Style

 
 

How to Make a Map

(WHAT 14 YEARS OF MAPMAKING WILL TEACH YOU) 

 

THE CHALLENGE

 A map must be easily understood by a tired crew member, piloting a car at 65mph before sunrise, pre-coffee.   

 

THEORY AND APPROACH

We believe in simplicity. We believe that the traveler following our map needs to keep their eyes on the road. We strive for perfection.  
Over time and through trial and error we have developed a very straightforward set of guidelines that every map we create adheres to.   
We've learned that the best maps are the simplest, the language is most direct; no room is left for misinterpretation.  
All maps are the sum of a thousand very small decisions.   This is how we go about making our decisions:

 

VISUAL PRESENTATION

 

Every map we make is precisely TO SCALE.  

That means that if one inch on the map corresponds to one mile in reality this will be true across the entire map.
If Main Street is one inch west of Broadway on your map, you will know you need to travel one mile from the diagram.
If Park Avenue is one inch past Main Street, you can then safely assume you'll travel the same distance. 

Although this seems intuitive many times a mapmaker will alter the scale mid-design for the sake of conforming a layout to a small page.  

It's much easier to make a non-scale map. 

In theory this will allow you to fit more information on a single page; it seems like a good idea.  

Instead you're now effectively asking your map user to make that jump in logic with you,
only the user must come to understand the choice you made first, and then translate that to what's on the page.
In many occasions, this is where confusion is born.  

Imagine that you're watching a movie about a Superhero who draws her strength from the sun.
At the apex of a battle an eclipse hides the sun, and she falls to the ground, her power source robbed from her.
But, just as she's about to be defeated by a villain, she leaps to her feet having found the ability to gain power from a car battery.
It's a lazy plot development.  

Changing the rules of a movie mid story is confusing in the same way that presenting "Not To Scale" map information is confusing.
The map user is subject to the layout of the roads they’re traveling; asking them to believe something
that doesn’t match these roads is to ask them to suspend what they know to be the rules. 

Provided a 1 inch to 1 mile scale, If the your destination is the next town over, which is shown as 6 inches away from your hotel,
you will know you need to travel 6 miles.   Imagine leaving your hotel, and traveling east 6 miles only to find a sign
saying the next town is actually 30 miles.
You'd be confused and all trust in the map you're holding is lost.  

 

All maps orientate North

Since the invention of the magnetic compass most maps have been standardized with North at the top.
However, occasionally we come across maps and diagrams today that have forsaken this convention as a result of lazy design.
Although certain locations may appear to benefit from being depicted other than "North on top" the confusion caused by the map user used to North on top convention outweighs any inconvenience to the mapmaker.
The goal of the map is to alleviate confusion, not create it. 

 

The Conservation of Attention

We take great care to provide only the information and reference points that will help a map user reach their destination.
Excessive road depictions serve to distract the eye, impacting the flow of attention across the page.
For the last decade most of our maps have been no large than 8.5" by 11" - not much room when you need to depict major metropolitan
areas like Chicago and Los Angeles. The best maps are the one that provide you with just enough
information to confidently move towards your goal without unnecessary distraction.  

 

 

WRITTEN DIRECTIONS

We've developed a specific method for relying directions based on the Voice Of America's "Simple English."
Our approach minimizes or eliminates confusion. 

Your directions have been written in a very specific manner.   

Your directions are written differently than Google provides directions, than Bing, than Mapquest.  

The philosophy behind the style comes from the circumstance during which they will be read: while driving.   

The directions must be readily followable by someone giving the directions less than 10% of their attention, in a dark car, before sunrise, while still exhausted from the previous shoot day.  

The directions must be easily understandable.  

To be understandable they must be simple in language.  

They must be consistent in application.  

And they must be correct. 

 

The goal is total comprehension with minimum
amount of invested attention by the driver  

In 1959 the United States Broadcasting Service's "Voice of America" began using a special version of the English Language,
read over the airwaves at a reduced speed, so that non-English speakers would be able to learn English via the broadcast.
It's intention of course, was to spread the American, western, way of life, to non-English speakers.  

In practical terms, we've found it to be an excellent starting point for helping the attention-poor quickly gather the directions they need. 

 

The rules of Simple English:

Basic 1,500 word vocabulary.  Nothing fancy.  Monosyllable over multi-syllable.
No metaphors, no idioms: literal descriptions only. 

We've translated the rules into 'Location Map Direction Language' as such:
1. Minimum vocabulary, minimum words per sentence to save space allowing the font to be larger.
2. One command per line of directions.
3. Each numbered line has two parts. 
         a. The first half of the line lets the driver know how much time they have before they need to execute a command.
         b. The command

So each line looks like this:

1. (a) Expectation of time before command happens, (b) then Command happens.
Simple, to the point.  The line ends, and the eye drops to the next line. 
Same thing happens.  Always. 

 

Couple smaller things   

 *

Distances that are less than a whole mile are presented as fractions.  If you use a decimal point it looks like you’ve forgotten the first number.   "7/10ths of a mile" leaves no question.  .7 miles could be a typo.  0.7 could be a typo again. 
Although it's a small point, when given the opportunity to remove room for error in a map it should be taken. 
If no opportunity exists it should be willed into existence.  

   

 *

 There are no periods at the end of a directional sentence, unless a second sentence follows the first one.
The reason is that if the second to last character is a number, and then a period follows it,
it appears that there may a missing number after the first.

 

 *

Example:   "Travel east 3.4 Miles and TURN LEFT onto MAIN ST northbound at Mileage Marker 33." 
This leaves room for the possibility of a typo in the mile marker name. Furthermore some Mile Markers do denote fractional mileage,
so Mile Marker 33.4 would need a second period after the 4 and as such be redundant.   

 

 *

Commands are presented in ALL CAPS to differentiate themselves from the other words in a line. 
“Travel east 3.4 Miles and TURN LEFT _____________" 

 

 *

Street / Highway / Offramp names are presented in bold type to differentiate them from the other words in a line. 
“Travel east 3.4 Miles and TURN LEFT onto MAIN ST ____”

 

 *

Unless Google Street View isn't available (a rarity) the street or ramp or freeway name on the map will match what the actual signage posted reads as

 

 *

After the new Street / Highway name is written we add the compass direction your crew member is traveling.
This serves two purposes.  The first is that it’s a double check against the Turn direction for us (in case we’ve made an error).
Secondly, it helps anyone who has a compass in their rear view mirror (most cars from 2004 and newer) or who naturally knows north from south.

“Travel east 3.4 Miles and TURN LEFT onto MAIN ST northbound”

 

 *

 Any additional information that is relevant but not part of the standard sentence is presented as an addendum in Square Brackets or parenthesis.”

“_____ ______ ______ _______ [look for the Mobil Gas Station on your right as you turn]”

“Travel east 3.4 miles and TURN LEFT onto MAIN ST northbound [look for the Mobil Gas Station on your right as you turn]”

 

 *

More information on the Voice of America's Special English can be found here:

http://www.onthemedia.org/story/307726-voice-america/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_English