Rather partial to a nice map

10th April 2015

I visited East Riddlesden Hall last weekend and amongst all the old furniture, paintings and embroidery was a 5ft square 17th century map that had been turned into a fire-screen. The National Trust volunteer spotted my interest and looked up the notes. I think it was the original description of John More’s Land of Canaan map (detail below) and included notes on the cartography. So that was my Easter treat.

While the point of a map is to be a self-contained communication, reading about the production process gives us insights that we can then apply. If you follow the ArcGIS blog you’ll have seen the announcement of a new resource page: Maps We Love.I admit the immediate appeal was another collection of interesting maps but I really like the dual aim; to inspire but also to pass on insight into the design process. Clicking on each map takes you to a page that summarises why the map was chosen, why it works and how it was put together. The information is clearly presented in six sections (remember to keep scrolling, I only spotted the first two on my first visit):

The current selection is a broad range, including 2D, 3D and a highly interactive river network map. My favourite is the shadow map of population change in the US. I really like the way the shadows emphasise the relative differences between the areas. The shadows were created using a python script that the authors have shared on GitHub. The description on GitHub includes a version without colour and I wondered whether the shading would make the featured version, with its red to green colour ramp, more useable for colour blind people.

The selection of maps do have a US focus but the clear descriptions of how the maps were put together help show how the elements could be applied to our own mapping. For example one of the steps from the Portland Bike Mapmake the fill of the proportional circles 50% transparent but keep the stroke solid to see lots of overlapping symbols clearly – is generally applicable.

A paper map of Canaan was a major undertaking in John More’s day so our cartographic options would obviously be unrecognisable to him. But since he included depictions of events from the bible perhaps he’d be building story maps if he was alive today.

Detail from John More’s map, owned by the National Trust