Data visualisation critique

Critique is a really powerful way of making better maps and data visualisations, and a useful tool in any visualiser’s arsenal. It’s not about picking holes in a map or data visualisation – but instead more of a holistic look at the overall design and message. Sometimes it can feel awkward or harsh, but when done right it is simply a constructive helpful tool. After all, once you’ve done all the data collection, cleaning, prep, analysis and ultimately visualisation, you don’t want all your work to go to waste if people then don’t engage with what you’ve made!

It's important to remember too that not everybody has access to critique – such as people who work on their own as a freelancer, or don’t have any colleagues with geographic data visualisation knowledge. Therefore, having the ability to get your work critiqued is a privilege and can even give you an advantage.

Things to remember when giving critique

When delivering critique to someone, it can also be helpful to frame it between some things you like about the piece This helps to keep the critique constructive, whilst also highlighting the good work which has gone into the map or data visualisation.

Here are some more tips to keep in mind when delivering critique to somebody:

  1. It’s Not About You keep your points focused on the map and how the designer can improve or alter it to better serve it’s purpose. The map should be critiqued on it’s own merit and not examined by personal bias toward any design element or concept.

  2. Maintain Respect and Honesty - Remember that the map designer has put in a lot of time, thought and care into constructing the design. Honesty is a great tool in a design critique. The designer needs to hear the truth and understand the reasons why a map design is either working or not.

  3. Avoid Meaningless Words and Phrases - It’s much better to have a thorough explanation rather than using vague meaningless phrases like,“the map needs to be more sexy”. Don’t hold back on the description of why something works or doesn’t work — the more info the better.

  4. Be Specific - The point of the critique is to examine the map and see if it meets its intended message and goal. If explanations aren’t specific, the communication of the critique will suffer, and in turn the map and map designer will suffer as well.

  5. Bear in mind the Cartographic Design Principles - Always refer back to our cartographic design principles before entering into any map critique (see here). When giving critique these can be good to centre your points around.

  6. Ask Why - A good map critique should ask questions like “Why did you use the darker shade of blue for your water fill versus a lighter one?”. This kind of questioning allows the map designer to verbally explain why a decision was made and allows for a better understanding of the map and the design choices made.

  7. Offer Suggestions - Suggestions should be welcome but this goes along with point number two above: be respectful and honest. Be respectful with your suggestions and make sure that you don’t just try to implement your own personal style or design ideas.

Useful criteria to remember when giving critique


Designing the concept of a map is where you should ideally begin and those ideas are driven by the maps purpose. What is the map's intention? Is it achieving it?


Is the content right? Is the data right? Has any analysis been done correctly? There is nothing worse than spending a lifetime perfecting and refining your map only to find out you have the wrong data!


Remember the Earth is curved. Map projections flatten our curved Earth and always add distortion. They transform the sphere on a plane. So, has the best map projection been used to represent the chosen map? Has the correct map projection been used for the map's intended medium?


Have they used the correct mapping technique? This is especially relevant to thematic mapping where the technique used is really important.


Legends tell the map reader what the polygons, lines and points represent. They are one of the most important map elements to consider during map making. Does the legend depict everything it should? Does it depict too much? Where is the legend? Is it in the way? Too big? Too small?


Colour catches the eye. Its used to clarify features. Are the colours right? Is water blue? Should it be blue? Is the palette colour-blind friendly?


How does the overall map look? Do all the elements of the map work together?


Does the map title reflect the purpose of the map? It usually should include the map's theme and geographic location

Labels, Fonts, Symbology

Labels should be placed with purpose. Is the map cluttered with labels? Make sure they are readable and that the most appropriate fonts, colours and sizes are used. Don’t use gimmicky fonts just because you can. Stick to tried and tested. Are the symbols easy to interpret? Are they depicted at the correct scale?


A scale bar is a map element that graphically shows the distance of units on a map. Does the map have one? Does it need one?

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