Information Visualization: Mapping

First, Why Visualize Information?

We tend to start with information and then try to visualize the information.

For example, you may be given a story to tell that deals with data, numbers, statistics, etc. Many storytellers would start by looking at the data and searching for a way to visualize the data.

But, even more important than that, media content creators should be starting with:

What does the user want to know?

What problem does the user want solved or illustrated?

How can a visualization illustrate an issue for the user that will help them?

Visuals must be worthwhile, add value to the story, and be worth the user’s time to view.

Visuals must work well. Others, users get annoyed and leave (and may never come back). And, visuals must work in mobile devices, too.

Just “telling a good story” is insufficient to merit a user’s investment of time and cash.

And, more and more, users–not advertising–are the primary source of revenue for media outlets.


In sum, growing your audience is key for media survival. The user should be primary when considering visuals.

A pretty visual without utility is insufficient.

The graph below is from “What 100m calls to 311 reveal about New York” by Wired on Nov. 1, 2010.

Let’s all take a minute to look at this visualization.

  1. What does this visualization tell you?
  2. What problem or concern may this solve for a user?
  3. What are some concerns about this visualization?
  4. Is it intuitive to understand?
  5. Is there anything missing from this visualization?

When You Create Visuals, Ask Yourself

  1. What is the user-problem your visual will solve?
  2. What would the user be willing to pay for, in time or money, to view your visual?

You will need to brainstorm and think through these questions for our next assignment.

Types of Information Visualizations

Rather than list all of the types of visualizations available for information, let’s visit Datawrapper and play around with them.

Blog Post 7 – Google My Maps

In our next assignment, we will:

Learn Google My Maps. Let’s do that right now.

  • Use your Google account to sign into Google My Maps
  • Create a new map
  • Search for the locations
  • Drop pins
  • Edit pins for title of location, rank of location, brief description of location, icons, color, and photo of location

Brainstorm and research an issue that you would like to write about that somehow includes a map that you created using Google My Maps.

Focus on what problem that your map solves for the user. Or, focus on what important information that your map provides the user.

The blog post tone can be journalistic (objective) or conversational (opinionated) in nature.

Here’s some past student examples:

See examples below for what you can cover. Of course, your blog post needs to have a Google My Maps that you created!

  • 15 Popular Travel Destinations You Should Avoid In The Summer: This post is rather long. Your post will need to be shorter. However, it gives you an example of a topic that you can cover and provides a good angle about how to help your audience.
  • The Best Brunches In Denver Right Now: This post is within the length that your post needs to be. It also covers a topic that you can also cover.
  • Other examples: You can use public opinion data about the best restaurants in Denver and then map those 5 restaurants. Or, you can find and map where the next 5 biggest rodeos will be held in Wyoming.

Steps for Blog Post 7

    1. Consult with me about your proposed blog post and map.
    2. Review how to create our own maps using Google My Maps
    3. Create our map
    4. Write the blog post
    5. Embed the map in the blog post

Download the full assignment instructions and grading rubric: Blog Post 7 – Google My Maps

Here is an example of a basic map that I created. I didn’t write-up a blog post with this, but you will be expected to.

About The Author

I'm an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Communication and Journalism Department at the University of Wyoming. In my ninth year at UW, I regularly teach multimedia production, web design, political communication, quantitative research methods, and media, science, and society.