Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Free Graphics for Your Halloween Maps

October 27th, 2011

Mostly Ghostly Typeface Example
Mostly Ghostly typeface by Chad Savage

Horror Icon Set
Horror Icon Set, by David Arazim, via Smashing Magazine

Halloween Icons
Halloween Icon Set, by css creme

Esri Scary Symbols
ArcGIS Scary Symbols, by Esri. Esri symbols, for the most part, are very friendly. I had a hard time coming up with even these few Halloween-oriented point symbols. (I searched for “devil” and only came up with a dust devil symbol, for example!) From left to right we’ve got: vandalism fire, tree 4, ghost town, and skull and crossbones.

Mystery Map Critique

October 23rd, 2011

Today I happened across a map that has many problems, not the least of which is the fact that it appears to have been made in the year 2000 (or earlier) while it was actually designed and published in the year 2011. Back in 2000 this would have been a perfectly acceptable map. But times change, people. I’m not saying that map styles change as quickly as you change the channel on the TV, but there are some quality improvements to cartography that are made every few years or so. That’s not too much for professionals to keep up with. Even if your job is not map-making, per se; if you are publishing maps in any shape or form during your career, you need to pay attention to this stuff.

I’ve made lists of things you need to keep in mind when designing a map before on this blog. See here and here and here. But I feel the need to repeat myself from time to time, especially when a great new inspiration piece (!) comes to my attention. I’m not going to show the map that has made me sit down and right this. Who knows, I might run into this GIS person someday, and if I published the map and its author’s name, that might make things awkward. Just a bit. I mean, we all know in theory that we aren’t supposed to take this kind of constructive criticism personally, but I’m pretty sure that even the most stoic of us feels a bit of an ego set back when our work is critiqued.

So what I will do instead of showing the actual map is discuss the general problems with it and the potential solutions for it. I’m not advocating for anything advanced here like typography mapping, art mapping, 3D mapping, interactive mapping, or even super-professional cartography hall-of-fame mapping. I’m just letting you in on some simple modifications that could have been made in order to elevate this map to the current decade, and thus enhance its credibility and readability.

TITLE Use verbs in the title. Don’t use “Ocean Depth Seamless Endeavor Project,” * which is about as dull as bread without chocolate on it, and makes very little sense to most of us. Instead say something like, “Three Countries Agree to Share Ocean Depth Data.” Words like project should be avoided at most costs.

SUBTITLE Subtitles are fine. They can even include specific information to further explain something interesting about the data like, “53 new species out of 150 total, were found.” The subtitle should be offset in some way and be in a smaller font size.

BOXES You might be tired of hearing this from me, but it seems it needs to be re-said. Don’t use boxes around the map elements. White-space is enough of a separator. The boxes just don’t look good. I’m not sure how else to explain it. Oh yes, actually I do**.

COLOR I’m not usually a person who declares certain colors as not in fashion. In fact, I’ve never done so. Maybe I’ve never felt the need to before this. Anyway, don’t use this color as a background for the map page:

EXTRAS The scale bar and north arrow may be better placed on top of the map element itself, as opposed to being placed in the margins of the map page. It depends on what other things you have on the page, of course, but often you can squeeze those two items in there less obtrusively if they are over a non-essential part of the map.

That’s all I’ve got for this critique. Those changes wouldn’t have been hard to make and would have made it look so much better.

A little discussion about critique is probably warranted here. One of the problems with cartographic design has been its inaccessibility to the GIS analyst. Fearing critique or simply not thinking that one is up to the challenge of making good maps probably holds a significant portion of us back. Please don’t fear critique. Please don’t stop learning about cartographic principles just because you think you might make a less-than-stellar product. I’m probably still not at the top of my game cartographically speaking (check out the ** note below!), and yes, I still do make a lot of changes (both client led and colleague led) to my work in between design, production, and publication. It’s through these processes that we make ourselves better, and they are not to be avoided, but embraced!

*That example was made up, in case you couldn’t tell.
**Though the map on that post is really embarrassing. For need of a quick example, apparently I didn’t do anything about those awful colors.

The Morning’s Geo-reading

October 18th, 2011

Coming to us via Jill Terlaak (@geofeminia) and David H (@dvdhns) is a story by Mathew Ericson When Maps Shouldn’t Be Maps. This is a well put-together piece discussing the fact that some data are good for mapping; some data are better illustrated via graphs, charts, and other information layouts; and some data are better for behind-the-scenes analysis.

From @gisuser and written by Greg Rose (@gregrose), is a feature article in GISuser on How to Land that Entry Level GIS Job. Especially helpful is Rose’s assertion that you need to be creating your own GIS analysis and cartography to show off at interviews. I know I would be impressed if an entry-level candidate were to show initiative like that. I would add that sample work like that should be real-world oriented, tell a good story, and be easy to discuss in an interview. When discussing your sample work in an interview, be sure to elaborate the middle of the story so that you can discuss what challenges you encountered and how (or if) you solved them.

The NACIS 2011 cartography and information design conference was just held. Several of the presentations have been made available and can be found on this CartoTalk thread. So far Hans van der Maarel (@redgeographics) has posted slides on improving text placement, Robert Roth has posted his slideshare link on the topic of interactive cartography, a link to Aaron Straup Cope’s art in cartography ideas is posted, and Mamata Akella’s presentation on online basemap design is also linked to.

Sharing with the Community

October 13th, 2011

What things are you doing to share your knowledge with the cartography, GIS, or developer community? Everyone, even the newest professional, has something that they are adept at and that the rest of us can benefit from learning. What things are you doing that help create community, involve people, and allow for flourishing networks? Things you should consider doing are listed here. Feel free to chime in with any list items that I’ve left out.

  • Submit a map to a conference map gallery
  • Give a talk at: a conference, a university, a community college, your organization
  • Start a brown-bag series at work
  • Start a lightening talk gathering (Ignite Spatial, perhaps?) in your town
  • Write-up how you did something and submit the how-to as a guest-post on a blog
  • Make a screen-capture movie of your map or analysis process and share it on YouTube
  • Write a book or manual and publish it (if it isn’t graphics intensive it is relatively easy to self-publish these days!)
  • Submit an analysis or technique write-up to a GIS journal
  • Submit an article idea to a GIS periodical
  • Give an online workshop, webinar, teleconference , or google+ hangout on a subject you are passionate about
  • If you have a question, post that question somewhere so others can benefit from the answer(s) too
  • Be interviewed by a publication about your job duties, requirements, and accomplishments
  • Teach a class
  • Be a visiting speaker for a local community college’s GIS class
  • Be a conference exhibitor
  • Host a breakfast meet-up with colleagues

haakon_d HÃ¥kon Dreyer
@PetersonGIS Good post; could a mention of gis.stackexcange.com be an idea?

CityMaps’ Cartography

October 11th, 2011

The cartography on citymaps.com is a unique departure from Google, Bing, and Yahoo map styling. CityMaps, which launched in June 2011, uses a basic grayscale basemap of roads and city blocks to form the basis of its map, which contains rich information about store locations. The store locations are depicted via logos in some cases and typography in others at the “hood” zoom level and the block zoom level. There is also clickable real-time information from twitter and coupon sites. While restricted geographically at the moment, they do have plans to expand to cities other than New York.

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration