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#1
GeoEvan

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Hi all,

Some of the most popular content on my geography blog is my regularly updated map of the current conflict in Syria. The theme of the blog is states, territorial control, and boundaries, and this map is designed to show the territory and area of activity of the Syrian rebels to the greatest extent possible given the limited information available from news reports coming out of the country. I'm currently working on an update to the map, to be posted on the blog soon. Here's my current draft - the data isn't all updated yet, but I would greatly appreciate any advice or feedback on the design.

Attached File  syria_uprising_2012_7_X.png   145.19KB   221 downloads

I'm actually not completely satisfied with the appearance of the map. I think its popularity is due mainly to utility rather than aesthetics. That said, for sake of continuity with the previous versions, I probably won't be making any radical changes to the design. But I might be able to incorporate some subtle improvements, and I'll remember any other advice for future maps of other areas.

A brief rundown on the creation of this piece: I started with a blank SVG map of Syria licensed from Wikipedia, and added all the cities, labels, and thematic information myself using Inkscape. As mentioned above, the data comes from media reports, though the complexity of the situation and the vagueness of much of the information necessitates a certain amount of "fudge factor" (i.e. subjective decisions).

All advice and criticism is welcome. Thanks!
Writer and cartographer for Political Geography Now.

#2
P Riggs

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I think it looks a lot like a map you'd find in a good news magazine, very informative and well-focused. I can see why it would be popular.

My only suggestion would be to use the same font for your legend items as you use on the map.

What is it that you aren't liking about the aesthetics?
Philip Riggs
Decorative-Maps.com

#3
GeoEvan

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I think it looks a lot like a map you'd find in a good news magazine, very informative and well-focused. I can see why it would be popular.

My only suggestion would be to use the same font for your legend items as you use on the map.

What is it that you aren't liking about the aesthetics?


Thanks, Philip! That's high praise for me, considering that "good news magazine" is exactly my target look. Good catch regarding the font of the legend items. I'll change that.

My issue with the aesthetics is that I think it looks kind of "plain"...I'm struggling to find more descriptive words that that. Maybe it's a little bit overly dominated by gray and whitish colors, or there's too much blank space?

Thanks a lot for the feedback!
Writer and cartographer for Political Geography Now.

#4
P Riggs

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My issue with the aesthetics is that I think it looks kind of "plain"...I'm struggling to find more descriptive words that that. Maybe it's a little bit overly dominated by gray and whitish colors, or there's too much blank space?


I think for this kind of informational map you want the blank space. Otherwise non-important things will distract from the message. And I think the colors work fine, so I wouldn't worry about it. We could nit-pick it to death (I've been involved in those kind of discussions and they never end). The question is, does it get the message across effectively. Your choice of colors doesn't distract me, it highlights Syria (the warm yellow is very appropriate to bring it visually into the forefront), and the red draws my attention to the point of the map, areas of rebel activity in Syria.

If you want a few items to look at to improve, I'd suggest the following:
1. Lighter borders for countries outside of Syria. Maybe a shade of gray darker than the color of the countries.
2. Rename the title to "Rebel Activity In Syria"? Is that a more precise description of the map?
3. Remove the title and use the title in the legend along with the date to save space.
4. Lighten the border around Syria to better focus on the country. I find heavy border take attention away from the area of interest.
5. Make the border around the "Area of activity" legend item narrower. Also, maybe instead of black use a darker red matching the color.
Philip Riggs
Decorative-Maps.com

#5
GeoEvan

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Thanks! I'll try all of those ideas and see how it looks.

I was considering labeling the other countries with their names, since that's useful information for the readers, especially where rebel activity comes up against the borders. But do you think that would be too distracting?
Writer and cartographer for Political Geography Now.

#6
Dennis McClendon

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Looks fine. Details: all the city names (except Rastan) could be next to their dots, without the leader lines. Needs some sort of scale; who knows how big Syria is? The progression of city dot colors is a little confusing. Maybe use dark red for mostly controlled, medium red for partially controlled, and hollow dark red circle for formerly controlled. Make Damascus also a dot, though it can have a star inside the dot.
Dennis McClendon, Chicago CartoGraphics
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#7
BioGeoMan

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What about the black dots on the map? Are they "No history of control"? The differing sizes of dots also is a bit confusing (especially to laymen), I understand that the size difference most likely represents population, but there is nothing on the map to confirm this. Maybe this isn't a huge concern, but I wouldn't assume anything about how a person might interpret your symbology. At Al-Qamishli, it shows as an area of activity, but has a black dot...are we to assume that the rebels are on their way to controlling this area (your blog narrative may answer this question).

As mentioned previously, maybe incorporating the title into the legend is a good idea. Also, since a lot of the activity is along borders with other countries, it may be informative to label neighbors (getting rid of the title will allow room for this). Would a simple road layer be necessary to perhaps show the correlation between "activity" and roadways (if there is a correlation)?

Thanks for posting!

Michael.

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#8
GeoEvan

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Looks fine. Details: all the city names (except Rastan) could be next to their dots, without the leader lines. Needs some sort of scale; who knows how big Syria is? The progression of city dot colors is a little confusing. Maybe use dark red for mostly controlled, medium red for partially controlled, and hollow dark red circle for formerly controlled. Make Damascus also a dot, though it can have a star inside the dot.


Thanks, Dennis.

I've just moved Houla to be next to its dot, but I'm concerned about Zabadani, Qusayr, and Taftanaz bumping up against or overlapping the international border, which might make them hard to read.

I really like your suggestion for the dot colors, but I'm worried that switching the bright red and the dark red would be confusing to people who have been following the previous editions of the map. My logic for having dark red indicate partial control is that it's between bright red (mostly controlled) and black (no history of control), but I do see what you're saying. And gray for former control is completely arbitrary.

Good idea about making Damascus a circle with the star inside. For some reason I didn't think of that. As for the scale, do you know if there's an SVG template for that that I could find somewhere online?
Writer and cartographer for Political Geography Now.

#9
GeoEvan

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What about the black dots on the map? Are they "No history of control"? The differing sizes of dots also is a bit confusing (especially to laymen), I understand that the size difference most likely represents population, but there is nothing on the map to confirm this. Maybe this isn't a huge concern, but I wouldn't assume anything about how a person might interpret your symbology. At Al-Qamishli, it shows as an area of activity, but has a black dot...are we to assume that the rebels are on their way to controlling this area (your blog narrative may answer this question).

As mentioned previously, maybe incorporating the title into the legend is a good idea. Also, since a lot of the activity is along borders with other countries, it may be informative to label neighbors (getting rid of the title will allow room for this). Would a simple road layer be necessary to perhaps show the correlation between "activity" and roadways (if there is a correlation)?


Thanks, Michael!

Yes, the black dots indicate "no history of control", and the sizes of the dots correspond to population. My original idea was to include all this in the legend, but space is limited. Still, I'll look into clarifying those things.

Control and activity are treated as separate issues here, so the color around Qamishli indicates that the city is not rebel controlled, but that rebel activity has been reported in the area including or surrounding the city. Any ideas on how to make that clearer?

I'm afraid roadways might make the layout too busy. I also don't have a ready-made roads layer available, so it might be a lot of work to add that. Actually, the most relevant correlated data would probably be population density - the majority of the non-red areas are very sparsely populated. But I can't think of a good way to include population density on the map without making it too confusing. Maybe I could just present a separate population density map alongside this map if necessary.
Writer and cartographer for Political Geography Now.

#10
GeoEvan

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Here's version two of the map, taking into account a lot of the advice I've received here. I'm also slowly adding in bits of additional data (haven't had a chance to get it done all in one pass, because I've been busy with other stuff lately).

Attached File  syria_uprising_2012_7_X_v2.png   144.57KB   52 downloads

I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts. Ideas that were suggested but not incorporated this time are also still up for discussion!

Thanks so much.
Writer and cartographer for Political Geography Now.

#11
P Riggs

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I'm liking it! Good job!
Philip Riggs
Decorative-Maps.com

#12
Dennis McClendon

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Looking good. I'd play with the colors of the dots just a bit more. You want mostly controlled to be the most intense red, and partially controlled to be something between that red and the gray of formerly controlled.

I'd put Armanaz with no leader, and move Talbiseh up a couple of points so its leader can be shorter and avoid the Lebanese boundary. I'd also make the leader lines go to the center of the city dots.

It would be nice for the Area of armed activity rectangle in the legend to have a fuzzy boundary—and maybe even a free shape—like the areas shown on the map.

One final nicety: there's no real need for the gray boundary around Syria, as the color difference already communicates that a border exists. But I understand that in some datasets this can be a lot of trouble to eliminate.
Dennis McClendon, Chicago CartoGraphics
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#13
GeoEvan

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Here's the final version of the map that I posted to the blog last week (Syrian Uprising: Map Update 5):

Attached File  syria_uprising_2012_7_12.png   144.03KB   26 downloads

I took some of Dennis's most recent advice into account, though I still chose not to change the colors of the dots. I don't feel it's appropriate to make major changes to symbology, for the sake of continuity with the other maps in the series. My reasoning for the dark red was that it was a halfway between the bright red of rebel control and the black of "no history of control", though I can also see the logic behind referring to the gray rather than the black. I ultimately decided I preferred the gray border around the country to stay, but I did tone it down a lot.

Thanks so much for all the advice. If anyone still has more to say, I can consider taking it into account for future maps in this series.
Writer and cartographer for Political Geography Now.

#14
GeoEvan

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Here's my draft of the next map update. The situation in the country has changed, with the appearance of a third side in the conflict (Kurdish militias in the north, which are against the government for now but have made a point of not joining the other rebels). I've reworked the symbology for better clarity and continued color-blind accessibility. The map was also getting too crowded, so I reduced the font size for smaller towns and removed small towns with unclear situations which haven't been reported on lately.

Attached File  syria_uprising_2012_8_X.png   157.42KB   38 downloads

I'd appreciate any advice, especially regarding the how clear the new symbology and legend are.

Thanks!
Writer and cartographer for Political Geography Now.

#15
Hans van der Maarel

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Daraa in the south appears to be a slightly darker red than the rest of the red cities.
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