Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Too Much New Software, Too Many New Libraries, Even for the Nerds

July 28th, 2015


I’ve been learning d3 and it’s been a fantastic learning experience. It’s a low-level javascript library for making interactive visualizations–including maps–inside SVGs for nifty client-side rendering effects of datasets that can be updated easily with new data. Incidentally, Scott Murray’s book Interactive Data Visualization for the Web is a fantastic first resource full of the most important bits to know and written in an accessible style.

So that’s been great, yes. But even the nerdiest among us have their limits to how much of their day, their week, or even their year, they can jam with brand-new material. And that leads me to my thesis, which is that when you are designing a new product or a new library or a new software, keep in mind that it isn’t just your computer laypersons who have to leap a mental hurdle to even begin working with your product, it’s also people who have just simply saturated their number of “new things” that they can handle that week or that month, even if they are supremely computer-savvy individuals who would really have very little trouble with your product.

In product design teams, the engineers and managers all have a tendency to think about the lowest common denominator when designing, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. But the computer scientists among us hit their limits from time to time too. So you’re not just in the business of making things simple for the newbies, your making your product easy to adopt by everyone.

My forays into d3 came at a time when I was granted a few hours of paid time to work on it, and that helped. It also came at a time when I was ready to really dive into something new. Don’t count on that being the case for all your users.

As usual I’ve reached the end of my little thesis statement with a feeling that it could be argued in the opposite direction as well (the downside of being analytical). So if you’d like to argue the opposite please go for it. And keep in mind the goal here: giving the best advice for teams building brand-new products as well as individuals who are building brand-new tools and libraries.



More Mark Twain, on His Paris Map

July 17th, 2015

I previously wrote about Mark Twain’s Paris Map but I don’t believe I had come across this particular account of it in his autobiography at the time. I’ve been re-reading the autobiography lately and when I read the bit shown below I figured I should pass it along. It sets up the reasons why he made the map–in a fit of creativity resulting from the somberness of having just taken care of two people who ultimately died–and also goes into what he (imagines?) the map’s effects were on those who saw it.




It seems as though Twain forgot to mention in this part of his autobiography the fact that the map had been printed in reverse. Elsewhere he says:

By an unimportant oversight I have engraved the map so that it reads wrong end first, except to left-handed people.




Tweeting at #gistribe today

July 15th, 2015

Edited to add: Hey if you missed out on all the color-theory, cartography tips, map examples, and mapions (map + minion) then head over to @wildlifegisgirl’s storify to see all the tweets for the #gistribe chat in one place! I was honored to be asked to be a featured guest for the chat and had a lot of fun. Thanks everyone!


The #gistribe people asked me to speak on cartography today at 12:00 PT. These typically run about one hour. Follow along with us on twitter and be sure to ask a few questions and post some of your favorite map techniques.

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration