Thoughts on creating a map style sheet

Why create a style sheet? With several inset maps, it helps to create a stylesheet that I can reference for consistency.  This could be done as an Illustrator template or as a specific visual document.

It’s an organizational tool

Regardless of whether I’ll use it in the future, I find that creating a style sheet helps me organize my thoughts. It helps me come up with numerical choices for making future maps on the fly, whether or not I’m using a style sheet.

It helps me revisit a map after several weeks or months

A style sheet could potentially help me if I’m revisiting a map after a few years.  Honestly, I’d be more likely to copy graphic styles, fonts and colors directly without thinking about numerical descriptions.

It’s a crutch

So, the really reason I create a style sheet is to get unstuck when I feel like I’m not making progress on a map. There’s a deadline. I’m tired. And I need to keep moving forward somehow.

And once I have the style sheet, I can get into an automation mode where I’m just going through a process of applying styles. I can begin to focus on process rather than worrying about what the end result will look like.

What a style sheet doesn’t do

The style sheet may cover, color, width, graphic styles, typography, etc, but it doesn’t reflect the road selections. There is still an amount of selection and simplification needed to provide the map user with specific information that s/he will need.  And the default map attributes often can not be queried to tell this story.

Building a system

Ultimately, style sheets are not something visual.  They get turned into a  series of queries, simplifications and applications within Illustrator and MAPublisher (or GIS). And you can automate these to do much of the styling work with a few clicks.  It’s just that the computer isn’t going to think in terms of your audience, so there’s always a manual process.

Jumpstarting a project

Making maps for clients who change their minds is something I accept. Style sheets can help me address problems with less effort the first time, knowing that I’ll make changes to reflect the client’s preferences in the future.

The process goes something like this: use automation to create a sense for the direction the map is going to take.  The client then has something to respond to. This is important because clients can’t explain what they want out of thin air.

Even with the client’s intentions and preferences, scale, message and motif are going to mean that I will need to change styles.

A style sheet definitely me address the frustration of sitting at a desk for hours at a time while I feel like I’m not making progress.

The context of this post

I have a variety of projects going on: Trail maps, bicycling guides, and site redevelopment plans. I need to not let one project get in the way of other projects. Instead, the various projects need to complement each other where they can so that I can get things done faster, better, and in a way that is more fun.