This question and answer post is in the style of this TechCrunch post. As in that post, I also caveat that you could disagree with some of these, and maybe all of these. Let us know your additional advice in the comments.
1) Should I build the map first, then get feedback or get feedback and then build the map?
Both. Get feedback on the idea, build the map, then get more feedback.
2) How do I deflect color criticism?
First figure out if your palette is ugly or not. If it’s ugly, change it. If it’s not, don’t change it. Some color critique is spot-on and other color critique—approximately 90% of it—is idiotic. So what if your map is candy colored? It’s snobbish to think that candy makes for a garish color scheme. After all, those M&M colors were chosen for a reason—people like them.
3) When should I invest in map making software?
Only when you’ve exhausted your free options.
4) Should I give back to open source software projects that I use?
5) What’s the best to give back to open source software projects: money or time?
Both. Or buy their auxiliary services.
6) Should I worry about the anti PowerPoint contingent if I give a talk at a geo-event?
No. We who rail against bullet points are snobs. You should share your wisdom with us anyway. Just try to be high-level, witty, and throw in some pictures of cats.
7) Are geo-events worth going to?
Only if you’re going to talk to people. If you have nothing geo-worthy to say, study up on some major geo achievements in the industry to discuss.
8) Are cartography journals important to read?
Not when you’re a beginner. If you’re a beginner and read one of these you’ll start to get worried about the kerning in your city label font rather than the size of your north arrow (hint: it’s too big).
9) Does my map need to be unique?
It only needs one unique facet to become a sensation. For example, a typical map of the level of consumption of a product can go viral if the product in question is beer.
10) Should I copy other maps?
Yes. Especially while learning. As you go about the process of copying you’ll wind up changing things and in the end it will be unique enough to call your own.
11) How much accuracy do I need to maintain?
As much accuracy to make the map worthwhile.
12) Do I need to provide a disclaimer on the map?
Yes, but nobody will read it and you’ll probably get in trouble anyway.
13) Should I use comic sans?
Yes if general derision has never stopped you.
14) I do scientific mapping. Does this mean I am irrelevant?
Scientific maps are not getting their full due right now. Right now it’s mostly beer maps. Make your map as compelling as beer and then it’ll get noticed. If we show exactly where each of the last remaining polar bears died, wouldn’t that get noticed and get people to act?
15) How much will people pay for maps?
It depends. If the map will scrape data from huge databases, analyze it, and allow for interactive exploration of said data, A LOT. If the map will go in a book, very little (someone is making a killing on book sales but it’s probably the printer and/or digital distributor, not you.) As far as salaries go, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that cartographers earn an average of $53,000 per year, with the 90th percentile earning over $90,000 per year.
16) Should I make my map into an app?
Yes! Get that experience. Now.
17) Will I be able to make that map app at work in my day job?
No, so you will spend your evenings and weekends building it and it will be worth it.
18) Is color important?
Everyone judges a book by its cover and everyone judges a map first by its color. Take the time to get it right. Copy mood palettes from somewhere else: young & edgy, old & wise, or weird and wonderful.
19) How big should the North arrow be?
Wrong question! It should be “do I need a North arrow?”
20) Does my digital map need an interactive measuring tool?
Only if, say, the user will want to see how close their house is to a fire.
21) Is it important to meet the needs of every map user?
Yes, but not all at the same time. (Hint: make many apps or many sites.)
22) How will people use my map?
Not usually in the way you intend them to. Which is a good thing, because it means you aren’t just disseminating an answer, you’re giving them a tool to get their own answers.
23) What do butt, round, and square refer to?
Line cap types. Or maybe cuts of meat.
24) When should I use the web Mercator projection?
Never. Unless you’re making a digital map, then almost always. (It’s pretty much your only choice.)
25) How easy is it to make a map?
It depends on what kind of map. If you’re displaying a global level statistic with a simple background, you can build your map in many different software packages from traditional GIS to illustrator, to R. If you’re making a town map with 15 background datasets, you want to use a sophisticated GIS or opensource stack and it will take much more effort.
26) What about just the design part of making a map, how long does that take?
Seconds to years.
27) I didn’t know map making was a profession.
I make maps and some people even pay me for it.
28) What’s the best way to make instant money in mapping?
Find an entertainment item that has a lot of fans. Maybe the musical Book of Mormon. Make a map about it and sell it to those fans.
29) What’s the best way to make an impact with mapping?
There are so many ways to make an impact with mapping that it’s ridiculous to try and list them here. If there’s a cause that you’re passionate about, you’ll find something you can map to help that cause. Cartographers make a difference. In fact, we should start a conference with that theme.
30) What do cartographers need to be aware of professionally?
You need to know that what you map can and does affect people. Your map can even affect people badly if you use poor judgement. Know about cartographic ethics (of which there is scant but some information on) and realize that you can incur liability. Most importantly always try to present facts and clearly understand any and all repercussions that a map may cause.
31) Are all map makers snobs?
No, most map makers are normal, nice people. Except me.*
32) When should I print out my E sized masterpiece?
DueDate – 10(Print time * revision time)
33) What does it take to make a map beautiful?
Contrary to popular belief, a beautiful map is not born, but made. It is not some extra-human feat but a very earthly medley of effort and experience that makes that map beautiful.
34) Why should anyone care if a map is beautiful?
An aesthetically pleasing map is a map that people will notice and then learn something from. If you aren’t into making it look good, don’t try at all.
35) Is accuracy important?
In light of the answer for #34 you’d think not. But in reality, yes, accuracy is pretty much the only important thing. But what exactly is accuracy? Ask yourself if your map is showcasing a phenomenon of popular opinion or a phenomenon of fact. Something that agrees with popular opinion may get passed around a lot but ultimately falters whereas something that presents a new fact may very well be a bellwether of importance.
36) I’m not a designer and I’ve never been good at art, what chance do I have?
If your default design strategies are less than stellar, don’t underestimate the impact a quick search on similar datasets or map types can have.
37) How many logos are too many for a map layout?
One. Those logos were designed independently and as such have almost no likelihood of meshing well with the map design.
38) Does a digital map need a title?
A title on a digital map is a great way to ensure that the map is interpreted correctly. Most map users don’t read the fine print, but you can at least expect them to read a short title. Make those few words count. It doesn’t have to be placed at the top, either. It can be put to the side or at the bottom.
39) Does a digital map need a legend?
A lot of users won’t read the legend. They want to know what’s going on in the map immediately. Depending on the subject matter, however, a legend might be necessary nonetheless. Bonus points if you can think of ways to incorporate legend details without needing one (e.g., mouseovers, labels, short video clips with hints a la Angry Birds).
40) How should I create a balanced map?
The rules of thumb are: to provide a medium level of information, not too much, not too little; to ensure an even and coherent color palette; to create counterpoints to dense data areas; and to provide adequate and appropriate labeling. Think Zen.
41) Do I have to pay for a good typeface?
No, there are a few good free typefaces out there. But, most great typefaces that have lots of styles and weights (bold, italic, bold italic, smallcap, light, medium, etc.) and support non-latin alphabets are for a fee. Purchase a typeface family, you’ll be happy you did.
42) What do I need to know about color contrast?
You need to know that it’s not just the colors but the amount of those colors area-wise on the map and the interplay between them and the other colors that make up the totality of the color aesthetic. Choose a color palette, by all means, but then realize that you’ll have to experiment with applying the colors to different features to achieve the look and feel you’re going after.
43) What do I need to know about white?
White space is good. That’s when we’re talking about blank space in the map (and it doesn’t have to be white). The actual color white may not look good on digital devices. Try for a slightly off-white instead.
44) How do I make legible labels?
Labels should definitely be legible, but not so much that they take over spot 1 on the visual hierarchy. Yes, they should blend in yet still be legible which is difficult but not impossible to achieve. Using small halos with the halo being the same color as the background color helps. Making the font color gray instead of black and tweaking the opacity also helps.
45) I really love this digital map I’m looking at, how do you think they made it?
Any complex digital map was probably the result of a thousand iterations (most of which were not recorded—keeping documentation of versions is something we need to do better with in our industry). It no doubt has a complex behind-the-scenes structure that non-cartographers wouldn’t guess at, such as rendering a road three times for the inner, outer, and centerline symbology, for example.
46) Cartography is dead.
No it isn’t. It was going nowhere fast 10-20 years ago but now it’s evolving at a very fast pace, catalyzed by opensource digital mapping tools.
47) What’s the most important skill for a cartographer to have?
As per the above answer, the most important skill is to be able to continuously learn.
48) How can I best contribute to the field of cartography?
Invent a new and useful spatial data visualization technique.
49) If I become a cartographer will I be able to feed my family?
I don’t know but if you specialize in certain kinds of mapping you’ll at least be able to eat the leftover inventory.
50) Why do you write about cartography?
It’s really rather selfish. I teach cartography in order to learn it.