I believe what I said was "Hmmm....elegant? Well, this one is all in Arial, which I don't usually use in the same sentence with 'elegant'."
That was YOU, Dennis? Oops! Didn't mean to get under your skin in here. Sorry about that. I purposefully didn't watch any of the people making comments during that entire feedback session, as I didn't want to put names and faces to a few of the people's negative comments towards the four entries.
Here's the thing related to my choice of typeface on that piece: The reason Arial was chosen as a dominant font within that Map-Off piece was:
1. That particular entry had so much else going on related to iconography, the "Alien Cow", etc. that I felt that the map needed a strong, "familiar" san serif font to stabilize the design.
2. It was a "yin" and "yang" type of balance between the very busy/fussy font of the producer locations, north designation, and all the graphics on the right side of the piece. Busy/fussy, clean/simple legend, busy/fussy. If that makes any sense.
3. A strong, bold, sans serif font helped to reinforce the B&W "Holstein" theme I was going for.
4. <A BIG one> Many/most people have that font on their PCs (Helvetica on their Macs), and it is one less thing for a "client" to do if they end up trying to tweak or maintain a graphic themselves post-design. Either that, or buying a copy of all the special/unusual fonts used in a job will typically add to our or a client's bottom-line. I thought the "busy" font could be converted to curves upon export, but the main block of text (and text labels on parts of the map) needed to be exported as text, not curves.
5. Arial is a good font to use when developing lots of custom leading/kerning between characters. Much of the text in the "legend" of the piece (and on the map design itself) had manually altered spacing between many characters.
To me, typeface is an artistic decision....just like one's choice of color, the balance between negative and positive space in an image, etc. HOWEVER, sometimes "art" has to take a back-seat to functionality/usability (ESPECIALLY related to wayfinding tasks such as map design, as well as issues of accessibility)...and I think that a big reason why many tables in the room said that Map #2 was the most legible/usable was font and #1 on my list above. #4 is a big issue for many of our firm's clients too, as the lion's share of our projects/clients tend to be price-sensitive. Even $25-$35 for a single typeface can sometimes makes our clients grumble, believe it or not. If this was around a $700 project, every font purchase required can add 4-5% more to a client's bottom-line.
Honestly though, it's all just opinion and personal preference, which is what makes something like a Map-Off so interesting and fun. If you have 150 people in the room, you probably have 150 different preferences related to most of the judging categories. As long as people realize that their opinions are no more "right" than any of the other opinions in the room, it's all good. Mapping theory and philosophy is wonderful, but I guess what I enjoy more than anything is "mapping for the masses"........getting maps into people's hands who aren't well-read and/or haven't had master's/doctoral work in cartography, but simply need a graphic that can get them from where they are to where they are going as effectively as possible.