Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Life is Getting Better - Maps Are Not!


Writing this blog can be a depressing experience. Sometimes it feels like I'm just writing about a series of maps illustrating catastrophic climate change, global disasters or just another election of an extreme right-wing demagogue. 

Therefore writing about a Guardian article on how life is getting better should cheer me up - but it doesn't.

In The maps that show life is slowly getting better The Guardian has created a series of maps to illustrate recent global improvements in life expectancy, improving education and the shrinking digital divide. These examples about how life is getting better are taken from the book 'Terra Incognita: 100 Maps to Survive the Next 100 years' by Ian Goldin and Robert Muggah. This book uses EarthTime's mapping platform to "illuminate the most pressing issues of our time."

The reason why these good news stories don't cheer me up is because the maps are so bad. To illustrate some of the ways that life is getting better The Guardian has created a series of before & after comparison maps. All these maps use screenshots from Carnegie Mellon University's EarthTime - with an overlay control which allows you to swipe between the before and after views.

The Guardian article starts with a eulogy to maps and their ability to inform and empower. Not these maps! 

The Guardian's decision to use static images of interactive maps just seems perverse. They have removed all the functionality of the original interactive maps and gained very little in return. If you are going to use static screenshots of an interactive map, you should at least crop out the zoom buttons. Your users probably won't then get confused by what appear to be buttons but which really aren't. Also if you are overlaying one map on top of another and allowing users to swipe between them then you should probably take a little care in making sure that the two maps are properly aligned. When they aren't aligned swiping between them just looks incredibly janky.

I don't know if life is getting better. I do know that The Guardian's maps are not. 

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