Telling stories with (web) maps


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Presentation by Kenneth Field at International Cartographic Conference, Dresden 2013

The London Olympic Games in 2012 provided the impetus for official organisations, news media and individuals to turn the vast amount of data into map form in order to tell their stories. This paper explores some of the cartographic highlights (and one or two lowlights) that the Olympics inspired and how different cartographic approaches were taken to mapping the results of the election. There were some great maps on view and also some interesting trends emerging, particularly in terms of web maps and web maps used as infographics.
During the summer of 2012 it was almost impossible to follow any Olympic coverage in person or through the media without seeing maps of some form or other from branded official products, innovative media mapping, individual efforts, mashups of live data feeds and everything in between. Maps were crucial to event planning, for transport, emergency management and to simply locate the new facilities for those lucky enough to have acquired a ticket. They have also been part of the ongoing story throughout the event as virtually every media outlet has used maps in a multitude of forms to report everything from the location of countries and athletes home towns, to world maps of medal counts that update as winners cross the finish line.

For web maps/information graphics the Olympic Games provided a rich reservoir of potential for professional and amateur map-makers alike to get their creative juices flowing. Web maps were clearly the preferred choice of information dissemination and hard to beat given the ease of production and appetite for consumption of maps to present data created in rapid real-time. The rise of the online infographic is particularly apparent. Maybe we’re seeing a move towards these more diagrammatic forms of mapped representation with increasing use of online as a way of publishing information? Perhaps the traditional mapped view of the world simply isn’t seen as attention-grabbing enough to be the preferred choice any more. Certainly, with such short web surfing attention spans, the more visually stimulating you can make your map/infographic the stronger the chance people will stop, read and re-visit. This is a key dimension to web mapping and this paper reflects on the way in which design plays an important role in shaping the story.

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  • The London 2012 Olympic Games was a true spectacle of sporting achievement.It also provided the impetus for official organisations, news media and individuals to turn the vast amount of data into map form.This paper is about ‘event-cartography’ and some of the trends I saw in observing the cartography of the London 2012 Olympics.
  • London hosted games in 1908 and 1948.Double-sided fold out map contains details of the event locations and transport links along with a version of the Underground map on the reverse.Designed to help visitors navigate to the venues as a pocket guide.Maps have changed.London was awarded the right to host the 2012 games in 2005…the same year Google changed the mapping world with Google Maps.
  • Paper maps still in useNot everyone has a smartphone,data plan or roaming….paper is default.Planimetric land cover detail with pseudo-3D buildings to give a visual cue to the landscape in relation to familiar sights around London.Strong branding & distinct look and feel to the Games that includes the controversial logo, a unique typeface and use of colour.
  • Geographers’ A-Z Map Company under licenseDrew heavily on same branding.
  • Stamen Design’s online interactive map for the official web site.Documented geo-coded articles and photos and integrated imagery, video, vignettes and blog posts to provide a great way to engage in the build up to the Games.
  • Web maps were modified once the games started to act as a navigable tool for the venues and schedule.Again following the radical in design and ubiquitous branding.Unique visual window on all aspects of the games and cultural events being staged in tandem.
  • Games spawned multitude of Olympic themed maps.Katherine Baxter and Steven Potter ( employed similar approach to famous New York maps of 1962 by Herman Bollman and the 1985 version by Constantin AndersonLandscape in fine detail using an isometric projection.Key buildings and landmarks set atop a simplified route network of the major roads and tube lines that serve them.Nodto the schematic of Beck’s London Underground map as an organising framework and the necessary distortions in space and distance that he developed to exaggerate and contract where necessary.SuggestsLondon itself as the Olympic village…even though as a tool for navigation you’d most likely get hopelessly lost!
  • Ordnance Surveyweb map of medal winners allows users to search to find the birth places and home towns of the team GB medal winners.Little more than a push-pin approach of mashing up poorly designed marker symbols with an inappropriate basemap.Potential now afforded by online mapping makes these sort of push-pin maps look tired and unimaginative.
  • Royal Mail employed same push-pin default - seems to be approach for any organisation that doesn’t really understand anything about mapping.Royal Mail painted some of its iconic red pillar boxes gold to celebrate every Team GB gold medal win.Web maps fast becoming the de facto medium for telling stories and sharing information whether officially or by association because they can be rapidly constructed and shared with a huge audience through a web site.Some still tend towards the push-pin style but they’re simple and informative….they have to be given the recent research produced by the City of Denver’s web GIS team that visitors to a web map are likely to stay no longer than 1 minute and 43 seconds.Whatever we may think of a push-pin map of Gold postboxes the simple fact is that the map works at directing people to the information.The symbols are bold and inviting, the background largely irrelevant (unless you’re a cartographic purist) and it’s clear how to interact with the map to get to the real story.By the time your 1 minute and 43 seconds are up, you’ve probably exhausted your interest in the map anyway and it did its job.It’s food for thought when we’re making our own web maps and searching for that perfect cartographic finish.
  • Publicly available data now means we can all make maps easily.Series of web maps to explore different ways of presenting data and showing how the story of success can be changed dramatically depending on the type of map you employ.
  • Not everyone got their mapping right.The ‘Route and Pub Finder’ torch relay web map showed Greene King and Belhaven pubs en routeto persuade you to visit a local hostelry.Branding, designed to appeal predominantly to children, seems out of place when the map, its purpose and the branding do not sit comfortably together.
  • Olympic rings as symbols for each of the world’s main five regions and then created a series of Dorling cartograms to represent 16 world issues that highlight global inequality.International Olympic Committee most likely displeased about their highly guarded logo being manipulated in this manifestly political way.Sousa’s work is evidence of individual creative vision and tenacity and the rise of the ‘viral infographic’.
  • Significant use of maps to report the Games.New York Times have gained a reputation for innovative graphics of exceptional quality.Dorling cartogram used…richer story with historical contextRollovers give details of the breakdown in medals by type.Clicks reveal the detail of medal winners.Time-scale can be animated for past content
  • The Telegraph used proportional symbols across a barely visible basemap to identify all Team GB athletes that were born abroad
  • Dorling cartogram for their automatically updated medal map
  • Area equalizing cartogram to take account of relative geographical size (Figure 18)15
  • The Guardian and CartoDB mapped the final medal table in relation to Gross Domestic ProductOn the left panel, the standard proportional symbols show the total medal count per country. Team GB ranked 4th.Right panel, the symbols have been adjusted to take account of GDP. Team GB ranked 40th
  • Linked data displaysCompare the age, weight and height of the 11,000 athletes from London 2012 to see how body shape and size differs between sports
  • Google seemed to go with the esoteric approach and expected an awful lot from their readers to disentangle the information in their medal mapPoorly scaled that they just obliterate overlapping detail.Europe is lost under a sea of purpleCannot identify unique symbols, let alone click on themNeither form or function.
  • The Wall Street Journal opted for a static map that fails in the same way as Google’s versionThe map doesn’t zoom or pan.Clicking symbols reveals a simple medal count breakdown by medal.What is bizarre is that the map only accounts for approximately 20% of the web page.Good form, poor function.
  • The Economist took a different approach to cartograms and used a treemap.A single tile is allocated to each event in the ‘wins by event’ view or a single country in the ‘wins by country’ viewIt’s a simple interface and invites the user to click on tiles to drill down into the data.Presents a vast array of variables in a simple interface.Invites data miningGiven the massive amount of information by event, by country and detailing the athletes and medal wins, a treemap seems an elegant solution.Does it work though?In a world where people are still stretched by the idea of cartograms a treemap takes tangential mapping to a whole new level.Highly functional…questionable form.
  • And the winner of the Gold medal for Cartography with well balanced form and function in this brief survey of Olympic maps?The Huffington Post interactive Olympic Medal Count Map was clean and well presented in design terms but extremely rich in content.Allowed users to explore the data by sport, by country and by GDP.Popup is useful and the interactivity is immediate and obvious.In design terms, the small cosmetic decisions and attention to detail is what makes this an excellent web map and intuitive.Three-letter country codes are only shown in symbols large enough to carry them at a minimum size for legibility Symbols colour-coded to group countries into continents.
  • Normalised by wealth (using GDP). Whole different story with Grenada and their single Gold medal being ranked highest.Wealthier countries might reasonably be expected to develop athletes with a stronger chance of winning by virtue of the advantage they have gained through that support.Athletes from poorer countries could be perceived as having done relatively better given their general lack of financial support for training, equipment and such like.
  • Breakdown by a single sport, cycling.Only countries that won a medal are shown and the cartogram is reorganised.Dominance of Europe (as well as Great Britain) in cycling and the popup gives details of the medal breakdown in the event.
  • Post-Games map as part of an article called ‘Olympic counties: Does it matter where medal-winners come from?The idea here was to cast light on the sub-national loyalties, rivalries and bragging rights.Nice colours. Check. Clear labels. Check.Article about assigning medal counts to place of birth and yet they are assigned to a mix of cities, Metropolitan areas, districts, council areas and counties (some of which have subsumed their unitary authorities.Labels are inconsistent; London is labeled yet it is the Greater London authority boundary shown. Aberdeen is lumped in with Aberdeenshire. Edinburgh is in the wrong place.Big error is using a choropleth to map raw totals.London is a big city and Greater London has a population of 8,278,251 and 10 medal winners.That's 0.12 medals per 100,000 people.Cardiff has a population of 346,100 and 4 medal winners. That equates to 1.16 medals per 100,000 people.So the population of Greater London is nearly 24 times larger than's therefore perfectly reasonable to expect (all other things being equal) that more medalists will hail from the Greater London area despite Cardiff actually doing far better in relative terms.
  • Per-capita distribution on the left and maps the raw medal totals as a proportional symbol map on the right. Story of the map changes significantly from the one the BBC published
  • Official products tied together by strong brandingLondon Olympics inspired products show considerable variation and experimentationJournalistic maps tend towards the infographic, abstract representation.Choices in mapping create profound differences in the story they tell.
  • Telling stories with (web) maps

    1. 1. International Cartographic Conference Dresden, Germany 2013 Kenneth Field Telling stories with (web) maps
    2. 2. London Olympics map: London Transport, 1948
    3. 3. Official products
    4. 4. London Summer 2012 Map: Transport for London, 2012
    5. 5. A-Z Olympic Park Map: Geographers A-Z Map Company, 2012
    6. 6. Stamen Design’s web map: LOCOG, 2012
    7. 7. London 2012 website interactive map: LOCOG, 2012
    8. 8. London 2012 inspired mapping
    9. 9. London Olympic Venues: LondonTown, 2012
    10. 10. Winner Locations (© Ordnance Survey®, 2012)
    11. 11. Gold Postbox Finder: Royal Mail, 2012
    12. 12. Olympic web maps: Kenneth Field, 2012
    13. 13. Torch relay map: 032 Design for Coca-Cola Enterprises, 2012
    14. 14. Oceaniaeuropeamericasafricaasia: Gustavo Sousa, 2012
    15. 15. Journalistic cartography
    16. 16. Results: New York Times, 2012
    17. 17. London 2012 Olympics: The Telegraph, 2012
    18. 18. Dynamic world medal map: The Telegraph, 2012
    19. 19. World medal map by population, GDP, and geographical size: The Telegraph, 2012
    20. 20. Alternative London 2012 medals table mapped: The Guardian, 2012
    21. 21. Olympic athletes by age, weight and height visualised: The Guardian, 2012
    22. 22. London 2012 Olympic Games Combined Medals: Google, 2012
    23. 23. The Olympic Medal Count: The Wall Street Journal, 2012
    24. 24. Olympic Medal Map - Day 16: The end: The Economist Online, 2012
    25. 25. Olympic Medal Count Map: Totals by Country: The Huffington Post, 2012)
    26. 26. Olympic Medal Count Map: Totals by wealth: The Huffington Post, 2012
    27. 27. Olympic Medal Count Map: Cycling: The Huffington Post, 2012
    28. 28. And finally...
    29. 29. Medals by athlete’s place of birth: BBC, 2012
    30. 30. Medal’s by athlete’s place of birth: Kenneth Field, 2012
    31. 31. International Cartographic Conference Dresden, Germany 2013 Thankyou @kennethfield