Ask A Cartographer

Sixth grade student's assignment to ask a cartographer a few questions

November 25 2007 | 1 comment
Categories: Cartographic Design

Hi, I am a sixth grade student in Massachusetts. For the past months my class has been working on map projections. For an assignment I get an opportunity to e-mail a cartographer and ask a few questions.

My questions are:

*What is your most challenging procces in making a map?
*How many drafts do you produce before you make your final map?
*and, what kind of map projection(s) do you make?

Mapping Center Answer:

Hi, Here are a few answers for you:

*What is your most challenging process in making a map?

Deciding what the “affective objective” of the map will be -- that is, the “look and feel” of the map. This is different from deciding what to put on the map (something cartographers call the “substantive objective”). The look and feel of the map is related to how you choose colors, fonts, and map elements that promote the look you want. For example, I can almost always tell a National Geographic map because they use many of the same design approaches and the maps have similar affective objectives. They make it look authoritative by using the same font, subtle colors, blocks of text, and sometimes they embellish the map with drawings. If you look at a Benchmark atlas map, you can tell who made it right away because it always has beautiful hillshading and colors to show the mountains and valleys. (See So for each map I make, I give considerable thought to how I want the map to look and how I want the reader to feel about it.

*How many drafts do you produce before you make your final map?

This depends on the map -- simple maps require fewer drafts, but I guess I can say that I make no fewer than 3 drafts, specially if they are print maps and not for display on the computer screen.

*What kind of map projection(s) do you make?

If I am working on a statistical map of the U.S., I use the Albers Equal Area conic projection. If I am making a map of the U.S. and the shapes of the states are more important than retaining the area, I use the Lambert conformal conic projection. If I am making a map of the world and it is showing statistical data, I will use the Mollweide equal area projection. And if the shapes are more important than the areas. I will often use Winkle Triple. For dramatic looking maps, I will sometimes use an orthographic projection.

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