If you hang out on LinkedIn or any other social media platform, you’ve seen them: infographics – an amalgamation of graphics and text that tells a story or delivers a witty message.
Here’s one you might mistaken for a map:
This example definitely tends more towards an infographic rather than a map:
As a GIS Specialist, I don’t often think of my maps as “infographics”, but, essentially, that’s what they are. If I am more careful with my map designs, I might be able to convey more information than just want’s on the map.
Recently, I needed a map to convey the evolution of national and local fire planning policies and plans. Rather than try to color-code temporal data on a single map, I created a timeline:
While simple and not as elegant as the previous examples, it conveys some dense information clearly.
As a consultant, much of what I do is confidential. However, at times, I get the opportunity to work for a non-profit or on a public project, and that means I can share.
Recently, I was approached by Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR), to create a few maps of the planned timber harvests adjacent to the river in northern Sonoma County, California. The challenge was to quickly and effectively show the currently planned logging areas with those that had been conducted in prior years.
The maps that accompanied the timber harvest plans looked something like this:
Serviceable, for sure, but the maps had a lot of data, were very hard to read, and it was difficult to determine context.
So, I was asked to take just a few key components of the map, and create something more visually appealing, and give a better sense of where the units were in relation to a seaside community and adjacent parks.
Here’s the result (you can click on it for a bigger version):
To be fair, I didn’t have to include as much information as the original map. The focus was to highlight the adjacent community and provide an aerial for context. Everything else was disregarded. I think it looks alright. What do you think? What would you have done differently?
Another project I recently got a chance to work on were the trail development options at the Truckee Airport District in Truckee, California.
The goal of this map was to show the trail development options in relation to the surrounding trail system and possible connection points.
Neither of these project were technically challenging, but it was nice to just create something that met my clients’ needs and I could share.
Story Maps for All
While I appreciate a well-designed paper map, there’s no denying that most folks hangout in the internet more often than not and rarely do we print stuff out anymore. So, why not do the same for our maps?
For the two projects above, I create two simple ESRI Story Maps:
Story maps are interactive maps that use narrative (and sometimes pictures) along with a map to highlight a problem or solution. While I didn’t use the Story Maps to their full-potential, I hope from these simple examples you can get a glimpse of their potential.
If you would like to see more cool maps, check out the Interactive Web Maps link list to the right (if you’re on a desktop) or scroll down to the bottom of the page (if you’re mobile).
As a group, we explored interesting things we could do to bring prominence to maps and stories of place. I’m not entirely sure where Mappy Hour will lead us, but where ever it is, I’m sure it will be interesting. The event did get me thinking about how I could incorporate more art into my work.
The group also got a chance to peruse the maps and cartographic fusion with art Griffin Map Design offers for sale. I bought a wonderful print of the State of California that features oak leaves as well as a bag with a bike/world map collage.
We also talked about books. I know, not nearly as exciting as maps, but books about maps? What more could you ask for? I actually have quite a few books on maps. When I have time, I’ll post a few book reviews.
Overall, Mappy Hour was a great opportunity to see how maps can be used in creative ways to communicate information about a place that isn’t easily quantifiable. As GIS professionals and in this digital age, we forget that physical maps and cartographic representations have a long history of playing a key role in not only depicting the places we live in, but shaping our perceptions of them as well.
So, just what is a map? And why is it important in understanding geography?
Maps are visual representation of what we see around us. They show spatial relationships between things (transportation corridors, destinations, physical features on the landscape, etc) and, more importantly, maps show the connections between all these things.
Why should you care?
Maps have never been as widely used as they are today.
Maps are being used in just about every niche and function you can imagine.
Taking a trip on a bus?
Your city has probably installed map panels at popular junctions or on the bus itself.
Playing a video game?
There’s probably a map included to help guide you through the game. See that tiny map to the right of Spiderman? Can’t be flying through the streets unless you know where you are at and where you are going!
Trying to find that great, new restaurant?
Your phone has a map application that will get you there in just a few screen taps.
You use maps to navigate through your life. Don’t you think it might be important to know a bit more about them?
History of Maps
You might be shocked to find out that maps as we know them today are a relatively new thing to humans. Prior to the late 1200s, maps were…well, they were all over the map. Depictions of the world around us varied widely and you probably wouldn’t have recognized them as maps (nor were they called that).
Proper land surveying techniques were developed independently in many regions of the world and the maps that resulted from those efforts are definitely recognizable. However, like most information, maps were often hoarded by the educated and powerful. Accurate spatial information meant knowing where resources were and how to transport them, and it meant knowing where your enemies lived and how to access them. Keeping that information secret determined who ruled the land.
It wasn’t until the Europe’s Age of Discovery, and the invention of the printing press, that maps became more common place and standardization in visual representations were adopted.
Today, with the proliferation of the internet and smartphones with map applications, accurate spatial information is literally at our fingertips and comes in forms we might not be expecting.
Maps of the Future
Many of us (okay, only me) still like physical maps printed on paper with ingenious folds. We spread them out on the kitchen table and pore over the details, learning interesting names for physical features or realizing how close that creek is to our own backyard.
But more and more people today are using a different kind of map. With smartphone and other mobile devices, we now have the entire world in the palm of our hands.
Just who knows what the future holds for maps? Maybe one day we’ll all just insert a map-chip into our brains and know where everything is (even ourselves – yikes, getting a bit “big brotherish”, eh?). Or maybe you’ll just create custom maps based on the places you go every day.
There’s no way for me to predict the future of maps because the field is wide open to innovation. It always has been and will continue to be so in the future. What I do know is that maps will stay with us for the long haul because they link us to the world.