The following is a list of cartography quick-tips: random but good.
- The map extent for a printed map should either be recognizable (i.e., Colorado, Western Europe, Central America), well labeled (i.e., the Western U.S. with all states clearly labeled), or include an overview map. Exception: maps for researchers who are already quite familiar with the location.
- Point feature icons for restrooms, trail heads, hospitals, and the like need to be large enough to make an impact on the map. Don’t try to make them as small as possible. These icons make an impact when proportionally quite large on webmaps.
- Try to stick with no more than two typefaces per map: one sans and one serif. Make sure the sans and the serif complement one another. Complements don’t have to be similar, they just need to look good together. Indeed, typefaces that contrast quite a bit in height, width, or style can make good complements.
- When designing thematic maps, know your data. This means exploring the data in many different ways: histograms, other charts, scrolling through in spreadsheet form, querying, modeling, and other statistics. The best knowledge-transfer comes from a map maker who truly understands the data and can make appropriate inferences or correlations.
- Consider publishing the map with the data. Especially if you’ve made the data into a more usable format.
- Inverted color schemes are the new “classy”. Hint: if you want to win a map contest, use an inverted color scheme. When will this trend be worn-out?
- A dot density map can benefit from a legend explaining how the density of dots within the map units relates to real numbers and/or close-ups of single map units. Making these legends is as simple as taking a screenshot of that portion of the map and importing it as a graphic in the legend.
- Experiment with color oddities. While color conventions tell us that water is blue and land is tan or green, we’re not against seeing a refreshing new take on things like this blue on blue scheme.
- Always remember: it’s about the audience’s wants and needs, not about you. Get off your rear end and ask them what they want.