while for people to become accustomed to before they pay attention the actual data (e.g., subway map style, the recent facebook friendship map.)

World Map Note Cards

September 15th, 2011

As you know, I’ve been fooling around with map art lately. Yesterday and today I’ve been working on the global map series shown above. These would be perfect for note cards – with the map on the outside, and blank inside – for thank you notes and whatnot.*

So I added three new products to my long-ago abandoned cafepress shop with the designs. I like cafepress because I don’t have to do any of the printing or order fulfillment myself. I didn’t mark up the price much at all. Cafepress charges $9.99 for a pack of 10 note cards as their base price and I added a $1.01 mark-up. So they cost $11.00 for a pack of 10. That’s right, I’ll be getting rich soon. You know, if about a million people buy them.

The images were first exported from ArcMap as .ai files at 800 dpi and set to the size of the note cards, which is 4.5″ by 5.75″. Then they were imported into Illustrator where I fooled around with effects until I got them to look much better. I used page 39 and page 35 of Colors For Maps for the colors (except in the case of the black/white map, of course).

If you want to buy some from the store, I’ll be so grateful for the extra coffee money.

my new cafepress store

*Sorry, Glenn (@gletham) but I’m not going to start a line of Target wallpaper anytime soon. :)

Recent Map Art News

September 14th, 2011

My recent attempts at map art (geoglitter map and Warholian maps) have nothing on these two installations that were in the news yesterday:

1) David Byrne’s “Tight Spot”

This is a giant inflated globe placed under the High Line. For those not in the know, David Byrne was a founding member of the Talking Heads and he’s done all kinds of things since then. This particular installation is located on an elevated park that runs through the West Side neighborhoods of the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen in New York.

The first article I read on it (here) shows the actual finished art piece:

There were a couple of interesting bits in the article, including the fact that the finished piece “. . . is different from the small models and renderings he’d sent off to the fabricators in Minneapolis.” I’m guessing that this photo, found on another site, shows one of these original renderings, since it certainly looks a lot different from the one above:

Another quote from the article, this one from Byrne himself can give you something to ponder, “The worst is to be told, ‘Oh, just do anything you want to do.’ Things tend to create themselves when you lay out all the rules.”

2) Jello Map

The only thing I have to say about this 6-foot long map of the U.S. made entirely with jello is that I have deep respect for anyone who can actually get a single bowl of jello to set-up, let-alone the amount that must have gone into this.


Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration