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When to Use a Map Visual

Mick Cisneros explains when to use map visuals:

That ubiquity has given all of us an increased familiarity with maps, as well as a deeper affinity for them. (Probably a dependence as well!) It’s natural, then, to want to use a map to visualize data that has a geographic dimension. Why not, right? There is an obvious upside: audiences are drawn to the way they look, as it’s a more memorable image than the same old bar chart or line graph. Not to mention: it’s fun to make maps!

The problem is that maps look interesting, but their very nature limits our options for visualizing data within them. Per a recent paper by Franconeri, Padilla, Shaw, et. al., here are a couple of the comparisons that people are very good at making, perceptually:

Read on for a comparison of good map versus bad map. Just because something has a geographical component doesn’t mean you should map it.