physical geography: connecting maps & ideas

Geography is a very interdisciplinary field by nature (haha!). The reason why I like maps so much is because it visualises and connects the other phenomena that I’m passionate about. Maps give life and meaning to the concepts I know are interrelated. They make a great communicative device as well.

My upcoming examination is in geomorphology. That’s a really fancy way of saying of saying how our landscapes form through endogenic and exogenic processes. Endogenic processes involve geo-related events, eg plate tectonics, volcanoes, etc. Exogenic processes encompass external factors, like precipitation, glaciers, rivers, etc.

This is a really interesting bitcon-looking runoff rate map map, divided by what appears to be states/territories within a state. So let me pitch something kinda crazy with this map. Runoff rate is the Look at the northern hemisphere, look at the southern hemisphere. The planning term “Global South” often categorises third world and developing countries, as they tend to be in the Southern Hemisphere. The Global North being developed countries that tend to reside in the Northern Hemisphere. From this map alone, one could argue that the runoff rate and county development is related. How? Precipitation for agriculture? Accompanying flora? Although I can’t say for certain, I think this is a good example of at least being able to depict spatial and social-spatial patterns.

how to use adobe illustrator: layers

Upon opening Adobe Illustrator, you should be prompted with this. This is setting up the dimensions of your Art Board. Left larger panel has default sizes and the right panel allows you to set it as you please with dimensions, title, landscape, etc. If you don’t know what sizes to do just yet, that’s fine. Pick something and we can adjust it later if we need. (Press command + O to do so for Mac)


If you’ve used any other program that uses layers, then you should already be comfortable with the format.

If you don’t know what a layer is no worries! Did you ever use that old school overhead in elementary & middle school? Think of those clear sheets as a layer, and then stacking them. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a more technical approach.

At the top, click Windows>Layers. You should see a small box appear on the right.  Click on the bottom icon that looks like a page folder over to create a new layer. To create a sublayer, already be on the layer you want to create a sublayer, then cluck the folder paper icon that has a 90 degree arrow.


I made 3 min layers: Top, Middle, Bottom. And they’ll appear in that description order. Meaning whatever you have on the Bottom layer will be respectively covered by the Middle layer and the same for the Top layer. There are also Sublayers, two of them under Top. This is just a way for you to stay extra organised within your layer. You’ll notice that each layer has a colour to the left of its title. When you select a point, line or polygon, it wlll come up in that colour to tell you which layer it’s in. The empty space to the left of the colour band is a locking function. If you were to click the space, a small lock would appear, indicating that you cannot change that layer. This is used heavily for things like tracing. The eyeball to the left of that tells you weather or not that layer is visible on the dartboard.

If that made zero sense, try to follow along what I said by looking at this image.The right panel is an expanded version of the layers and what is in layer. You may further notice that the image is stacked that way visually too. From top to bottom: Bears, Go, blue eclipse, black rectangle.


That’s what layers are simply stated and how to create them. That’s it for today! Layers are hard to understand, but super useful once you get the hand of it


Sometimes there are moments in life when you to mourn. Loss isn’t something that we inherently know how to cope with, nor is it something that can be taught beyond physical reaction. How am I supposed to feel? Am I feeling too much? Am I not feeling at all? How are others feeling? Until you realise how powerful it is that you can feel, and you just sort of stop for a second and let that sink in. How does one deal with grief? It’s not something readily understood, even by soldiers who have fought a thousand battles– it will always be hard. Are we to express our grievances every day at every moment because how dare you continue living, continue feeling. But that’s not practical or productive, but that mindset is not respectful. I want to say that I’m strong, I want to be able to think of fond memories, but I keep finding myself drowning in regret. I notice now, I want to talk now, I want to be there now. But I’m just too late.

how to make a map: QGIS

QGIS stands for Quantum GIS (GIS being Geospatial/graphic Information Science, depending on who you ask). You can download it here. QGIS is free to use and can be run on Windows, Mac and Linux. This post is just how to style and export a map.

Your opening page should look something like this, minus the Recent Projects section.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 4.52.26 PM.png

Now what? Download some data! If you want to follow along with what I’m doing, download this.

Unzip the file, then drag it into QGIS. This window should pop up, and hit “Select All” then “OK.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 4.58.57 PM

You should see something like this pop up. This is all the files in order. The order can be seen in the left-side box called Layers Panel. But this scale is awful if you look at the titles of our data.

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These are all the tools we’ll use for now. The hand is a panning tool. The +/- magnifying glasses can either be clicked once to zoom in or out or you can pull-draw a box to zoom.

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To get the image below, click the + magnifying glass and pull-draw a box around California.

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Zoom again into Oakland. Now look at the Layers Panel again. Unclick and rearrange as I have done to get below.

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Checkmark: So far we have (a) dragged files, (b) zoomed in, (c) organised layers.

But this map is so ugly. Double click a layer to bring up it’s Properties>Style to change colours.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 5.29.40 PM.png

You may choose how you want to colour your map. (We’ll get into colouring conventions and importance later, just try to see if you can change them). Now we’re going to export the map into Map Layout by pressing Project>New Print Composer. A small dialogue box will ask you to name it.

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Aaaand now your map is gone!  But don’t fret, just scroll downwards.

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Go to the top and click Layout, then whatever you want to add. Add Map will add the map you have in QGIS. Then draw-pull your map onto the page. You can then do the following for whatever else you want to add.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 5.50.19 PM

To add text, click add Label. You can then change the text box in the right-middle panel. Then you can further customise it by clicking “Font.”

I organised my map like this. But there’s still a lot that can be done! Can you think of what?

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Congrats on making your first map!

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!

uc berkeley & ann coulter

[As noted, not all posts are going to be about maps!]

Disclaimer: These views are my own, and in no part reflect the institution or student body of the University of California Berkeley.

I admit, I haven’t read everything there is about this debate, nor am I actively doing anything about it. But I want to talk a lot more about this just debate also, I want to give my inside perspective of how UC Berkeley treats these counter perspectives.

  • UC Berkeley & Ann Coulter
  • UC Berkeley & the general ere of how controversial conversation is handled*
  • So What Do We Do?

UC Berkeley & Ann Coulter

Since President Trump’s declaration of candidacy, UC Berkeley has been arming their rhetoric blades of tongue. There have been a number of papers, lectures, conversations and ideas that have been conceived because of this series of events. But dialogue has grown into something much louder, we are reenacting our 1960’s and Freedom Speech Movement foundations. After what happened with Milo Yiannopoulos, why Coulter wants to even present here is beyond me. Unless of course, she’s begging for that roar of a riot from the liberal youth and perhaps even violence to prove her point. But anyone political icon that seeks youth from constituents–no matter what side– is inarguably awful. Especially if you consider that this group is the highest public institution with the sharpest minds cultivated in the humanities and the sciences of our entire state.

UC Berkeley is being attacked heavily from the right, claiming that the First Amendment only being used one way. I do not deny that many of the students and university’s decision to remove and then reinstate Coulter’s visitation during RRR Weak (essentially a week of purely studying before finals) could be seen as a resistance to the Right’s side. But for the university, it might be more of a safety and publicity move, as all of this protesting is bad for the university and seen to be as a bad place for parents to send their children. BUT, here’s the thing about this. It is because UC Berkeley is full of scholars, professors, graduates and undergraduates alike, that are knowledgable of their social and racial positions and the production of inequality that we can parallel this dialogue and discourse of some far Right people to be oppressive. And I don’t mean in just a way that disrupts “safe spaces” or makes feel slightly uncomfortable. I mean that previous power groups have not only oppressed, but completely silenced the other group. Through imperialism, minorities have been oppressed through exploitation of resources and labour and even genocide to those who don’t comply. That sort of silencing that the current Left is looking to evade, as they understand the parallels and threats of being silenced once more. They are not abusing the First Amendment, but they are trying to keep themselves from it being used against them. There is a difference, for sure.

UC Berkeley & the general ere of how controversial conversation is handled

In no way am I meaning to translate that the way UC Berkeley is handling things is completely appropriate. The resistance to have debate is a prohibiting factor to collaboration and growth. What I’ve noticed from clubs and conversations that I’ve had with people who share minority identities is that this is the most common format: (a) define the problem, both concept and power group, (b) discuss how we are being personally effected, (c) discuss how we as a group are being “attacked” (I use quotes because these attacks are mostly legislative barriers & powergroup aggressions, but physical attacks can happen as well). And it tends to end there. So you have everyone rallied up and passionate about something, but why do that if you don’t have a solution, or if you aren’t making time to think of solutions? Of course no singular solution is going to work for everyone, or maybe not even for anyone, but there needs to be some time and focus on progress and productivity.

So What Do We Do?

I was trying to figure this out last night, if I’m going to propose such action, then I ought to offer something. So I started to scale it down. There are two groups: one of institutionalised power, one of reactionary power. I think it’s almost analogous with an adult and a child, for the sake of purpose, please do not get offended at the analogy–maybe even consider it. How do you create compromise between the two groups? One gives in for the other, okay, but in this case, neither group wants to give up anything. So let’s try a different route: how do you get people to work together on a group project? You assign one some work, and the other different work. This model can’t work though because perhaps by rhetoric the two groups have the same goal, but in reality they are trying to produce two very different realities. So it can’t be that either. But I think that, at the very least, exposes our problem: we have people with different goals trying to do the same thing, and thus implement their ideas on people who want none of it.

Unfortunately, what I’m tangibly seeing as a reaction is the spatial movement and sometimes stagnation of people. People are choosing to stick with the group they feel their own identities and beliefs are most align. But that’s a whole new idea of self-segregation. I’m at a loss.

types of mapping programs

Before I get into how to make maps, let me talk a bit about what programs I’ll be using– and some ones that we’ll be learning together.

  • ArgGIS – This is an ESRI product that can be difficult to acquire, but there’s a ton of features and reliability in this site. At the same time, with such a monopoly, be careful of limitations that ESRI will put before you. This program uses geostpatial information like geodatabase files and shape files in conjunction with spreadsheet data that relates to the geospatial data. Some useful features include linking your own files and datum, data cleaning, georeferencing, styling (colouring, point type, naming, etc), exporting maps, programming and a lot more. Note that this program can only be run on Windows systems.
  • ArcGIS Online – Just as difficult to acquire, if not more. It is substantially more limited in its designing tools and the amount of information you can pack onto it. But it’s a lot more versatile and shareable. If you’re a big map-heavy company, there’s a series of ways to share maps amongst people and your group. There’s also access to others’ maps and datum. This program isn’t meant for static maps the way that ArcGIS is, it’s tailored more towards creating interactive webmaps for supplementing websites.
  • QGIS – If you’re a casual mapper, I suggest looking into this program. The Q is short for Quantum, implying that this like a beta version of ArcGIS. But it’s free and can be used on iOS and Windows, so who’s complaining? I would, however, recommend saving often. QGIS has a similar toolbox to ArcGIS, but it isn’t as polished or reliable.
  • Mapbox – Almost a strictly web mapping platform, Mapbox is a great tool. However, the learning curve might be a bit steeper in comparison with the previous tools. However, the amount of freedom you have in comparison to ArcGIS is huge. You can also store your own datasets onto their site. But I forewarn that they run strictly on vector files, so if you’re trying to convert it into ArcMap or meld it with some other raster data, you might run into some problems. Also, if you’re not a huge company trying to take over the world, it’s free to use! They also supply a lot of their own tutorials for Mapbox Studio and Mapbox GL JS (and it’s an open source company, so you can get pretty much everything on GitHub). Mapbox Studio is more for making base maps for your GL JS or uploading them onto other webmapping programs. Mapbox GL JS stands for something like Graphics Library JavaScript (but don’t quote me on that). So the really cool part of this one is that you can add essentially whatever you can come up with onto these maps using JavaScript functions. If you don’t know JavaScript though, I might suggest learning some basic things and going through their tutorials before diving into headfirst into Gl JS.
  • Adobe Illustrator & Sketch (Mac only) – These design based tools are useful for creating your own maps. You have compete control, which is both liberating and tormenting. Because these programs don’t run things like shapefiles or geodatabases, you have to make these things on your own. This is not only physically laborious, but it also means that you have to make huge cartographic decisions when simplifying, eliminating and doing anything that isn’t exactly the base map you’re tracing or imitating.
  • Mapzen – For now, I just know that it’s comparative to Mapbox. When I know more myself, I’ll update this.
    • EDIT: Check this out along with its corresponding GitHub & fall in love.
  • CARTO – This is also used heavily for interactive web mapping. Personally, I’ve only used it to merge data sets and overlay their points, lines and polygons tools over base maps I made on Mapbox. To add interactivity on CARTO, you’d have to use SQL instead. I’ll update this as I dive more into it myself.
  • OpenStreetMap – This is a good place to grab open source data. We’ll explore this later on.
  • Google Earth Engine – So this one is a bit unlike all of the others because it’s remote sensing more than cartography. In short, remote sensing are pictures taken from droids or satellites. The really cool thing is that these can take pictures in our visible light spectrum, but also in other forms that give you about how much vegetation there is in an area or what the topography is like. So what’s the downfall? Because it kinds sounds like this has become a fool proof cartographic method, as far as considering the questions of power and simplification. Well, this data isn’t nearly as accessible and you don’t have control over what you can do nearly as much as in any other program. Google Earth Engine also has fantastic tutorials that teach you how to use their program and even some JavaScript, as that’s what their program runs off of. So in the context of JavaScript, you have some control. Google Earth Engine is not explicitly publicly open. You’ll have to submit a reason why you want to use their data, however.
  • Apple Maps – Apple is the epitome of capitalism when it comes to allowing you to do anything with even your own data. But I’ll still show you some cool things with Apple Maps, if I can.
  • Google Maps – Sort of similar to Apple, Google isn’t that great from a cartographic standpoint, but we can still talk about their cartography and mass implementation. If you have an Android phone or even just Google Maps, then you are permitted access to your own data, which we can mess around with.

I know there’s a handful of programs that I’m not too familiar with at the moment. But I’m here to learn just as much as you are!

outer space mapping


I never put much thought into outer space in general because it seemed impractical and even irrelevant to me. But everything that I see and know about outer space comes from some sort of picture or drawing that is put into some sort of map for scale. They’re put into maps to show their relative sizes and distances because these scientifically noted numbers are literally too astronomical to be understood. So let’s get to it.

  • What is an Outer Space Map
  • History of Outer Space Maps
  • Modern Space Mapping Technology

What is an Outer Space Map

What distinguishes outer space maps from earth bound maps is that outer space maps are made from void to data collected, but not necessarily experienced information. Stylistically, both maps are fundamental in what you’re trying to convey is the concept of a place to someone who may have never been there before. So I guess that’s a pretty lucky start! Outer space maps are extra powerful because basically 99.99% of people who are viewing the map have never been– perhaps even the cartographer hasn’t been there! But the cartographer in this case has a special responsibility because no one has experienced this before that their map is what people will internalise as their perception of space. An outer space map is a powerful tool that mathematically translates data gathered by satellites into visual pieces.

There are a couple different types of outer space mapping that will be reviewed. Star Charts are astronomical maps that focus on what aspects of space can be seen from earth, and then cultural perspectives influence the meaning of the stars relationship to another. Specifically, star groupings and constellations tell the readers how nature diff

 History of Outer Space Maps

Source (left): “Divine Sky” from University of Michigan.

Source (right): “Star Maps” from University of Maine, Farmington.

The two above maps are how outer space has been mapped historically.  The left map is drawn by French Astronomer Philippe de La Hire and the right map is from c. 700 AD. These maps are more colloquially star charts, showing the spatial relationship of constellations in the sky.

Greek philosophers are arguably the most infamous astronomical mappers. Their contributions to math, technology and astronomy have been critical to the development of our mapping, and then in turn, our understanding of outer space. You can find a huge series of maps and mathematical analysis (especially look into the invention of trigonometry if you’re interested!). Most people are probably more comfortable with Astrology more than Astronomy, so maybe this does interest you more. But keep a keen eye when looking at the maps: what colours are being used? what’s on the borders? what figures are being portrayed as good? as evil? is there a hierarchy? why were these created? who used them?

Modern Space Mapping Technology

Disclaimer: I’m not going to explain how space mapping technology functions mechanically because that is beyond my scope, but I’ll give you a basic framework of the steps to mapping space.

There’s this a wizard of a man by the name of John Bandler. His space mapping is an optimisation strategy. This happens by running a coarse model over a fine model. Depending on your results, you are to adjust your coarse model to be closer to where you want to be. This is a strategy of optimisation. But this also tells non-astrophysicists very little about how these maps are actually conceived.

With today’s rapid growth in technology, we have forgone (although not completely) the star chart model for something a bit more intense and realistic. Visual outer space mapping is a combination of satellite’s collection of pictures and data, astronomical classifications and design principles. There are various programs available for anyone with internet access to see outer space, such as MarsTrek, Google Sky, NASA Gallery, The Digital Universe, planetarium shows, just to name a few. I’m going to focus on some work from The Digital Universe and UC Berkeley.

The Digital Universe Atlas

Source: Screenshots from C. Emmart’s TED talk: a 3D atlas of the universe

The Digital Universe Atlas is a project from the American Museum of Natural History over the past 18 or so years. The left image is a map of exoplanets, which are planets outside of our solar system that orbits a star other than the Sun. The centre image is a map of the colour-coded paths that satellites take to gain a comprehensive understanding and data collection of the astronomical region. The right-most image is a map of the satellites that orbit earth, some gathering information on the world around our world and others aiding our experience with telecommunication and GPS services.

UC Berkeley

Source: G. Smoot’s (UC Berkeley) TED talk: The design of the universe

These images all show you the universe, broadly. When looking at the centre of the right-most image, you have Earth. Fanning out from Earth, there are colour coded galaxies based on their cluster density. What I’m most interested in are these void spaces– not just the ones that are completely black, but the space in between galaxies. Why is nothing there? The obvious answer is gravity and that over a huge amount of time, particles pulled towards each other to create these clusters. But why is there still void space? My assumption is that  we’re still undergoing that process of gravitational attraction, but it’s so slow moving relative to our understanding of time, that we have no idea (outside of how small particles formed this current structure) what restricting is occurring.

This series of images brings about an extremely interesting concept: we are in a containment bound by our understanding of space and time. At the centre of these images lies us Earthlings. But you’ll see that radially these images have an end. That end is marking the line between quasars (think baby stars) and whatever is before our conception of space and time. Makes total sense right? Well, light can only travel so far so fast. This means that the further away something is, the further back in time we see it because of the time that it takes light to travel and reflect back to our eyes. For example, we see the Moon 2 seconds back in time and the Sun 8 minutes back in time. If this is boggling your head, that’s okay because this post is supposed to be about the map not about astrophysics! That said, let’s get back to the map.

All 9 of these images shown of a visual and digitised outer space amount to our conception of what space really is. The cartographers here have a huge task of not only displaying their data in a sensible way, but they also carry the responsibility of creating an entire new reality for people who may never experience themselves. What colours should be used? What’s the appropriate scale to make this conceivable? Orbits are continuous, but their path is void space, and there are not concentric circles planets roll around on, so is making orbits okay? Is what we’re doing okay? Is it realistic? Can we do better? I hope this grounds you a bit as an aspiring cartographer as you create realities of your own.

If you have learned nothing about how to map outer space, that’s alright. If you understand the logical process of optimisation, then that’s fantastic! I hope you can at least implement that sort of formulaic method when you’re stuck on other cartographic problems.

understanding data visualisation

Map making is, almost by definition, data visualisation. Base maps aren’t just readily present, they are created off of data collected from urban planning departments, remote sensing companies, and physical geographers. Base maps are often overlaid with even more information: what buildings and business are we showing?, what neighbourhoods are people being directed to?, what borders are erected? The cartographer makes these decisions based off of their relevant importance to the map’s purpose and their own harboured bias. This post is meant to help clarify some basic and introductory concepts for understanding and communicating the data in maps.

  • Types of Data Used in Maps
  • Visualising Data
  • Legends, Charts & Supplemental Features

Types of Data in Maps

Maps use geodata, meaning that this data has a spatial aspect to it. Some data might tell you how many evictions there are in a given time period, geospatial data will tell you where these evictions are happening. This spatial trend can help you discover targeted neighbourhoods. This could be addresses to places and latitude/longitude points, depending on how the data was collected and what was being recorded. Some examples of these file names and purposes are the following:

  • Raster – These files are used outside of geospatial technology and maps, but their relevance is worth bringing up. These pixel files, just like pictures taken off of your phone. You may notice that if you zoom in too much, you can see the squares materialise. The positive part of this is that raster files load much faster than vector files.
  • Vector – These files are based off of mathematical formulas to maintain the points, lines and polygons shape. Fonts and PDF files are examples of vector files. Although these files take more time to load, they can often be considered more beneficial if your zoom levels are large scaled.
  • Shapefiles – These are vector files–created by points, lines and polygons– are used in GIS software. These files usually have attributes to them as well.
  • MXD – These files have a map layout, description and other objects that can be saved on maps. These files can be used in GIS software.
  • KML – Keyhole Markup Language displays geographic data in an Earth browser, such as Google Earth. It has properties for place-markers, paths, polygons, styles for icons and overlays and much more.
  • GeoJSON – It’s the same JavaScript empowered JSON file that preserves its interactive features with a geographical component. This could mean that the file contains coordinate points, lines and/or polygons.
  • TIGER – Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing describes land attributes. The US Census uses these files for the geospatial map

There are a lot more files that you may come across while making maps, but understanding these should give you a good place to start understanding what it is you’re working with.

Visualising Data

Data visualisation is basically taking a whole bunch of numbers into a visual format that can be understood simpler, faster and by a wider community.  I think the most important part of data visualisation is audience comprehension– what’s the point of you putting in time and effort if your efforts are being read as ambitious? Data visualisation on maps can be represented through a number of different ways. Here are just a few examples:

  • Choropleth maps use colour to show densities and scarcities in places. These maps are valuable when looking for concentrations and scarcities of a phenomena. When choropleth mapping strategically, the deconstruction of borders becomes apparent as well– more on this later, however. Common choropleth maps are population density maps.
  • Flow maps show movement of phenomena. This map is good for showing how much of what is going where. Examples of flows may be migration patterns and agricultural distribution.
  • Cartograms distort space by the phenomena density in a place. This map is good for giving truth about a place more so than a space. Some great examples of cartograms can be found here.

Depending on what data you have and what spatial relationships you want to show will determine which type of map to use. Think first about what you to show and what you want your data to argue before you decide what kind of map you want to make. Don’t limit yourself! Think about combining these ideas too. Maybe you’re making a flow map that has a phenomena being sent at different scales, consider either changing the colours of the flows or graduating their size.

Legends, Charts & Supplemental Features

Equally as important to the map are the components that tell the reader just what they’re looking at. Legends are like cheat sheets that translate the map’s colours and symbols into an a linguistic format. Because legends tell people what your map is about, you should spend just as much time cleaning your map as you do constructing your map. The following image show an example of a poorly formatted (often default settings) of a legend and a manicured version.

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Chart legibility is also critical in giving meaning to your map and data. When editing your charts, try to give the greatest amount of ideas with the least amount of ink in the smallest space. Creating a good, legible chart requires balancing substance, statistics and design. When constructing your chart, consider these key concepts for legibility and clarity:

  • Show the data – This sounds simple, but these can be easily filled with extraneous information you didn’t mean to make as important as the chart implies. Just tell the reader what they need to know about your map and let them move forward.
  • Tell the truth about the data – Maybe the data actually disproves your hypothesis– and that’s totally okay. It’s more transparent for you to bring forth all  the information. Don’t make bias design decisions when communicating the data, you and your audience deserves the truth. If the data didn’t go the way you thought it did, maybe explore why?
  • Maximise dark ink – This is supplemental to your map, it isn’t the big show. Make it legible, but not to the point that it’s covering important parts of your map. Size is an important thing to note, try to keep a reasonable ratio between your map’s size and any supplemental aspect.
  • Minimise chart clutter – Sometimes it’s aesthetic, other times it’s distracting. Recall that the whole point of this is to supplement your map. If you have something that is too distracting or irrelevant, consider redesigning it or deleting it altogether.
  • Have a message – Your map has a purpose, and this supplemental piece should too. What is the purpose? What else do you want to say about your data? Perhaps there was a more niche set of information you delved into, or maybe there was blanket information that applied to the entire map extent. Be clear and precise.

Understanding proper data visualisation is a crucial step in cartography and communication in general. A legible and succinct design that gets the message across is the goal when translating data into a visual. Good luck!