I have the privilege of working with (and learning from) many colleagues that are highly knowledgeable and skilled in several fields although perhaps not in geographical matters. For them I have written a number of short lists to serve as simple reminders of what to consider before tackling some problem or task.

Most of these lists only make sense in the context of our activities, but I believe that a few of them may be of value for a more general public. The one below is one of those, and therefore I share it here so the broader community can use it. See also the companion list: 4 fundamental things to consider when you work with geographical data.

Do you think there is something important missing or wrong? Feel free to remind me in the comments!

What to consider when you need a map?

1. Purpose and readers

  • Who will use this map?
  • For what purpose?
  • What do the readers expect?
  • What are the common practices in this field?

2. Media and format

  • Should the map be printed in paper? Will it only displayed on screen? Both maybe?
  • Specify size in mm for paper maps, or pixels on screen, or both.
  • What digital format is most suitable for you? EPS for printing? PNG for screen?

3. Geographical area

  • Which area should be represented?
  • How much of the neighboring areas should be included?
  • What geographical projection is needed?

4. Content

  • Specify other common elements as desired: lakes, rivers, roads, administrative boundaries, etc.
  • Do we need topography? Contours or shaded background?
  • Do you need something special or uncommon?
  • Do you have data for it?
  • Are the data quality checked?

5. Background

  • Is there any particular background you need to use?
  • Do we have legal rights for distributing that background in the web or report?
  • If not, can you think of a suitable replacement?
  • Keep in mind that unusual backgrounds may not be readily available.

6. Appearance

  • How shall the elements be depicted? Fill color or pattern? Border color, line thicknesses, transparency?
  • How should overlaps between features be managed?
  • Which labels do you need and where?
  • Specify font type, font size, and position in relation to map features.
  • Specify colors as RGB, html codes or other standard code.

7. Decorations

  • Where do we place scale and north arrow?
  • Do you need an special frame?
  • Is there any special wish on style?

Additional details
Think of everything you can think of importance for your map. Specify too much detail rather than too little!