Archive for the 'Travel' Category

17
Sep
10

A Silent Buoy

Last month, a friend and I went on a tour of wineries in the Grand Traverse Bay area of Michigan. I don’t drink, but I was happy to act as her driver and companion while enjoying the beautiful scenery of my homeland (though I am from further south in the state). At our hotel in Traverse City there was one of those little guidebooks for tourists listing local attractions. At the back was this map, a great example of how carelessness can prevent a map from reaching its potential:

Copyright 2010 In-House Graphics and Publishing. Obtained at Knights Inn, Traverse City, Michigan.

Now, I’m not expecting design masterpieces from free tourist guides, but it seems like some things are just common sense. Like not cutting off the name of Lake Michigan (upper left corner). There are actually a number of labels all over the map with problems like this — they run off the map edge, they’re covered by other symbols and text boxes, etc. It doesn’t seem like you need formal cartographic training to perceive that this is a problem. We label maps so that people can read the labels and know what things are called (especially if you’re a tourist and unfamiliar with the area). If the label stops being legible, it’s wasting page space and readers’ time. Besides failing in function, it makes the label look sloppy, carelessly placed. It detracts from the reader’s perceptions of quality, and suggests that this map maybe shouldn’t be taken too seriously as a guide to actual geography.

Or maybe I'm mistaken, and Manitou Passage is actually spelled with a buoy in the middle. It's silent.

And what’s going on with that buoy, anyway? There’s no point to it, is there? There are buoys in Lake Michigan, no doubt, but I don’t think the map is attempting to show where they all are. It looks like it’s just thrown on to make things look cute. Now, I’m not against decoration on maps, but I am against ones that make the map harder to read by covering up labels.

While we’re focused on objects in the water, note that there are three colors of lakes on this map. Lake Michigan is a medium blue, then there are some cyan lakes, and finally some dark purple-blue ones. There doesn’t appear to be a difference between the cyan lakes and the purple-blue ones, though some of the former are labeled. And this is the problem here: I had to look for a while to figure out there was no difference. When you make things different colors on a map, most readers will assume that they are different things. Maps, being authored, consist of a series of deliberate choices. If someone deliberately chose to make some lakes one color and some lakes another, it seems like they ought to have a reason. But, alas, none seems apparent. Maybe it means that some lakes are filled with water, others are filled with antifreeze.

There are an awful lot of roads on this map. I think possibly every paved surface in the area was included here. But most of them aren’t marked. You can’t use this map to drive, or to figure out where you are (“I’m at the intersection of unlabeled green road #1 and unlabeled green road #2!”). Most of the lines are printed so small (such as in Traverse City) that you can’t use this map for navigation even if you did know what street you were on.

M-37 is the only labeled road on the map that isn't orange or brown. I'm not sure if that means anything.

All this road network does is get in your way without telling you anything or adding to the aesthetic value. The few roads which are marked aren’t enough to get to a lot of the places shown on this map. I guess tourists have to admire Lake Ann from afar, unable to figure out a path there. The map would be of much greater value if more of the roads were labeled, and 80% of the smallest were eliminated.

I don’t believe the 45th [North] Parallel undulates quite like that. Now, parallels are not always going to appear as straight lines, depending on your map projection. But there’s no projection I know of that will cause a parallel to wobble up and down like that. I’m not sure what software was used to make this map, but it’s usually harder to make a wobbly line than a straight one. Again, I can’t fathom the author’s purpose.

That’s a common theme with this map — there are a lot of details that make you wonder, “Does that mean anything? Were those colors/line styles/paths chosen randomly, or am I just missing something?” Confusing the reader and causing frustration is not usually a major cartographic goal. The map is covered in little mysteries, like these point symbols that probably mean campground or forest entrance or something, though there’s nothing to tell me if I’m guessing right.

Rather than telling you what to think, this map frees you to use your imagination.

The sloppiness of this map is tragic, because it has a lot of potential. The overall aesthetic is decent, before you get down into the details. It’s got colors that are pleasant and fun but not overwhelming; the artist seems to understand subtlety. I appreciate how the unlabeled roads are darker green, and the Lake Michigan water feature labels are a light blue — each keeps a similar hue to its background, rather than contrasting strongly with it. Details like this show some care and thought, but then the artist inexplicably turns around and covers up labels, randomly colors lakes, and leaves arrows pointing to nowhere:

"The road actually goes over here, but we liked how it looked where we drew it."

It’s possible that more than one artist put this together, one careful and one less so. The influence of the latter seems to reach its worst in the unlabeled settlements near the bottom of the map. Maybe the village councils didn’t kick in enough money to be included.

"Nothing to see here, move along."

There are a few other minor amusing gems and mysteries on this map, but you’ll just have to go visit the Traverse City area yourself to see them. Bring your own map.

One Nice Thing: Again, I like the way many of the colors work together. It lacks the gaudiness and high contrast of many tourist maps, some of which can make your eyes bleed.

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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