8 tips for map critique

Critique is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a detailed analysis and assessment of something and in 2010 Judith Tyner released the book Principles of Map Design and included the diagram on the right, defining the map making process.

Map critique plays an important role in the design process and this is for a number of reasons:

  • Feedback will improve your map – If you always think you’re right, how do you know for sure your map is actually any good and doing what it is intended? ​
  • It allows you to analyse the way you work – Constructive criticism can lead you away from bad practices and towards good ones. Mistakes​ can be spotted and you can learn from them​.
  • It can give you an advantage​ – Criticism can be information that perhaps no one else has, making your map a better one. This is valuable information and give you an edge amongst your competitors.

Of course, you do need to be mindful. Are you sure the critique you have received is actually a good idea? How can you be sure? The way to ensure an idea is a good one is to ask for feedback from multiple people. If a good idea is offered by many you can be confident of implementing that change.

Giving critique can be a skill in itself and here are some tips to help you do this.

Map critique tips

  1. Don’t make it personal

The critique you give needs to be about the map and how the designer can improve that map. Do not let personal bias towards any individual element, feature or design choice affect your critique.

  1. Be respectful and honest

The best critique is true critique. Make sure you are honest and respectful in your reasons for why or why not the map design is working.

  1. Use words people understand

Try to avoid using words, sentences or phrases that either people don’t understand or are vague. Phrases like “the colour needs to be punchier,” does not really help.

Give as much information as possible and remember to state why or why not something does or does not work.

  1. Be specific

Be as specific as possible with your critique. If you fail to be specific, then the critique fails and in turn the map, and indeed the map-maker, will suffer too.

  1. Cartographic design principles

It’s worth considering the use of some cartographic design principles before entering into any map critique.

Make sure you can look at a map and see how it reflects and takes advantage of these design principles.

Our carto design principles can be found as part of our GDV toolkit which is available on GitHub or they can be found here.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Be brave and ask questions of the map designer. The answers will help you understand why a particular decision was made and gives you a better understanding of the map and the choices that were made when designing it.

  1. Offer suggestions

Make sure when you offer suggestions that you are considerate, respectful and honest. There is nothing worse than someone who is trying to influence the map and map designer with their own style or personality.

  1. Love sandwich

A good approach to giving critique is to try the love sandwich.

If your critique is the sandwich, the bread would be what you like about the work and the middle, the filling, would be what you didn’t like as much.

Start your critique with something positive, follow this with some constructive criticism before finishing with another positive.

The importance of a well-designed map

Remember a well-designed map communicates its message clearly and provides a pleasing user experience.

A poorly designed map can confuse the map reader and confuse the information displayed.

To help with map critique we have compiled a checklist of things to consider (PDF).


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