How Not to Mess up Mapping

If you want to laugh a little check out this blog post from Vox. They list 27 hilariously bad mapping jobs by journalists. Some of the mistakes are fairly benign but others are quite egregious. It wasn’t just amateur offenders either. CNN, the Wall Street Journal and Fox [News]  have some mistakes featured and it’s the kind of easy stuff that you really wouldn’t expect seasoned professionals to miss.

Funny as this is it points out some simple mistakes that beginners like us will probably make the first couple of times we try mapping. I’ll sum up some of the mistakes that are easier to miss but can still totally mess up a good map.

The Colors:

Fun fact; there are almost an infinite number of shades of each primary color. Most of them look incredibly similar to each other. We are talking about the difference between off-white and cream color here. If you can tell the difference you are either a paint prodigy or you are clinically insane. That said, using similar colors to define values on a map is a bad idea. If people can differentiate the colors then wont be able to understand the data and your map is doomed to be quite useless.

The Shapes:

Most maps incorporate user generated shape files. That is to say, somebody went in and drew a map of the counties of Florida. The humans who did that are as capable of mistakes as you are so its possible that they missed a county or two while they were drawing it. That said, it would be a good idea to double check all of your shape files to minimize error. If your using shape files from a source that you trust (like Google Maps) this isn’t THAT important. but keep in mind you are responsible for everything you publish. Even if it was somebody else s mistake the buck stops with you if you hit the publish button.

Location Location Location: 

If you mark an address on a map you better be sure. The stakes are higher if your talking about states or countries or continents. Mislabeling something could easily be the most embarrassing mistake. It’s easy to do but also easy to avoid. Just be careful and precise.

The Point, The Thesis, The Main Idea, The Cheese, The Stuff, The Thing.

Much like a paper your map should have a point. The data sets and the geographical representation should be showing the viewer something that they wouldn’t understand as well or at all if you just wrote it. If you’re map doesn’t have some kind of central thesis it will be as lost as a map that shows how far all 50 states are from Ohio.


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