Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Wind Map

March 29th, 2012

I haven’t seen something make the rounds of the twittersphere so often as I have this Wind Map over the last two days. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is taking note of this feat of stunning map animation.

The graphic shown below is just a static screen shot. Click the map to load up the actual page. Don’t forget to try zooming in because the animation persists at larger scales too. Bonus points if you can figure out how to get it to zoom back out.

A pair of visualization artists, Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg appear to be behind the magic, under the company name HINT.FM.

New Public Maps in Stavanger

March 26th, 2012

A cartography company called Stavanger Guide Maps Norway, headed by Kevin-Paul Scarrott, is the genius behind a series of 10 maps that have recently been placed in 10 locations around Stavanger, Norway.

According to Scarrott’s post on CartoTalk: “The idea behind the project is to encourage local citizens and incoming travellers to utilise the maps and information as a gateway for various regional activities and for onward travel. The Cruise ship travellers seem to appreciate the map of the Norwegian coastline, enabling them not only to see where they are heading for, but also where they’ve come from! (it’s one of the oldest travel conundrums: ‘I’ve been there, but I don’t know where it is!’)”

Scarrott’s obviously been very busy since launching Stavanger Maps last year (see my previous post on this here). I’m happy to see that the firm is doing well. I think I speak for everyone when I say thank you to Scarrott for providing some great inspiration.

About the New Book

March 21st, 2012

Today I wound up announcing on twitter a bit of information about my upcoming book. Here’s some more on that subject:

Tentative title: Cartographer’s Toolkit

Feedback on the use of the word “toolkit” is welcomed. There’s a definition on wikipedia for this word that states, “set of basic building units for graphical user interfaces,” and that is not the way in which the word is meant in this book. Hopefully the readers will understand that it is just a general term for a book of useful items that can be readily incorporated into their map-making processes.

Those items are:
1) Colors
2) Typography
3) Map Composition Patterns

Yes, you guessed it: the colors and typography portions of the book will be very similar to the ebooks that I sell on these subjects. The difference is that they have been reformatted for a full-color print book that can be distributed on all the major channels. The aim has always been to get everyone who makes maps the tools they need to make them better. Widening the distribution to Amazon and other outlets gets closer to that goal.

The third chapter is something that, to the best of my knowledge, is the very first time that “patterns” have been created for the cartography field. The word “pattern” is used in this book in the same way that it is used in software design. You could probably substitute the word “type” as in “Map Composition Types” for the chapter except that a few of the patterns aren’t really types of maps but rather, say, a certain way of making a map. More specifics on this will probably be included in an upcoming post.

We are hoping to get the book out to the printer sometime in April. For now, I can show off one of the double-page proofs of the Typography chapter, albeit in a low resolution (this is just a page proof and is subject to change):

To those who have been asking: yes, this book will be self-published. This effort, however, has not been a solo one. Big kudos go to the great book designer Erik Jacobson of Longfeather Book Design and all those amazing cartographers who’s work will be featured in the book (to be listed in an upcoming post), and to all those who have thus far reviewed various sections of the book, and to those who are on-board to review the entire book once the complete proofs are done.

I’ll definitely be posting more about the book as we gear up for the final push.

Easy Way to Make Maps

March 21st, 2012

There are non-GIS people out and about who are looking for super-easy ways to make maps. Maybe they need to put a dot where their city is for an office presentation. Maybe they need to show a few polygons of their study-area for a thesis. Maybe they need a detailed jpeg showing a map of their area for their website.

Imagine these people as folks who don’t even know the term GIS (see this post for a discussion on explaining GIS concepts to non-GIS people). What do you think they are going to do?

Maybe they’ll take a screen-shot of Google Maps, or put a pin on Google Earth and take a screen-shot of that. Those are the first two things that I’m pretty sure those folks are going to think about doing. Is there any other main-stream way of creating a quick map that these people will think of? Even ArcGIS online is A) too new for these types and B) a bit too confusing (i.e., will the map have to be public, etc.?) for them.*

These aren’t people we want to marginalize, we’ve got to be thinking of them, their needs, and where they are going to turn. They are the bulk of the people out there who need our help.

There are some start-ups out there like mapbiquity (I’m affiliated) to meet this need. Add any you can think of in the comments, please.

*Unfortunately they use the phrase “dissemination of geospatial information” on the welcome page to ArcGIS online. This is, essentially, industry jargon that will put off a casual, one-time user.

Ambiguity Aversion Applied to Map Making

March 16th, 2012

Have you heard of ambiguity aversion? This is the theory that when faced with an unknown probability, people are less willing to take a risk than when they are faced with a known probability. It was first defined by Daniel Ellsberg in 1961 (HT Peter L. Bernstein, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk). In other words, if you know a lot about a subject, you will be more willing to take a risk on it than if you know little about it. Bernstein’s example is “People who play dart games…would rather play darts than games of chance, although the probability of success at darts is vague while the probability of success at games of chance is mathematically predetermined.”

Reading about this the other day reminded me of a hypothesis that I proposed over a year ago at Ignite Spatial Northern Colorado. The hypothesis is that a professional cartographer probably creates twice as many drafts of a map prior to publication that a novice does.

There are a couple of big risks involved with creating twice as many map drafts. For one, there is a time risk: will putting in twice the time and effort produce a much better map or only a marginally better map? For two, there is an emotional risk: will allowing the map to be peer-reviewed (peer-review being a likely contributing factor toward increasing the number of drafts required) be too upsetting? Don’t take that second risk too lightly. A map is much like a piece of art; without a doubt, at least part of the map maker’s soul has been poured into it.

A professional cartographer has learned that these risks are worth taking. A novice cartographer may go to final publication before putting enough time into making the map better via extra drafts and before doing any peer-review. Those risks create an ambiguity in terms of potential return for a novice.

Now, the parallel I’m drawing here isn’t completely clear. With ambiguity aversion, both outcomes could have equal chances for success, or the more ambiguous one, as in Bernstein’s example, may even have a better chance for success than the known risk. With my map example, the ambiguity lies mostly with the novice–who doesn’t know that making more drafts can make the map better and therefore stops before a truly great map is produced.

However, the analogy falls apart a bit when considering the professional cartographer: the professional knows the risks of both actions: more drafts or finalizing prematurely and is better able to choose between them with the experience that they have. In this way I can’t draw a completely accurate example of ambiguity aversion.

The hope is that this discussion still helps to further your understanding of the risks associated with making extra map drafts and that those risks are worth the extra effort.

Increase Memory Retention via Bad Maps?*

March 13th, 2012

The Harvard Business Review ran an article this month** about a study that shows that in educational environments, textbooks where the text is written in an uncommon font, especially a hard-to-read font, are providing better retention of the material than textbooks written in traditional fonts. The theory is that these fonts make the reader work harder, and in so doing, the reader remembers the material more. Perhaps the effort that we take in comprehending something is positively correlated with ability to remember that information. This makes sense.

Now let’s just take this to what you might be guessing is my logical, although potentially quite fallable, follow-on idea: maybe maps that are hard to read, that are so awful that they make the map reader really study them just to get some basic understanding out of them, increase the map reader’s ability to remember their content?

Now, the fear with this idea, and with the textbook study as well, is that if something is hard to read, a casual audience may just skip it completely rather than try to decipher it. This would be especially true when the material is not something that the reader, or map reader, is expecting to be tested on.

However, we might want to experiment with some variables in map design to see if it holds true. Cartography thesis anyone? The obvious variables to test would be maps with garish colors, or hard to distinguish colors; hard to read fonts on the labels; or confusing line work that overlaps and intersects. Hey, maybe there’s a use for this map afterall!

*I’m not seriously suggesting you make bad maps, people! It’s just an idea for further exploration. :)
**Hard-To-Read Fonts Promote Better Recall, Harvard Business Review

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration