Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Another Anonymous Map Critique

June 29th, 2013

I’m looking at the product documentation for a major geodata company right now. The very first map in the documentation is a showcase of what their data looks like when it is all put together. You would think that this map would appear as though it came from this decade since the document is updated on a regular basis, and also since this comes from a company that ostensibly makes it’s money by selling the exact data that is shown on the map. However, it’s bad. It’s very bad.

 

The resolution is so low that it’s pixelated.

The labels are in a pinkish red color surrounded by massive white halos.

There’s an interestate label that is bigger than the city labels and in a generic rectangular road shield instead of the standard interstate shield that most maps are going with today.

The ferry lines are too bold and the dashes are too long for such a minor feature.

Random administrative artifacts are present, overlapping with major water bodies.

The roads are cased, which could have been nice if the map were zoomed in to a large scale. But given the medium scale of this map, the cased roads make the map appear to be like an unsolvable maze.

There is a textured and multi-colored background that goes unexplained.

 

Thankfully the written documentation is done at a much higher standard than the maps but I can’t help but wonder how many potential customers are turned off by this sloppiness.

 

 

Forge Ahead, Cartographers!

June 26th, 2013

All right, so here’s the situation in a nut shell. We have, today, cartographer elites who do amazing work of infinite complexity and amazing variety. While we mostly had uninspired scientific maps in the era between 1997 and 2009 (anyone remember the dark tan background of the Esri default map back in the day?) that either went way too simple or way too detailed and incomprehensible, we now have Mike Bostock putting together a thousand* map variations that all have a particular look and meaning, RedGeographics putting together detailed maps that actually look good, and Oregon State putting together innovative relief shading techniques. Obviously that’s just to name a few.

But, while we revel in their amazingness, should we not also be contributing our own spectacular maps and thus attaining elite recognition as well? Let me point out that these people who are doing these amazing things weren’t intimidated by the cartographers of the past, who also made great contributions, like Snyder (Map Projections: A Working Manual), Imhof’s Cartographic Relief Presentation, and Marie Tharp’s ocean floor mapping, Instead, they forged ahead in what is truly a combined science and art that still needs capable, creative, thoughtful, and smart individuals to contribute much more to it.

I know that it can seem like there are others who would be able to produce a map faster and better but it’s a field that can stretch to such great lengths if you only tap into that great breadth of knowledge that you posses to bring more freshness, more design options, and better spatial understanding than ever before!

*It’s a lot, anyway.

30% off Cartography E-books

June 25th, 2013

****So sorry everyone. The date was put in wrong for the discount the first time around. It’s been fixed now and you should be able to enter in the code and have it work. Because of my error, I’ve even added an extra day, so this code will work until 6/27/2013.****

The e-books “Colors For Maps” and “Type For Maps” are on sale for 30% off. Use discount code Colors20. This sale ends in 24 hours.

To order, go to the booklet page. It will ask for a discount code as you go through the checkout process.

The e-books are mostly equivalent to the first 2 of 3 chapters in Cartographer’s Toolkit, which is print-only.

Creativity Exercise: Zentangle

June 22nd, 2013

A recent Science article reports that “only a few [colleges and technical schools] focus on the advanced analysis and creative, thoughtful presentation of geospatial data involved in cartography.”

I focused many of the earlier posts on this blog on creativity (see “Creativity” in categories on the right-hand side bar) and my book GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design includes a chapter on creativity right after the introduction. That’s how important it is.

A simple and effective way to train your brain to be creative is to do short exercises as a regular part of your daily work routine. These can range from 1 minute doodles to 5 minute lego constructions but the key is to do them daily in order to improve your ability to come up with original solutions to all the problems that come up during the day. It’s not just special people that can be creative, it’s all of us if we just take the time to hone the skill. In fact, it goes hand-in-hand with critical thinking skills, with one improving the other and vice-versa.

While there are lots of ways to practice creativity, I discovered a new technique just the other day called zentangle. It’s just basically doodles on steroids. You can buy some zentangle books or check out a video, or just create repetitive doodles from your own imagination. Side note: ever do something and then find someone else has put a name to it and commercialized it? I used to “zentangle” as a teen. I’d fill up entire pages with parallel curved lines to create patterns anytime I had an idle hand. So I’m just saying-I thought of it first. :)

 

 

 

Best Tweets From Last Six Months

June 19th, 2013

I never use Twitter Advertising but yesterday I was reading about how you can see analytics for your tweets via the Twitter Advertising platform even if you’re not an advertiser* so I tried it out this morning. If you’re a Twitter user I highly recommend checking out your feed stats this way, it was easy just to log in with your usual credentials and view your best tweets.

Here’s what the analytics show for my feed for the last 6 months in terms of what they categorize as “Best” tweets. Interestingly it isn’t the tweets with the most clicks. Instead, it’s the tweets with the most favorites, retweets, and replies. I was amused to see the tweet about the 400 page projection book getting such a high rank. I just never guessed that many people would have such an interest in projections!

 



*U.S. only

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration