Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Modern Furniture, Modern Maps

February 11th, 2013

The Denver Art Museum has a small exhibition on right now, titled What is Modern?, featuring furniture (and a few posters) spanning dates from the 1800s to today. These furniture designs are arguably the most well-known embodiments of the modern art movement, which is characterized by non-profligate products. But we also see the mod-movement in some of today’s map designs. For example, two studios that embrace the modern aesthetic are: the senseable city lab at MIT and Stamen Design.

The colors, the angles, the typography in the posters, and the sheer playfulness and quirkiness in the furniture pieces can all inspire mod-map making.

Three Great Thursday Finds

February 7th, 2013

Today’s MapBrief post is a keeper! As a design savvy individual I’m all for the little trick that he’s played in making his post match (almost) the exact length of the BLM layer-picker that he happens to be soundly deriding. Paralysis of Choice: Why Map Portals Don’t Work, Part II.

For a quick but hardy laugh (and some jelly bean map colors!), check out Montana For Badasses? The USA According to Search Assist.

Finally, for a more involved but well-worth it read, see Introducing Park Tiles, the National Park Service’s Basemap wherein cartographer-extraordinaire Mamata Akella describes the design of the new tiles and, most interestingly, the tools used to create them.


Learning New Tools Can Derail Even the Highest Design Aspirations

February 6th, 2013

What’s limiting us when it comes to cartography? Well, A LOT OF THINGS. But here’s one I haven’t talked about much on the blog:

Tool fatigue can cause you to make ugly maps. It’s not that your design skills are bad, it’s that your tool skills are bad.

Today, as I was exploring new tools to create maps (exhibit A, TileMill project in progress)*, it dawned on me that a lot of the problem with bad map design is simple. If you don’t know a tool well enough you spend 90% of the allotted time learning the tool, leaving very little left over for modifying and fine-tuning the design, leading to ineffective design.

In this blog, I usually try to focus on cartographic technique and leave it up to the reader to figure out how to wrangle their tool(s) of choice into making well-designed maps. However, when you spend an hour or so just trying to do basic coloring and labeling at different zoom levels, you’ve got little energy left over for decent design, let alone beauty. However, this leads into my oft-repeated advice to never give up on a map once it is “good enough”. You must persevere even if you are trying out a new tool and it is taking everything you’ve got just to figure out the halo syntax or where the line generalizing functions are. Also, be sure to factor that learning time into your deliverable schedule!

Exhibit A: a new TileMill map, in progress: Colors need to be fixed. Large region names are not dark enough. Small label conflicts. Transparency must be increased.

*Yes, I’ve used TileMill before but need to get to the good stuff!

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration