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Bad Maps and Good Maps

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#1
Mike Appiah

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Hi Colleagues,

I will be glad if you could clarify this issue for me;
1) How do you differentiate between a good and a bad map?
2) Can you please send me a sample of what a 'bad map looks like'?

Thanks.

#2
David Medeiros

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Only continued experience with critical map review will really help you determine if a map is "bad" or"good", a list of what makes a map such will only serve as a jumping off point. There is so much variation in map type, design style, audience etc that it can be difficult to definitively state what makes a map good or bad. That being said there are three fundamental issues I would look to first:

1) what is the maps stated or apparent purpose? Does it fulfill this goal? Is it communicating the necessary information? whatever the design or aesthetic, if the map looks good but fails to do its job, it's a bad map.

2) does the map break any (or many) fundamental "rules" of cartography? This can be very subjective, but if for instance the map in question uses one type style and size for all map features you could say that was a bad map, or bad type execution on the map. To me this means that if you want to understand what makes a good or bad map you need to go back to the principles that drive map design and look for basic failures of those principles in the map you are evaluating (type style and placement, color choice, line and symbol styles, balance - but not necessarily symmetry - a clear purpose, a design tailored to the intended audience).

3) does the map fail to create a visual hierarchy? so many of the various rules of cartography and issues surrounding good and bad map design come down to this one cartographic design principle, that mapped information should be placed on a visual scale according to their importance or relevance to the maps purpose. Push back (or eliminate) unimportant or base info, pull forward or highlight the primary data or features. Note: for reference maps with no particular theme "visual hierarchy" falls more to a natural ordering of features by type (area, line, point; rivers under roads; lakes over parks etc).

Again the best way to get a real sense of what makes a good or bad map is to participate in map reviews, look over other peoples work with a critical eye and make comments on what you see, have others do the same for your work. Write down your thoughts on what your looking at - writing is thinking and will help you work out your own guiding principles when it comes to map design.

GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

www.mapbliss.com

 


#3
AndrewM

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You could check out the cartastrophe blog for some examples and discussion about bad (and good) maps.

#4
rudy

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You could check out the cartastrophe blog for some examples and discussion about bad (and good) maps.

I like that! There are some "good" examples in there.

#5
Hans van der Maarel

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Moved the topic here since it didn't really have much to do with GIS.

Also, I think David summed it up nicely, especially re. #1. If the map isn't doing what it's supposed to be doing, it's a bad map.
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#6
Derek Tonn

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Again the best way to get a real sense of what makes a good or bad map is to participate in map reviews, look over other peoples work with a critical eye and make comments on what you see, have others do the same for your work. Write down your thoughts on what your looking at - writing is thinking and will help you work out your own guiding principles when it comes to map design.


I love David's response in this thread...it is an excellent, excellent response!

That said, I wanted to push things a bit further, and hopefully nudge things in a slightly different direction.

Premise/Assumption: The greater cartographic community has (at least historically) been dominated by men. And in the modern world (especially since the age of computer-aided design), men who are more left-brained than right-brained.

While that is all fine and good, that does call into question David's points 2 and 3...as well as the bolded sentence in the quote above. If you have a subset of less than half the population (men vs. women, and/or left-brained vs. right-brained individuals) "making the rules," conducting map reviews, et al, you have a problem. Not for the people in power/control. But for the people with brains that are not wired to make sense of the world in the same manner as their counterparts.

This is where David's first point:

1) what is the maps stated or apparent purpose? Does it fulfill this goal? Is it communicating the necessary information?

...is so vital. However, in determining the success or failure of a design's efforts to accomplish those goals, I think the last place I would go is a "jury of my peers." AKA a group of other men who produce maps for a living. No...if I want to see how I did in addressing #1, I want to go to end users. And not just end users of my choosing (who I think/know might make sense of the world in the same manner that I do). Rather, a broad cross-section of individuals of differing ages, sex, intelligence, careers, et al.

If you want to see how successful a design you've created is, hang out around a Student Union's welcome center for an afternoon and listen to people using your map to describe how to find locations on the campus. Or hover behind people at informational kiosks and listen to the comments people are making about the map(s) in question. See how things are working in real-time, in the real world.

Okay, my "windbag" alarms are going off...so I'd better wrap this reply up.
Derek Tonn
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mapformation, LLC

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http://www.mapformation.com

#7
David Medeiros

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If you have a subset of less than half the population (men vs. women, and/or left-brained vs. right-brained individuals) "making the rules," conducting map reviews, et al, you have a problem. Not for the people in power/control. But for the people with brains that are not wired to make sense of the world in the same manner as their counterparts.


Derek, I couldn't agree more. This is why when talking about cartographic "rules" or "standards" I usually at least initially write them in quotes or describe their subjectivity in some way. There are no rules without exceptions. Some conventions of cartography, if broken, will almost always result in poor map design, but again this is highly subjective. I think Imhof wrote, "A solution to a problem in math is either right or wrong, but a solution to a cartographic problem is only good or bad". That's a very sketchy paraphrasing from memory, not a direct quote, but I like the idea it embodies, that there is a spectrum of quality so to speak, not a set way of doing things.

Subjecting yourself to peer review should be more an exercise in weeding out basic errors or omissions and improving design than having them determine if your map works or not. Also if you come to peer review without a good understanding of why you made most of your design choices you won't have the confidence to ignore well meaning responses that could take you off track. I routinly ignore help I get here :D, but I always learn from it!

GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

www.mapbliss.com

 


#8
Mike Appiah

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Thanks for the contributions. I am most grateful to you all.
The issue of good and bad maps is clear to me now................. :D

#9
Kathi

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Just to add my two cents on this topic, I think - while agreeing completely with what's been said above - that a map that uses confusing symbology is a bad map. I guess this is part of the question whether a map has a clear statement and whether it can get this statement accross to the end user. For example, using the same colours as the topographic background to illustrate something like concentration of a pollutant makes a map hard to read or unreadable. And such a map to me is a bad map.
Cheers,

Kathi




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