At Cartometrics, we are aware of the enormous advantages of data visualization on maps, allowing a lower effort and a greater understanding by the audience viewing them. In this post, we will share our main premises when it comes to building a map that is able to take full advantage of your data.
Before building our maps, we use the 5 Ws to mentally position ourselves in the narrative thread for its audience: What? Who? When? Where? Why? How?
What kind of map do we want to build? At this point, we decide if the map will work as an analysis and visualization tool or, on the contrary, if the map will be a merely informative, seeking to raise awareness about a particular topic or display relevant data, for example.
Who will view the map? This is one of the key questions, since we have to decide the relative weight of each map user or visitor profile. For instance, if we want to create a collaborative platform for social groups where there will be a user profile that geolocates its social actions and another user profile that only views these actions, the weight of each profile will condition the tools, colors and leyends that we decide to include in the map.
When? This question has the purpose more than anything of allowing us to verify whether the displayed data has temporal relevance, and if it does, to make sure that it’s always updated. This way, we will inform the user or audience of the last update date.
Where? Why? Well, let’s not go overboard with so many questions.
How? According to our analytics, 60% of the devices used to view our maps and platforms are mobile devices, and the rest desktop. It is for this reason that we focus our efforts on building responsive applications and maps, that will adapt to all devices.
Source of geodata and data cleaning:
Once we have defined the context and planned the steps to follow, we move on to verifying the available sources of data that can contribute the most to our platform. Both government and private data sources are periodically updated, so it’s always a good idea to keep track of them and maintain our platform updated too. We use QGIS, open source software, to clean our geodata, taking advantage of a wide range of interesting plugins that alone deserve a separate post.
At this point in the project, our premise is: “keep only the geodata attributes that interest us.” This is crucial because excessive data can overload our platform and make it slower. Other ways to reduce data size include simplifying your geodata using online editors such as mapshaper.
Creativity is an essential element in all areas of our organization, as it allows us to connect concepts and ideas to see beyond what already exists and innovate. In the case at hand, creativity in map building can be applied with the use of different platforms, libraries, plugins and APIs that allow us to explore different visualizations, colors and tools. It’s not easy to integrate all of them but making a good use of these tools inspires us to create anything that comes to mind.
Colors, 50% of the map:
Colors clearly influence people and we must make use of this fact when building maps. Colors allow us to change perceptions and emotions. Do we want to create a platform where people participate and get involved? Let’s use orange, the same color used by Amazon to encourage users to buy. Are we developing a map of areas at risk from wildfires in a natural park? We can use red or black, to emphasize the danger in these areas.