Map Critique – Population of People and Sheep in New Zealand

Having had a look at Indiemapper recently I also browsed their map gallery. On top I found this nice looking map from Ben Sheesley comparing the population densities of people and sheep in New Zealand.

But looking closer I do see some things I don’t like. First of all there is a convention in thematic cartography that for population density maps one uses a color ramp with yellowish to reddish, sometimes brown colors. Darker colors for higher density. I can see these colors in the map here, but why for the sheep density? With the two subjects, people and sheep, one has to introduce a new color of course (blue was chosen here). I would have taken this one for the sheep axis and left the orange colors for the people axis as one is used to. Another thing is, and that is really a bit confusing, the circles in the map. The legend tells me they stand for the sheep/population ratio. Using point based signatures for relative values is a bit unconventional but I don’t want to blame it for that. Sometimes it makes sense to experiment a bit and break conventions. What bothers me more is the fact that the sheep/population ratio is already visualised in the map, namely by the colors, and the circles are just redundant. The orange filled areas already represent a high sheep/population ratio and not surprisingly the big circles appear in the dark orange areas.

What I like is the additional display of the dot density since this is really adding value to the map. A high sheep/population ratio alone does not tell anything about how many sheep or people there are in the respective area (could be just one lonely farmer dude and his 60 sheep). It seems the author wanted to try out different visualisation methods which resulted in a nice looking map, however I recommend always asking whether the applied visualisations make sense.

By the way, if you find something in my maps that seems unlogic, feel free to comment! My cartography is sometimes not perfect either.



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2 responses to “Map Critique – Population of People and Sheep in New Zealand

  1. Thanks for checking out indiemapper and the map gallery! Yeah, it’s a good point — I agree there’s some redundancy here. The purpose of the map was to demo a few of the different map types (e.g., bivariate choropleth, prop symbols, dot density) that indiemapper has to offer. One of indiemapper’s great strengths is the ease in which one can take a dataset and visualize it in multiple ways. This kind of data exploration is lots of fun and can quickly produce different views on a theme. But, yeah, as a finished map product, this one could probably stand to lose a thematic layer (like you suggest, maybe the prop symbols?). Thanks again for the critique!

  2. Pingback: One year of blogging « Thematic Maps Blog

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