Visualizing the Grid: Interactive Web Map

NPR has produced a new interactive map of the U.S. energy grid and power sources. Included are several roll-over maps to see percent energy production by different states and by fuel type. It also includes an informative display of anticipated renewable (solar and wind) fuel sources incorporated into the grid over the next few decades. The maps are intuitive, well designed, and data sources are cited in the map’s footnotes. This is a good example of interactive map design for public education. It should serve as a terrific resource for educators to help students understand power production, renewable power supply, and power distribution in the U.S.
Visualizing the Grid

The interactive map is produced for NPR’s series, “Power Hungry: Re-Envisioning Electricity In The U.S.,” including over a dozen articles. One could easily imagine this series and maps being worked into the curriculum in middle through higher education, inviting students to explore questions about location, energy, and the future. From the site: “The U.S. electric grid is a complex network of independently owned and operated power plants and transmission lines. Aging infrastructure, combined with a rise in domestic electricity consumption, has forced experts to critically examine the status and health of the nation’s electrical systems.”

Role of Sketching in Map Design Layouts

Hand-drawn sketching plays an important role in the digital arts. The larger a project is, and the more concepts a client will need to see, the more sketching will prove its worth in your design process. Consider using rough sketches for composition or layout options in your next project. Or push yourself to do a handful of thumbnail sketches before firing up your cartography software of choice. Create ten well thought out map design options (not seven to make three look good).  Select three and refine each.  Select one for final design.

In Role of Sketching in the Design Process, Sean Hodge discusses sketching for rapid concept development in traditional design.  This same process should be considered in cartography.

Sketch map figure from Slocum 2005

Cartographer as Designer – It’s a Process

Those who design maps for use by others engage in a specialized form of communication.  They create images to represent physical and phenomena in three-dimensional space, but they create them on two-dimensional surfaces. To do this effectively, a cartographer must understand not only the phenomena on which the maps are based, but also how to work with them to communicate information to others.  No amount of skill with computer software can rescue a map that displays a lack of understanding of the cartographic design process.

Example Map by XNR Productions

Cartography is a PROCESS, thus should follow a well thought out sequence of steps from conception to finished product. “So, what exactly are your intentions?” Know how the map is intended to be used at the beginning of your project. What is the presentation media? e.g., print, projected, web. What is the size? Is it interactive? How often does it need updating? Show examples of how you would create the same map differently depending on the presentation format.

PROCESS – A process is a naturally occurring or designed sequence of changes of properties or attributes of an object or system. More precisely, and from the most general systemic perspective, every process is representable as a particular trajectory (or part thereof) in a system’s phase space. (adapted from Wikipedia)

A map must be designed foremost with consideration to the purpose, the audience and its needs. In order to convey the message of the map, the creator must design it in a manner which will aid the reader in the overall understanding of its purpose.

What is your first step when someone asks, “Can you make me a map of…?”  Here are some questions you should ask (of your client and yourself) during the cartographic design process. It is recommended you make your own process list and format it as a form that you can re-use with each new project:

Purpose

  • Why are you making your map?
  • Who is your audience?
  • Primary audience:
  • Secondary audience:
  • Expert or non-expert?
  • Busy or motivated?
  • Able or disabled?
  • Other comments:
  • What should the map assert?
  • What do you want to communicate?

Data

  • What data are needed?
  • Existing or new?
  • Sources?
  • Is field data collection required?
  • Is analysis required?
  • Do you need to convert/geocode data?
  • Are there copyright issues?
  • Age of data?
  • Is there a budget for the data?

Tools

  • What tools will you use?
  • Other comments:

Design

  • What is the geographic framework?
  • Layout?
  • Will it be coordinated with other text? Or stand-alone?
  • Intellectual & visual hierarchies?
  • Map generalization and classification to be used?
  • Map symbolization?
  • Are there existing standards that must be followed?
  • New symbols to be created?
  • Type / font(s) to be used?
  • Use of color or black & white?
  • Existing color scheme?
  • Other comments:

Media

  • What is the final medium? (paper, poster, projected, Internet, interactive, computer monitor, other)
  • Resolution / scale?
  • Viewing distance?
  • Requirements for final file formats?

Evaluation and Acceptance

  • Who will approve the finished map?
  • What are the time constraints?
  • What is the budget?
  • Other comments:

Thanks to john krygier | denis wood, authors of making maps:a visual guide to map design for gis for their inspiring insight in the chapter “Why are you Making your Map?”

ScapeToad Cartogram Software

[av_image src=’http://drjill.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/scapetoad_sidebar.jpeg’ attachment=’1671′ attachment_size=’full’ align=’right’ styling=” hover=” link=” target=” caption=” font_size=” appearance=” overlay_opacity=’0.4′ overlay_color=’#000000′ overlay_text_color=’#ffffff’ animation=’no-animation’ admin_preview_bg=” av_uid=’av-27b6az’][/av_image]

ScapeToad is an interesting, free, stand-alone cartogram software for Mac, Windows (and available platform independent). ScapeToad 1.1 is available for download under a GPL license.

Classical thematic mapping displays spatial patterns of theme or series data depicted on familiar reference maps of standard land-area polygons, which are typically distorted only by the selected projection. A cartogram is a map in which some thematic mapping variable – such as travel time or Gross National Product – is substituted for land area. The geometry or space of the map is distorted in order to convey the information of this alternate variable. There are two main types of cartograms: area and distance cartograms. To see examples, WorldMapper.org provides a nice collection of cartograms.

(from the ScapeToad website) “The visualization of social phenomena through classical thematic mapping often leads to unsatisfying representations… Cartograms are a well-known technique used to compensate for this inconvenience by breaking the link between statistical regions and their topographical areas. Consequently, this liberates one visual variable (that of polygon size) for a more relevant use, such as the representation of the relative social importance of these regions (usually measured by the size of their populations), while leaving intact their topological relations.”

Flex Projector for Interactive Creation of Map Projections

Flex Projector is an interesting new program for anyone who has ever been interested in map projections. The program provides a great hands-on interface for understanding more about how map projections work as well as to create your very own. Alpha 0.32 was released 1 April 2008 for Linux, Mac and Windows by Bernhard Jenny, Oregon State University, and Tom Patterson, US National Park Service.

According to their website (http://www.flexprojector.com) Flex Projector is a freeware, cross-platform application for creating custom world map projections. The intuitive interface allows users to easily modify dozens of popular world map projections—the possibilities range from slight adjustments to making completely new projections. Flex Projector is intended as a tool for practicing mapmakers and students of cartography. It took a couple tries to get the shape files to show up in the map window, but once they did I was off and running. Very ingenious application. I think this will become standard material for every introduction to cartography class out there. Its well worth a look for all mapping professionals.