Using maps in presentations

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Written by

Cathy Paine

Map of Corporate offices and different facilities. Dull presentation and hard to see locationsIn a world of global business, maps seem to be all but unavoidable in presentations… and sadly end up as little more than a cliched slide “filler”.

Maps get over-used because they can be a lazy way to “add some more graphics” to a presentation. The most common offenders are “Corporate Locations” maps that are so vague they essentially tell us nothing. Adding insult to injury, these maps are terminally dull and ugly… but everyone seems addicted to them!
Like frumpy gatecrashers at a party, they somehow sneak their way into your otherwise cool presentation. Seeing these maps (right) in your presentation, would anyone really know where the branch offices are or which countries you operate in?

If your goal is to communicate accurate information, in these examples, a well-designed list of locations would have been more effective.
Despite all the bad ones out there, maps are powerful, indispensable tools for displaying location-specific data in your presentation.

Map in black and grey, with countries highlighted in red

Maps are a unique category of infographic. Unlike charts or graphs, which look nothing like the real-world data they represent, maps reflect the shape of the real world acting as a two-dimensional data view of a three-dimensional reality.

The next few posts will be dedicated to uncovering innovative mapping solutions and fresh design ideas. Unlike the two bad maps above, the best maps are capable of displaying a stunning depth of geographic information, quickly and easily, in a way no other infographic can match.

I’ll talk more about these data-dense maps in Part 2. Today though, let’s look look at the good ol’ “Corporate Locations” map again and find some interesting ways to update it.

Map of the United States with bar graphs on it, representing increased sales

Slide for Bakery Network designed by Duarte Design

Unless you’re only dealing with a small number of locations you can label, these types of maps are not the best way to communicate specific location data in presentations. If you have to include one of these “branch office” maps in your presentation, think of a creative way to do it.

Some ideas for creative maps:

  • Instead of the typical “pinhead” to show location, use something more interesting, like an icon or a photo of a person who works there or photo of a well-known landmark.
  • Add labels if it’s important for people to know the exact locations.
  • Finesse the color scheme of your map, this goes a long way to improving the look of your map.
  • Depending on your brand, you might consider doing a handdrawn map or handdrawn icons. This example shows improved sales figures for Bakery Network outlets around the country.
  • Sometimes, when you’re really stuck for design ideas, step away from your keyboard and get back to the real world.
  • If you’re just doing a “location” map that doesn’t require a lot of detail, is there a way you could make a map out of something else,like this clever apple by artist Kevin Van Aelst? If you were in the fruit business, this would be a great slide, for example. (By the way, if you want to see some ultra-creative examples of using real-world objects to build an infographic, you definitely need to check out Kevin’s site.)
  • Another hands-on solution could be to take a real map and add objects to it to represent specific location and just take a photo of the end result.

The example below is a bit jumbled but at least it’s more interesting than the standard “Corporate Location” map! This map shows the locations of events in the popular TV show, Heroes. The newspaper clippings, string, photos and post-it notes add a nice three-dimensional touch.

Example of a map that would be better than a corporate map. A map that has clippings and pins to give a 3D effect

Stay tuned for Part 2 when we’ll dig into some more data-intensive maps!

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