When it comes to maps, context is still the key. It shapes them and layers on meaning, sometimes hidden, sometimes overt. And despite Google Maps we still use many other types of maps, such as the tourists maps we pickup on vacation with their exaggerated landmarks, or the directions we give a stranger. Those personal maps reflect ideas about a place we hold in our heads, that when revealed tell more about us than the geography (see below).
The header image is Lewis Carroll’s now infamous ‘ocean-chart’ from The Hunting of the Snark. The map is a featureless, empty space reflecting the ocean and the unknown; a dark place full of dragons and monsters waiting to be explored and brought forth into the light. However, here’s another ‘map of the ocean’ this time from the Marshall Islands. It’s a ‘stick chart'. The shells represent islands, and the sticks represent currents and lines of swell. It’s the unknown and hidden made visible – which is surely the goal of any visualization.
A map is for an audience. When we create maps we must strive to understand who will be reading them. Is this a map for me, for us, or for them? Are they literate to the language of the map? When we use maps in data visualization our approach and the choices we make in the cartography and visualization does not only communicate the quantities, the metrics, but can also confuse and express a bias we may not be aware of.
Always ask yourself: “Will my audience know how to read this map?” and "What else is this map communicating?"
Graphic Thought Facility: http://www.graphicthoughtfacility.com/british-council-work-from-london-poster/
By Strebe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting
John Fulford, The Walk to South School, from You Are Hear: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katherine HarmonFlickr: jmcd303