Growth, understanding and sharing through cartography

Thoughts I had this morning.

Maps, whether they are in our head or in some physical form, help us make sense of the space.  A mental map might be a combination of landmarks in your head.  A physical map might show relationships based on measurements of time, distance, size or quantities.

Essence of a map

Maps often use lines, areas and points to make sense of the world in space and time.  The initial audience may be one’s self.

Contribute to shared awareness

Maps share or explain a spatial awareness with others.  “Here’s where all of the fossils are.”  “Here’s where people support X policies.”

Call Attention

Appropriately designed maps get attention, influencing people’s views and priorities through visual stimulus. By appropriate, I mean that a resident arguing against an impervious parking lot isn’t going to produce a National Geographic quality map.  But a  map by the resident may still convey the issues in a compelling way.

Design language

For example: Lines have weights (among other characteristics). Areas have hues. Points have sizes. Detail adds complexity. Type conveys mood based on cultural biases.  Design principles are part of the language.  We learn these and other design elements to prioritize attributes.

Observe & do

Design principles are exemplified in published maps.  Copy maps to understand.  Compare, to develop critical abilities.  Be like a sommelier who distinguishes wines and can pair them with food. 

Test ideas

Discuss your maps.  Get feedback from your audience. Use projects for work or otherwise to improve your skills and effectiveness as a communicator.

Solve new problems

Every design offers unique challenges.  Making a map work the way you want to is hard work.  It helps to step away from a map to come back with a fresh perspective.


Create data. Store data. Access data. Query data. Analyze data. Build on collective efforts. Iterate to view data in new ways. Contribute data. Improve accuracy. Share across mediums and time.

Why Illustrator? 

Typography. Drawing to illustrate and customize. Selection. Masking. Color. Integrate maps within graphic and layout contexts.

The challenge

QGIS, Illustrator, Data, SQL, GREP are tools that we have available.  They have to be learned. Design concepts give these tools power to make maps that work.