Good Maps Should Speak to Everyone, Not Just “Specialists”

20 Mar

Example of a Bad Map: EU Daily Soil Moisture Anomaly

Example of a Bad Map: EU Daily Soil Moisture Anomaly. Source JRC-Mars. Published in BBC.co.uk on March 13, 2012

One of the benefits of being a jack of all trades, I have found, is that you are always an outsider.  So, when making policy decisions, creating maps or drafting up a marketing literature, you tend to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and improve your product to fit their needs as much as possible.

How do I know that, you ask? If you don’t know my story; I grew up an artist in a country not of my origin, then ventured out another continent to pursue an education in economics, and recently went to graduate school where I did some heavy lifting with science, statistics and the jargon of U.S. environmental policies.  I also took GIS classes where I found that a few of my cohorts who were excellent scientists and researchers were pathetic map makers! It was not because their maps were not aesthetically balanced, instead their maps did not effectively communicate their creative research question and their very interesting findings.

For instance,  the map by JRC-Mars (above) published in BBC reveals interesting pattern in European soil moisture, which could be an effective way to get attention to water inefficiencies in Europe. For a lay-person who reads this BBC article, it is  easy to understand that the red patches clearly show where the driest regions are and the green shows moisture-rich areas. Unfortunately, the white space is a confusing mix of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounding seas, major river(s) flowing through Europe and areas of “no data” as represented by the legend.

Bottom line

Just like a picture, one map can say a thousand words without the jargon of time-and-space-consuming words.  It can be an important communication tool that can effectively push for an international water policy or encourage consumers to take action about making their own public water system more efficient. So, when you make or use a map about water problems, do not club water bodies with areas with “no data”!

Other important elements this map is lacking is a North arrow sign and mentioning somewhere that it is showing information for Europe, duh!

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