Yesterday’s “Ghost critique” post caused some consternation among readers who worried that I might be critiquing this or that map. Sorry about that. Perhaps a new format for that kind of crit is necessary such that I can use a bad map as a platform for learning but not call it out in any mean-spirited way. If anyone has ideas on that please let me know. In the meantime I’ll continue to at least post the good maps I find.
Not like this
Something else that’s on my mind is a book project that I’d like to get started. I’m excited about it but what really matters is if I can get a fantastic agent to get excited about it too since this one has “big publisher” written all over it. Or it will if I/we can get started writing it (it’ll be a collaborative effort, don’t ask me to explain, we’re just trying to figure it out). You think you just want to make maps in this life and then you realize it’s about all kinds of stuff like finding a literary agent, writing blog posts, and retweeting owlish confidence boosters.
Speaking of tweets, I gathered a lot of tips via twitter today on using ArcGIS Online and passed them on in a 2 hour AGOL training session. Some favorites included
taking the time to plan a map before getting distracted by all the AGOL functionality
keeping in mind that AGOL is an interface for map services, which can be interacted with in other ways too
cleaning data before uploading it to AGOL
be purposeful about tags so you can find data more easily
contribute to the Living Atlas program
I decided that training should jump right into it with live demonstrations on adding data (we imported a shapefile and a csv), making a map and making an app. There were several good questions, like why you would want to make an app instead of a map (so you can add widgets).
And there was one particularly interesting part where a question was asked about the My Organization tab, and in my haste to answer it I clicked quickly on My Organization so I have no idea exactly what happened, but it basically came up with a screen telling us that there was no organization anymore. After my heart attack, I was able to get rid of this bug by logging out and logging back in again whereupon My Organization suddenly appeared again in all its statistical greatness.
I’m not going to link to the bad map that I’m talking about even though I know it would be instructive to do so because this post does not constitute a positive review of the map. However, I do think I can use it as a platform for discussing the general errors that were made. Here were the two big ones:
Too many things on the map. There were circles of varying size and color, isolines describing another variable, polygons with regular shading and polygons with crosshatch fills, labels, lines of varying pattern and icons.
It was a static map that you could zoom in and out of but one of the zoom buttons changed its icon suddenly after a couple of zooms.
When you have to put that many things on one map you also have to spend a few weeks at a minimum getting their symbology, layer order, and palette correct. I’m guessing that’s where this map went wrong.
The map’s central premise, data gathering effort, and analytical effort were all solid, which I am sure are the details that merited the media attention, but it failed in the final graphical display. The map makers should have spent more time on the cartography, much much more time. A hundred hours more time! There is no doubt in my mind that the map’s audience is significantly stifled as a result.
I haven’t written a post in a while so it seemed the best way to kick my butt into doing one was to lighten up and do a free-form post. Sometimes the biggest barrier to writing is the idea that it has to be perfect. The onerous task of revising and getting all the links and pictures just right takes so much time that it can seem daunting. So to heck with all that.
Earlier this week I posted something on twitter which, as usual with my twitter postings, probably made very little sense to those who read it. It went something like, “Everyone likes maps with hillshading, contour lines, and hachures. All on the same map.” And what I really meant was
I just read a tweet where someone said that these swiss topo style online maps that made the rounds recently should be formalized as best practice styling for online maps. In other words, a lot of people really like those maps. And I do too. But it made me wonder why everyone likes them. As someone who makes maps and who might aspire to actually making a popular map someday, it’d be good to note what everyone likes, correct?
Kind of like Cindy Brewer noting in her book that studies show that everyone likes blue and not a lot of people like yellow. We cartographers should pay attention to those things if we want our maps to be received in a credible light. The pure artists in the crowd will scoff at this of course. That guy making the huge (Michael Heizer) desert art installation says that art is only worth it when you’re taking a risk. Or maybe that art is only art when it’s risky.
I don’t know how to reconcile those two thoughts. As a cartographer do we want to be risky or do we want to use styles that we already know people will resonate with? Do you have to always go risky or always be conformal (little projection joke there)?
Someone read the tweet and is going to see if she can find a student to do a study on the swiss topo style to see if people do indeed like it better than other styles and if so, why. There’s some speculation that people might like the swiss topo style because the contour lines make them feel smart.
(Swiss Topo For The Win?) What do you think?
So there we have it: a blog post written without a single edit session. Read at your own peril. Okay okay except the one revision where I added an actual title to the post.