Thinking About Story Maps
Storytelling with Maps poster
Creating a story map requires strikingly different thought processes than many of the traditional tasks of GIS. A map that tells a story for a general audience, for instance, will likely look different from a map that shows the results of a spatial analysis.
Before assembling a story, GIS users should ask some basic questions:
- What is the story? What am I trying to communicate? A good first step is to summarize the story concept in a sentence or two. A second step might be to sketch out a storyboard that diagrams the basic elements of the story and the means by which users will access it.
- Who is the audience? What background or contextual information does my audience need to understand the story I'm telling?
- What things do I need to tell my story? Can I tell my story with a single map? Do I need two or more maps? How will I set the stage for my story with text? What sorts of additional content—graphs, charts, photos, video—will I need to tell the story?
- Does my map do its job? An effective GIS map usually isn't the same as an effective story map. Colors, symbols, and categories should be clear and simple.
- What don't I need to tell my story? The key to an effective story (and an effective map) often lies in what is omitted. Simpler is usually better.
- What parts of my story can be told visually? Introduce the story and interpret the maps using as few words as possible. Maps are powerful purveyors of information; they should do most of the talking.
- How will users navigate my story? Traditionally, stories are linear narratives. More often than not, story maps are not linear. Effective story maps usually introduce a topic within a user experience that requires little or no explanation and then enables users to explore and discover on their own.
See also "Using Web Maps to Tell Your Story."