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Book Review: Making Maps

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Making Maps: A Visual Guide to Map Design for GIS
By John Krygier and Denis Wood
2005, The Guilford Press
303 pages

“You cartographers are so picky,” a colleague once said to me. “You have so many rules.”

And it’s true: there are rules for how text should be placed, how colour should be used, what elements should be included in the map and how they should be laid out, how data should be symbolized, what projections should be used, and on and on. Sometimes I feel that I should apologize to my GIS colleagues for all these rules.

But only sometimes. These rules, the pickiness of cartographers are what make maps work (and what makes us cartographers). John Krygier and Denis Wood have taken all of these rules and guidelines and laid them out in Making Maps. It is a book meant for use by non-cartographers who are called upon to make maps. These days there are many such people.

The book is essentially a resource, a listing of rules and guidelines that should be considered when making a map. These cartographic principles are broken down into a number of broad categories, with one chapter for each category: layout, intellectual and visual hierarchies, map generalization and classification, map symbolization, text, and colour. Nothing unusual there.

What makes the book unique is that on each page illustrations highlight the idea under discussion, the text merely works in a supportive, explanatory role. Cartography is a visual craft and the many illustrations – 2 or more per page – are essential to the success of this book. The text might introduce an idea, for example, generalization (“the systematic reduction of detail to enhance the point of your map”), the illustrations are the exemplar of what works and what doesn’t and users can immediately grasp it.

This goes on for each picky cartographer rule: use of color values, symbol classification, type weight and form, symmetry in map layout, map projections. Each rule or guideline is simply explained and illustrated; collectively, if followed, good maps can result.

Scattered throughout the book and in between chapters are examples of interesting maps whose content or purpose are not immediately obvious but which are explained at a later point. For example, the map of “areas crossed by two or more radioactive clouds during the era of nuclear testing in the American Southwest, 1951 – 1962” shows up in the first few pages of the book without a legend or any text describing the map’s contents. Without a context, the reader dwells on the map’s geographic pattern; the explanation, given later in the book, turns on a light bulb in the reader’s head which the map itself put there, in a most satisfying manner.

If there is one fault with the book it is that on occasion, it simplifies matters almost too much. Such statements as “the earth is really big and complex” harken to a “Cartography for Dummies” approach.

A book that is heavy on example and short on theory, Making Maps is a worthwhile investment for any who are looking to produce better maps without having to take a Cartography 101 course.

Visit the Making Maps website

1 Responses to “Book Review: Making Maps”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Yeah, that last sentence pretty much sums up my situation. And why I love this book!

    I did an undergrad degree in Environmental Sciences at SFU, then a GIS diploma at BCIT. Now that I'm working as a GIS Research Tech at UBC, a cartography course would have been reaaaally handy now but unfortunately, I never took one and one was not available in my GIS program. Should have been mandatory as most GIS tech's end up creating a map sooner or later for dissemination.

    While there's lots of cartography books in the local UBC Geography library, they are either big lumpy textbooks or old. This book isn't as academically rigorous as these but nails the concepts on the head. I liked it so much I went out and bought it for myself. (And Amazon.ca has a deal on it now!)

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