A map is traditionally a two-dimensional representation of the earth’s surface, which helps us visualize and understand our environment. Data visualization has made it easier to represent geographic information in an accessible way for people who are not familiar with mapping tools. Maps can be used to understand patterns in data while still being able to see the context that surrounds them.
The creators of these maps may have different intentions, some want to show how different places relate geographically or culturally; others want you to explore your own surroundings from a new perspective. Regardless of their purpose, all maps require careful consideration about what should go onto them and where they should be placed on the page before they’re published online or put into print. So here are some things that you should consider before making a map.
- Know the purpose of your map: The first thing you need to come up with is the purpose behind creating a map. Whether it’s to show the relationship between different countries or different continents, or if you want to make a map of your everyday world as a new perspective, some things need to be considered before making a map.
What kind of audience would this map be for? What message do you want your readers to come away with from this map? What information do you need to include and what should be excluded, and why? What size is your map going to be? What software will you use in the making of this map? Make sure you are clear with all these questions as they can influence what you can and cannot include, as well as how your map will look.
- Determine what information you want to include on your map: You can have data related to restaurants, hospitals, parks, etc. – as well as geographical relationships such as the location of countries/cities and their relative size. What you include is up to you! Finding what type of data to include will be based on your target audience and how they will benefit from your map. Also, look into how to enter map coordinates into google maps so that you can create them easily and facilitate your work.
What geographical data to prioritize is also dependent on what your audience is. You can get really detailed with the location of specific buildings, roads, etc., or you can just include the major physical features of an area. What works best for your map will depend on what you want it to convey.
- Pick a scale for your map: Maps come in varying scales (remember, scale relates to the size of the things you are representing on a map compared to real life) and can give or take away from what your map is trying to show. For example, if you wanted to create a small-scale map for use in a travel brochure that shows road routes between destinations but doesn’t include any other geographical information, then it wouldn’t be important that 1 centimeter on your map represents 5 kilometers in real life because all that matters is how long it will take you to get from point A to point B.
On the other hand, if you were creating a large-scale map of your entire country and need to fit multiple cities onto one sheet, then it would be important that each centimeter represented 5 kilometers in real life because it would give you a better idea of the actual distances between cities when compared to the equivalent distance on another map.
- Choose between drawing or tracing an existing map: For maps that include real-life locations, you need to decide whether you are going to trace an existing map or design your own. The advantage of tracing an existing map is that you can simply copy what the creator of the original map has already done, which takes less time and ensures that all relevant information makes it onto your final product. However, if you don’t have access to the original map, then this method isn’t available to use. The other option then becomes drawing your own version of the world based on any information that may be available.
- Consider if you need to make any customizations: this might be to accommodate your chosen piece of work in a specific space or make sure that the map is to scale. If you are making adjustments, then you will need to keep in mind how much exaggeration or reduction may be needed for different regions and what impact this has on their size when compared with the others. You can sometimes combine the two methods by making a rough sketch of your map and then refining it.
- Draw an outline first, then fill in details later: this will allow you to build up the scale of your map by adding countries and features within them. This way, you can use a pencil to quickly fit in the main features and borders so that you have a sense of what will go where. This is essentially an early version of your map, which you can then improve. This may be because the content isn’t quite right for the audience or just because it has errors that need fixing. You might also do a draft if there are some things left out of the final piece that you want to include but don’t want them to distract from the overall map.
- Use symbols and labels: These elements help the map to be understood by your readers and people who don’t know much about it. Try to use symbols that are consistent with other maps, such as using a flag for countries or a cross for churches. You can also use shapes like squares and triangles to represent different things (e.g., houses and schools). Additionally, information should be labeled with what it is, not what it represents. For example, you wouldn’t label a park “green area” or a river “water.”
Maps are powerful tools that communicate information in a visual format. By considering what you should put into your map – and where it goes – you can create one that is clear, easy to understand, and helps people get the message you want them to see.