how to make a map: mental map

Hello! Finally! How to make a map!

We’re going to start off pretty simply, ie no computers– unless you so desire. Let’s go over the thought process of making a map: what’s the purpose/message, who’s the audience, what materials will be used, how is this going to be displayed?

We’re going to go over how to make a mental map because of its flexibility and virtually 0 learning curve.

  • What is a Mental Map & Why are We Starting Here?
  • First Steps: Thinking, really
  • Next Steps: Creating
  • Final Steps: Editing

What is a Mental Map & Why are We Starting Here?

I’m starting off with mental maps because they’re as easy or as hard as you want to make them, and it really is much more about the conceptual thinking and thought process that comes with cartography. In short, a mental map is some sort of visual of spatial phenomena. They’re often of your own thoughts and perhaps even phenomena. A mental map can be as simple as scribbling how you get from your house to your job on a napkin to something as elaborate to an Illustrator-crafted, printed version of the very same thing. By creating a mental map of your own phenomena, you’ll soon realise that you’re making a ton of choices about inclusion/exclusion, colours, scale, simplification and much more.

There’s also no datum involved in these maps except for what you already no by heart, so this isn’t a beast of a project if you’re afraid of handling datum.

First Steps: Thinking, really

It is a mental map after all. But in all honesty, the more work you put upfront in really clarifying and refining the concept of your map will help you out for the rest of the process. Write things down: what do you do a lot and where do you do it? Are you noticing patterns in your own behaviour? Mapping your own tendencies might even help you realise things about your own habits that are either beneficial or costly! The important part is that you’re discovering there are spatial patterns to yourself & you can control what happens. Amongst these thousands of mental map ideas you already have buzzing around, what makes sense to put together? How you see your city? Checking how you you think you get to work? Discovering these spatial relationships will reveal a lot about yourself and how you interact with the world around you.

Next Steps: Creating

If you’re satisfied with your thought process–or perhaps even if you’re not– let’s move on to actually creating the map! What you’ll need: I have no idea because this totally depends on you. I once made a mental map out of only multi-colour paper and glue. Your map could be hand drawn (or cut!) or even chiselled for all I care. You just have to start. I can’t really give you too much guidance because this is your own map and cognitive process. But I do advise you to stay away from reference maps. The point is not to perfectly replicate what you see, but rather to record what you think.

Final Steps: Editing

So you have your mental map completed, and you’re so eager that you show all your friends, but they have no idea if they’re looking at potentially the worst snake ever drawn or your route to work. Time to start editing. Always remember to really consider your audience, even if it’s just friends & family. During the editing process, this might be a good time to cross-reference your map with the ubiquitous Google Map. But do so cautiously and sparingly, please I’m literally begging you. Aside from spatial competence, you want to make sure your idea/message is really clear in your map. Look at your iconography, flows, colours, scale, whatever and make sure that it’s doing a justice for your map.

Good luck, and have fun!


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