Spatial is special. Accordingly, there are many considerations that need to be made prior to and during the task of visualizing spatial data.  Chief among these considerations are your goals and what it is you’re actually trying to accomplish with a map. Are you communicating results you’ve already found? Enabling users to explore the data to discover information on their own, possibly generating new hypotheses?

Then there is the star of the show – your data. How you transform and intend to communicate with your data is vital. This is especially true in the era of big data. The kind, amount, and nuances of the data will influence not only which visualization techniques are most appropriate but also which tools are most suitable for the job. More often than not, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, toolchains take the place of individual tools and the stack of software you use will be jointly guided by the data and what you invision as your final product.

These are just some of the issues I discussed during my talk for Big Data Week. After outlining some directions and considerations users should have in mind before visualizing spatial data, a step-by-step walkthrough of map creation with CartoDB put these guidelines into practice. You can check out the presentation, data, and demo below:

Some of the arguments I made draw upon an excellent blog post by Andy Woodruff. In his post, Andy discusses web cartography and whether it is science, art, or some hackery in between. My talk expanded upon this argument a bit from a theoretical perspective and focused on the connection between designers, users, and the cartographic output. From this view, I highlight some of the key benefits of cloud-based visualization tools and how these services fit within a broader scope of available software.

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