Maps are powerful ways to get a message across. Often it’s possible to state some fact to do with a spatial question or a theme but mapping it takes it to a whole different dimension. For instance, in 2009 Stephen Von Worley started thinking about the rise of the country strip mall in the United States and what it meant to the spatial identity of wilderness. In short, he asked himself a question: how far away can you get from our world of generic convenience? Well there’s no dataset that’s going to give you that straight answer so he used a proxy…and he set about mapping that proxy to show how far you can get from McDonald’s restaurants.
He decided McDonald’s was a good fit for the study because of the way in which it colonizes such centres and towns. The 13,000 restaurants mapped are the result. In design terms he could have simply positioned dots but he’s used distance symbolized by changing colour to show the closeness to a McDonalds (bright yellow), through reds to the darkness of what he calls the “McFarthest spot”; the real wilderness between McDonalds. You travel through red to get there…the blackness. Of course, he’s cleverly used McDonalds corporate colours and a non-too subtle use of black to connotate emptiness but it makes the map work well. It’s got a strong aesthetic and lacks the need for any additional description.
This is perhaps as close as you can get to a visual data dump but simple symbolization decisions and choices create an attention-grabbing and visually arresting image that speaks to the original question. It’s also worth pointing out the use of an appropriate projection that doesn’t distort shapes or areas. A small decision that makes the map visually accurate.
You can read more about the map on the Datapointed blog here.