Maps mean different things to different people. So what is a map?
My definition is simple: a map is an answer to a question.
There are three basic kinds of maps that answer three basic types of questions:
* The Location map answers the question, “Where am I?”
* The Navigation map answers the question, “How do I get there?”
* The Spatial Relationships map answers the question “How are these things related?”
It’s this third type of map—a map that helps in our understanding of spatial patterns and relationships—where we as GIS professionals spend most of our time. We work hard making our maps. Our maps can be beautiful works of art, but that’s not why we make them. We make them to answer a question, to solve a problem, and to advance our understanding. And therein lies the power of the map.
Even the best maps have no power by themselves; they just exist, like the maps you hang on your office wall, or the maps in the world atlas sitting on your bookshelf. But depending on how they are created, and how they are used, maps can have tremendous power.
For a map to become truly powerful requires two things. First, they need to tell a story. Second, they need to be put in people’s hands.