Ask A Cartographer

suggestions to improve map

April 29 2011 | 6 comments
Categories: Cartographic Design

I would appreciate your feedback on my map (i.e. symbols, colors, etc) and how I could make it look better. I am using a BING base map with several of our layers overlaid. I used cartographic representation for the ramps and the ramp toll locations so these features could be viewed at this scale. I also created a 1,000 foot buffer around our entire roadway to create a background that would allow our ramps and toll locations to stand out more. The attached PDF map does not looks that great but you should be able to get the idea of the map.

Mapping Center Answer:

The first thing to establish with any map is what is its purpose and function - and how rapidly can the map reader work this out.  The title is crucial and I think you could provide a title that explains the map detail more suitably.  So what is the map's message? What do you want it to show?  This should allow you to phrase a title that focuses the user to the important message the map contains.

You may also want to consider the sheer quantity of detail you have on the map.  For instance, are all the smaller roads necessary or is the map mostly about showing the major highways and intersections?  Anything you can do to make the map less clutterred without detracting from the map's message will improve legibility and visibility.  This also relates to road labels - again, do you need them all?

I would also encourage you to think more about the figure-ground and visual contrast in your map.  These two go hand-in-hand.  Firstly, does the important detail in your map stand out as figural against the background?  Secondly, can you establish greater contrast between map layers to improve this?  The more you can separate layers into figure and ground the easier it is for people to read the map and understand what it is that is most important.  One way you could do this is do de-clutter the background (the previous point).  Another way would be to apply some transparency to the background or use lighter colors.

I hope this helps.  The important thing here is to think critically about your own map and to be able to evaluate your own work.  We are in the process of putting together a range of resources to help people with this important part of map-making.  Look out for blog posts on the Mapping Center web site, articles in ArcUser, a downloadable checklist and also sessions at this year's User Conference.

Thanks posted by Todd Smith on May 4 2011 11:03AM
Thanks for the feedback!
You're welcome! posted by Ken Field on May 4 2011 11:38AM
You're welcome!
new map posted by Todd Smith on May 5 2011 6:34AM
Hi Ken. I have a new version of the map that I wanted you to take a quick look at. Can I attach or upload another PDF document to this thread or should I email it to you?
another look posted by Ken Field on May 5 2011 8:56AM
I'd be happy to take one more brief look though the wider implication of your request suggests our development of materials to allow users to critique their own maps will be useful. Feel free to upload the PDF once more...and then keep a look out for our forthcoming materials so you and your colleagues can develop your own critique skills.
To upload the PDF, send us a new question posted by Aileen Buckley on May 5 2011 8:58AM
Each Ask a Cartographer question can support one upload only, so please send us the new map in a new Ask a Cartographer question so taht you have the option of adding the PDF as an attachment.
will do posted by Todd Smith on May 5 2011 9:14AM

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