Thematic maps can often be somewhat bland if the overall layout isn’t considered. Simply getting the construction of a choropleth or proportional symbol map right only goes half way to creating a successful map that draws people in. Combining the theme of the map with symbology that illustrates and connects to the message can lift the map above the mundane. Of course, the context within which the map sits also plays an important part. In a simple, formal report, mapping the most prescribed psychiatric drugs in the USA might need to be plain. As an accompaniment to a magazine article, a newspaper piece or a poster there’s increased license to be more graphically daring.
This map by Stanford Kay makes great use of the shape of the country as a literal container (tray) for different coloured pills. Each different type of pill acts as a series of small multiples and, overall, a cumulative histogram. It creates a cartogram of sorts and provides an attractive illustrative approach to the map which invites people to investigate the detail. The legend is organised to relate to the different drugs and there’s a good amount of information around the map to provide key facts. The title also leans towards something catchy to lure people in and provide a graphical hook.
Overall, simple, colourful and a nice marriage of thematic map and graphic design.