11
Jul
09

Finding the Cheese Factory

Our very first reader submission comes from Robin, who suggested I look at the library of maps available from Moon Travel Guides. There are a lot to choose from, but this one stood out as I browsed through:

Monteverde and Vicinity

Click to see full size. Obtained from http://www.moon.com/maps. (c) Avalon Travel.

Your geography lesson for today: Monteverde is a small town in Costa Rica, popular with ecotourists (thanks Wikipedia).

Biggest problem: No legend. This may or may not be remedied in the context of the guide in which the map is published (perhaps there’s a master legend at the front of the book), but this map is provided on the website without a guide, and needs to work in that capacity. So, let’s figure out the legend.

There appear to me to be eight different point symbols used on the map. There are stars, circles, squares, triangles with the points up, triangles with the points down, and pictures of moons. There’s also an unmarked symbol for a gas station at one point, and one of a church that says, “Church.”

I am guessing the stars mean different points of interest? There’s the “Natural Valley Nature Trail,” the “Monteverde Nature Center and Butterfly Gardens,” and the “Cheese Factory.” I cannot fathom what these all have in common other than perhaps they’re places tourists like to go. If you’re into cheese factories.

Then there are squares. These are labeled with things like “Monteverde Institute,” and, my favorite, “Friend’s Meeting House.” I’m guessing they mean it’s a Quaker meeting house, but the badly misused apostrophe makes me wonder if it’s just a house owned by the mapmaker’s buddy. “Yeah, I know this guy who has a sweet house down in Monteverde. We should totally meet down there. It’s near the Cheese Factory.” Grammar aside, it’s hard to tell what all the things labeled with squares have in common, that they do not have in common with the stars. Let’s just call it “things less interesting than the Cheese Factory.” We’re talking internet cafes, bullrings, and a toll booth.

There are circles (more or less – they seem rather deformed at certain points, but not enough that I think they’re different symbols than the circles), too. The labels suggest these are all hotels or other lodgings.

The triangle, with point up, is on the far right edge of the map, marking Cerro Amigos (1,842m) – a mountain.

The triangles with points down, while looking dangerously like mountains seem like places to eat: Johnny’s Pizzeria, Cafe Monteverde. But there’s also an amphitheater? Maybe it serves food.

These triangles are problematic. A square is different from a circle – and so we look at the map and say, “these must be categorically different things!” If you see squares and circles, but two kinds of triangles, your brain starts thinking, “these triangles must be more closely related to each other than they are to the circles or squares!” But I’m pretty sure food and mountain are not too connected. So, a different shape is advisable here.

Finally, there are the moon symbols. These mark towns, I believe. This symbol is apparently the company logo, and using it to mark cities makes roughly no sense. They’re trying to be cute. Cute is one way bad maps happen. Also, I just noticed that the nature reserve on the far right of the  map, also uses a moon. I’m pretty sure that’s not a city. So, moon symbols in our theoretical legend should be marked as, “Towns, Cities, and Nature.”

This is why they make legends. So that I don’t have to spend several minutes figuring this out, with a chance of getting it wrong.

The author is rather inconsistent in how detailed a label they apply to symbols. One square is marked “Bank” and another “Massage.” But some list the specific business name: “Desafio Tours.” I am open to hearing an argument that there is a scheme behind this, but I’m not sure.

Also, most all the type on this map is in caps. Maybe they think everything in Monteverde is important. Caps are good for making things stand out. Unless everything is in caps, in which case nothing stands out. Good work. Setting a few letters in lowercase here and there will probably help the map look more professional, less…aggressive and in your face, for lack of a better description. Less like a five year old pulling on your arm and saying, “HEY LOOK AT THE POST OFFICE OVER HERE.”

One Nice Thing: They did use different shapes to represent categorically different things, so that’s a good use of shape. They could have used dot size, which would be a bad idea, because size is orderable, and “Points of Interest,” “Restaurants,” etc. are not. Shape is a good choice for these non-orderable things.

I’ve got to run, and I’ve run on too long, methinks. I’ll leave the rest to you, for this one. I’m on vacation at the moment (not in Monteverde – sadly, no Cheese Factory around here), so things may be slow around here for a week or so. Meanwhile, I hope you will all continue to send me bad maps you may find.

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4 Responses to “Finding the Cheese Factory”


  1. 11th July, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Being in possession of a Moon guidebook (New England), I checked to verify what I suspected, which is that somewhere in the book is printed a legend. Indeed, on the last page is a map legend. The moon symbol, by the way, is a “highlight.” Surprisingly, you were dead on with your guess that squares indicate “things less interesting than the Cheese Factory.” Word for word, you nailed it.

    Also on the same page is a pretty full list of unit conversions, in case you are visiting a place where the locals tend to measure distances in furlongs (201.168 m), as well as a drawing of a clock with 12- and 24-hour labels, in case you never learned to read a clock or don’t know how to subtract.

    Anyway, the single separate legend is forgivable and even sensible in a book, but we see here the problem in taking maps that were meant to be published in printed collections and simply throwing them online without any efforts toward adapting to the different medium. Whereas originally we had a set of maps with a shared legend you could easily flip to, now we have a zillion maps with no legend at all.

    • 2 Daniel Huffman
      11th July, 2009 at 11:45 pm

      Good to have my suspicions confirmed.

      I appreciate that they are putting these maps out there free, but it would be nice if, at the bare minimum, the webpage had the legend somewhere, even if they don’t attach it to every map.

      Also, a friend of mine pointed out this evening that it looks to him like they printed the maps, then scanned them in, instead of exporting them out of whatever program they were originally constructed in (assuming they did them digitally). I’m not sure either way.


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