Geography 970

March 8, 2010

Data “only” Maps

Filed under: Uncategorized — kjmcgrath @ 1:49 pm

I’ve been fascinated by “data – only” maps for quite a while. I think of a data only map as one in which usually only one theme is presented and besides data relating to the idea/ theme there are no other layers or data included in the map. Perhaps this is better seen than explained. All Streets – Ben Fry is just such map. Footprints by Andy Woodruff is another.

These maps and others like them pull away all the things we normally associate with a well executed map. (base layers, ancillary data, context and setting for the theme(s) in situ). These things which make map reading and interpretation easy and rewarding, when pulled away give a fresh look at some data-set and communicate information about the area. Often these maps are quite clear showing coastlines, boarders, and other features that make up the essential base layer information of a map by proxy. Reducing the data ink of the map to only include features which are data can clarify bring conclusions forward otherwise lost. Edward Tufte says graphics should be multifunctional, “mobilizing every graphical element perhaps several times over, to show the data. ” (Visual Display of Quantitative Information). These maps accomplish just that and reflect his examples of chart redesign where chart junk and redundant ink was removed to more clearly show the data.

I think that this process can be taken to far, I for one don’t want to see multilayered maps go away by any means. But for myself I think these maps provide a new fresh look at the world revealing mountain ranges, rivers, social, and anthropogenic constructs in the white space rather than thr0ugh dedication of ink. Moving then to applications for data visualization and future map making I think a serious questioning and possible reduction of “needed” layers of information can be accomplished through the compression of information into other layers and letting data come from the absence of data in a location rather than adding more ink.

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