Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Kindergarten Lessons for Cartography

May 21st, 2012

Inspired by Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:

  • Repetition is key to learning.
  • Don’t be afraid to make a mess. But clean it up at some point.
  • No throwing your map, whether it is finished or not.
  • If you make up a new way to map or create data, share it.
  • You can build on an idea that’s not yours if you modify enough that it becomes yours.
  • Take a nap if your first attempts fail. A well-rested mind may be just the ticket.
  • If you are still stuck, ask a pal for help.
  • Learn from others sometimes, make up your own solutions other times.
  • Don’t let the loud-mouths/critics get you down.
  • Don’t put things where they don’t go: the spatial accuracy police is omnipotent.
  • When you are finally finished and satisfied with the results, go ahead and pat yourself on the back.

Global Patterns, Local Exceptions

May 18th, 2012

Yesterday a graduate student asked about my farmers’ market analysis, because she is TA-ing a university course on data collection methods and research. Her questions reminded me to alert her to the fact that data patterns are not necessarily constant across scales. For example, farmers’ market correlations may be seen in a global or national dataset but may not be prevalent at the local city level. Conversely, patterns seen at the local city level may not be seen in the national or global map.

Furthermore, focusing on local exceptions instead of global or national regularities, may be more meaningful, especially if the data are a high enough resolution to provide adequate insight. While I’m not sure if the farmers’ market dataset from the USDA will show patterns at a local level, I’m sure that it is a good thing to try. This approach also allows a more intricate data quality assurance, because with fewer datapoints (less than 20 per city), they can easily be verified and added to as needed if one is looking at just a single city.

This discussion reminds all of us analysts that “it might be incorrect to assume that the results obtained from the whole data set represent the situation in all parts of the study area.”* I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on this.

*See Quantitative Geography by A. Stewart Fotheringham, Chris Brunsdon, and Martin Charlton for further reading (p11 especially).

Books on Radar

May 15th, 2012


Information Graphics by Sandra Rendgen, to be available via Taschen May 27, 2012, looks like it will be an enormous book of both importance and physical weight. It’s 8 pounds, 480 pages, and from what I can discern, almost entirely graphics. James Cheshire reports that the information graphics featured as examples in the book are not just good-looking, they are vetted for data integrity as well. I am ordering my copy today and am expecting it will provide numerous inspiration pieces for map layout, colors, typography, and data display. There is no limit to the amount of inspiration we need in our daily creative lives. The price is hardly prohibitive either, considering the content and the possibilities for enhancing your future work.


Gaining Competency With GIS: How-to Manual for ArcGIS Desktop Version 10 by Gregory Newkirk and Trevor Perkes is an 80 page kindle book released a few months ago, priced at $7.95. I haven’t read it because, well, I don’t have a need to learn ArcGIS considering I’ve been using Arc (and predecessors) since ’98, but the look inside feature shows that it could be a great little introduction to the software. I always think that an introductory text should be short, sweet, interesting, and full of pictures. Later texts can get into the nitty-gritty details, but introductions should be designed to make things gentle and easy. If that’s what you’re looking for, then this looks like a good, cheap way to go as it appears to have all of those things.

Book Update

May 14th, 2012

I’ve been getting some questions about the forthcoming book release. This is a good sign. :)

We are putting the finishing touches on it right now. The book cover and a few last minute edits are all that remain. We’ll aim to have it available for purchase–via your book retailer of choice, or through the library, though you usually have to make a special request at your library for a niche book like this–within the next month. A list of map makers who contributed to the the book were listed in a prior post.

For those who already have the Colors For Maps and Type For Maps ebooks, you will be interested to note that this upcoming book will be a print-version of those, plus an extra chapter on patterns (map techniques). The Colors chapter will also have the addition of a CMYK column. The typeface descriptions have been updated in a few cases and a few new font variants are included. So, even if you already have the Colors and Type ebooks, you may want to consider taking a look at this new print book as well.

A few “teaser” page spread thumbnails:

Pictorial Mapping

May 8th, 2012

Pictorial mapping–using illustration to provide place-recognition–is a niche artform. In pictorial maps, the illustrations take the place of traditional polygons, lines, points, and labels, to give the essence of the locations. Type maps and maps with flourish follow along the same vein. In the two examples shown here, note the balance of heavy, saturated color-fill with white space as well as the successful deployment of a single color (in addition to black and white) while still providing adequate excitement and interest.

These are close-ups of much larger prints available from famille summerbelle.

Avería Font

May 2nd, 2012

Looking for a new typeface to use in print or digital products? The Avería typeface might be just the ticket: it is friendly and easy on the eye. Yesterday @amandahstaub (with hat tip to @jesshartley) pointed out this fairly new typeface so I decided to try it out. It looks quite nice on its website here. But, would it look good on maps? To test this I downloaded and installed the regular flavor–there are many flavors including bold, italic, and even separate sans and serifs–and used it for all the labels on the test map (click for larger version):

The street labels are at 8pt and they don’t look very nice. The Irondale label did turn out pretty well though. From this admittedly brief testing I’d posit that the font looks best at 10-18pt sizes. Any smaller or larger and the ragged edges of the font make it look too rough. In large text-blocks at 10-18pt size, however, it does look quite nice as long as you are okay with an informal style, including extremely varied line weights:

Definitely check out the site, linked to above, to read the story behind how Avería was created. It is basically an amalgam of all the fonts that the designer (“iotic” is all I can get of his/her name) had: 725 for the main font, a different font count for the other flavors. You can read about the various hang-ups that were encountered along the way and the decisions that had to be made. Even if you aren’t much into typefaces, this is worth the read.

The font software is freely available for any type of use, including commercial. Note that it is also available as Avería Libre in Google Web Fonts.

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration