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The Process of Making a Map

General csonsiderations

At first glance, it can seem a little daunting knowing where to start in the map-making process. Fear not, it is more straightforward than you might imagine. It’s a matter of gathering up information to support a cartography brief, which is not dissimilar to any design brief. To assist you, consider the following:

  1. Objective(s)
    : What do you want the map(s) to achieve? Is there a business communication objective(s) to be met? Are you trying to reveal data that underlines a particular service offer? Also consider whether you are trying to convey a unique aspect of your business that is unlike that of your competitors.
  2. Context
    : Why do you need the map(s)? How did you arrive at that need? It’s helpful to understand the wider context of a brief.
  3. Resources
    : What data and existing material do you have that will be useful to the cartographer? Can time need to be set aside to research sources available with third party providers, whether open-source or proprietry?
  4. Brand guidelines
    : It’s important to know whether the mapping should adhere to the use of certain colours and typography so that it can be reflective of the brand. Other guidance on ‘tone of voice’ and character can be helpful to form a appropriate graphical and typographic language for the mapping.
  5. Map Form
    : What type of map(s) do you think you need? Is is a topographic style (geographically accurate); topological (concerned with spatial relationships, such as a transport network diagram); thematic (showing tangible or intangible phenonmena or data); or perhaps deliberatly quite abstract.
  6. Copyright
    : All maps are derived from data sources compiled and owned by someone or some organisation. For example, you cannot trace any mapping without infringement of their their copyright. All maps are subject to copyright. You can only circumvent that by carrying out your own detailed ground survey, or creating a map from licensed ortho-corrected aerial imagery. Whilst open-source maps and data are often free to use for both personal and commercial applications, they most often require appropriate attribution that must appear on the map, or close by. It’s often a good idea to discuss this as part of creating a brief.
  1. Colour management
    : This is a rather complicated but important area of the work. Be careful not make judgements on colour if you are not using a colour-calibrated device. Are you working in a colour-calibrated environment? Sometimes, only proper hardcopy proofs provide the most accurate representation of the finished work. Get in touch to discuss and clarify this further.
  2. Budget
    : How much do you have to spend? If in doubt, ask the cartographer for some guidance on this. Avoid asking for an estimate if you only have a vague brief. It may be possible to provide a ballpark figure, though a project must be guided by budget. I will normally allow for one set of revisions within an estimate. Revisions beyond this are carried out at an hourly rate.
  3. Application
    : What will the map be used for? Printed or digital, for example. What will be the reproduction used as that can dictate the approach. Perhaps it is to be used across several mediums; this has to be made clear so the design can allow for this flexibility.
  4. Audience
    : Who is the map(s) aimed at? What type of audience? Professional or amateur? Possibly even children and young adults. What are the typical and/or common characteristics of your audience? This will inform the approach.
  5. Other constraints
    : Is there anything else the cartographer should be made aware of? Perhaps there are other stakeholders who will have a view on the final map(s). Perhaps there are other longer term (business) scenarios that will impact upon the developed mapping in the form of future updates and changes.
  6. Timescales
    : When do you need it by? Be realistic here; rush jobs will always be a fact of life but rarely result in the best outcome. Allow time for proper review and feedback. Realistic deadlines will generate better results.
  7. Communicate
    : After you’ve written your brief, or even during the process, it can be helpful to talk it through. This may help clarify uncertainties, or reveal missing information.

Approach to design

The fundamental cartographic design process is as many design tasks, particularly graphic design: DefineDesignRefineDeliver. To expand on this, a project can break down into the following phases: Thinking; Planning; Ideation; Design; and Direction.

In specific reference to the cartographic design process, we can describe this in a little more detail as such:

  1. Define
    and confirm the scope of the brief;
  2. Compile
    sources and references;
  3. Define
    and recommend an appropriate map form (projection and scale);
  4. Define
    an information structure and hierarchy;
  5. Design
    a graphic language (styles);
  6. Design
    a typographic language (styles);
  7. Artwork
    a first draft map(s);
  8. Refine
    and amend artwork following feedback;
  9. Freeze
    final artwork;
  10. Publish
    final artwork for agreed distribution channels (print and digital); and
  11. Review
    at a later date if application(s) and objective(s) met.

If you request a proposal, the approach, process and methodology will be expanded upon within the structure of a document. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to discuss a potential project—no obligation.


The Cartographer
A Map-making Practice
Selected Map Works
Mapping Insights
Map Art


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