Custom Maps

How I went from being a map blogger to a map maker by just realizing that I love to make custom maps for myself and others.

I always thought of myself as an urban planner anytime I encountered something while driving that didn’t make sense. I used to wish I could change city streets the way you can in Sim City or Sid Meier’s Civilization.

When I worked for other companies I’d make maps of where people sat, where restaurants were located, or branch locations. I was rarely, if ever asked to do these things. I just did them.

As a business analyst, I created many intricate spreadsheets to turn data into usable information that could be shared. Our output was often compared to a map, maps being Edward Tufte’s standard of visual simplicity and design. When I visualized spreadsheet data, I was really making customized maps.

As an IT worker, I created intricate network diagrams of all of our client’s computer setups, which were really just customized maps.

When I finally came to realize that making maps was what I was most interested in, I learned that it was also the lens through which I viewed the world. I created maps in my mind to help me understand the world.

This past weekend I attended The Combine in Bloomington, Indiana. Merlin Mann of 43 Folders was the headliner. Before I left I created the map you see below:

It’s nothing special, just some information from a schedule laid over a Google Map screenshot. The reason I’m showing it is because no one told me to make it, I made it for myself to use at the Conference. I made a map so that I could better understand the material. It’s the same thing I did when I was a business analyst in the banking industry. I made maps of information so executives could make better decisions. In IT I made maps of information so that problems could be solved faster and so everyone could be on the same page as to how a system was setup. No one argues that the United States is located in between Mexico and Canada because maps tell us this is true. Maps make data obvious. They tell a story. They matter. And I care about them. That’s why I like making custom maps.

Map Design Resources

For those interested in map making design, you might enjoy reading Gretchen Peterson’s blog. Gretchen also wrote GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design. I’m currently in the process of learning TileMill from MapBox, but may also try MapTiler.