Technology

Is a Map Always the Right Answer?

Anthony Marshall
Anthony Marshall
26 Oct 2011
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Here at <a href="http://www.earthware.co.uk" target="_blank">Earthware</a>, we have recently been working on a number of projects showing quite complex and multi-faceted data sets using consumer APIs such as <a href="http://www.earthware.co.uk/what-we-do/bespoke-mapping-implementations/google-maps.aspx" target="_blank">Google Maps</a> and <a href="http://www.earthware.co.uk/what-we-do/bespoke-mapping-implementations/microsoft-bing-maps.aspx" target="_blank">Bing Maps</a>.  This has led us to explore lots of different ways of displaying more than one thing at a time on a map:  We have looked at pie charts, shading, doughnuts (or donuts to our trans-Atlantic cousins).  But, I keep returning to the view that;

  1. <em>Maps are never going to replace Excel</em> – when you get more than two numerical parameters that you want to look at at the same time then it is almost certainly better to use a table or at least a different type of graphic.
<p style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://earthware-website.azurewebsites.net/Content/images/wp-images/2011/10/Busymap.jpg"><img class="size-full wp-image-720 aligncenter" title="A busy map" src="http://earthware-website.azurewebsites.net/Content/images/wp-images/2011/10/Busymap.jpg" alt="" width="259" height="194" /></a></p> 2. <em>A picture tells a thousand words</em> – but if you try and show too much it becomes a bit more like a “Where’s Stig?” picture (great present book by the way) than a Rembrant.

<a href="http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?q=where%27s+stig+images&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;nord=1&amp;biw=1333&amp;bih=679&amp;tbm=isch&amp;prmd=imvns&amp;tbnid=COFN8hqAaoE0EM:&amp;imgrefurl=http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/2614721/Can-you-find-Stig-in-our-picture.html&amp;docid=jhQDrFPC-Kcn3M&amp;imgurl=http://img.thesun.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00878/28-08-2009-682_878401j.jpg&amp;w=800&amp;h=565&amp;ei=g6-mTsH0D8O38QOnysWuDw&amp;zoom=1&amp;iact=hc&amp;vpx=187&amp;vpy=155&amp;dur=14266&amp;hovh=189&amp;hovw=267&amp;tx=163&amp;ty=95&amp;sig=111245553487391152847&amp;page=1&amp;tbnh=145&amp;tbnw=203&amp;start=0&amp;ndsp=16&amp;ved=1t:429,r:0,s:03" target="_blank"><img style="display: block; float: none; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="http://img.thesun.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00878/28-08-2009-682_878401j.jpg" alt="" width="304" height="215" /></a>

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<span style="color: #000000;">3</span>. <em>Just because you’ve got the data in a database, it doesn’t mean you automatically put it on the map</em> – so often we see websites and maps that are designed around the needs of the owner “I want to get as much of my stuff out there as I can!” and not the needs of the user “I want to see only the thing or things that most interest me in the quickest and easiest way that I will understand”.

<a href="http://www.maddiesfund.org/Images/About Us/Press Releases/Comparative Database Map.png" target="_blank"><img style="display: block; float: none; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="http://www.maddiesfund.org/Images/About%20Us/Press%20Releases/Comparative%20Database%20Map.png" alt="" /></a>

Anyway, I recently read an article by <a href="http://www.ericson.net/content/2011/10/when-maps-shouldnt-be-maps/" target="_blank">Matthew Erikson</a> who I think really made my points for me in a very detailed way and so I thought I would point you in the direction of his article.

Neil

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