When you think outside the box, the unlimited potential of maps (and the tools that create them) starts to become clear.
Mapping tools can be used to:
- Plot the path of your next road trip
- Create courses for road racing
- Build fantasy worlds
- Create map-based games
- Record an area’s history
When it comes to cool, creative maps - even the sky isn’t the limit.
Maps can be used to visualize, educate, or persuade, telling complex stories in a clear and compelling way. With tons of unique uses cases and plenty of custom map creators, you can let your imagination run wild.
We cover our favorite creative maps below to help give you some inspiration, but remember when it comes to creative maps - the journey and the destination is up to you.
When it comes to travel planning, mapping tools can help you:
A. Plot the route for a cross-country drive
B. Pull up walking directions to tonight’s restaurant
C. Find the next point of interest
D. All of the above!
Mapping tools help you piece together your itinerary visually, based on location - rather than just picking places at random or trying to remember every detail on your own.
No matter how you slice it, the right mapping platform can help you find the information you need, plan the optimal route, and manage your time wisely - making vacation planning easier and more fun than ever before.
Route Mapping for Races
Of course, GIS mapping tools can help you find the route from A to B. They can also be used to view elevation profiles, read live traffic information, and even plot out a road race.
If you’ve ever participated in a road race, the course map you received was created with GIS.
Often, this route is selected based on factors like scenery, minimizing road closures, elevation, points of interest, and choosing the best location for a finish line.
Given all those factors, it can also help determine which course type would be optimal: a loop, or a point-to-point.
Some course mappers, however, are just in it for fun: throwing function and convenience to the wind, letting creativity take the lead.
One Portland runner, an avid Star Wars fan, uses the Nike+ app to create courses mapped to look like famous characters. Check out his maps to run a Darth Vader, TIE fighter, Stormtrooper, or even an AT-AT route.
As you can see, the bar for creative race routes is high.
Depending on who you are, mapping and games may or may not be an obvious connection. Either way, GIS-based gaming has seen a boom in recent years, thanks to games like Pokémon Go, Pursued, and Zombie Apocalypse.
Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game in which the user finds and captures different Pokémon, is largely dependent on GIS technology. Exploding onto the scene in 2016, this game quickly became a worldwide phenomenon.
If you’re interested, USC has a great breakdown of how Pokémon Go made maps fun and what it means for the future of gaming.
In Pursued, the object is to guess what city you're in, using Street View maps and visual clues provided by the game. The catch is that you've been kidnapped, and need to type the city name in as soon as possible. If you guess the name correctly, your friends can save you. If not - you're captured again!
Zombie Apocalypse is another great example of map-based gaming. When trying to hold the attention of geospatial analysis students at Monmouth University, professor Edward González-Tennant had a unique idea: zombies.
González-Tennant used GIS maps to create zombie hordes and have students deduce where they were heading and how to avoid another outbreak. Players of Zombie Apocalypse must use their geospatial knowledge to avoid incoming hordes and survive the game.
Another fun and creative use case for maps is worldbuilding, in which users can create their own fantasy worlds with a world map creator.
Worldbuilding is an incredibly popular segment of gaming.
Case in point: Minecraft, a game in which players create their own worlds and experiences, is the single best-selling video game of all time. As of 2019, it has sold over 180 million copies and has 112 million monthly active players.
Another great example of world building and maps comes from Robert Rose, Director of the Center for Geospatial Analysis at the College of William & Mary.
Rose was seeking a creative way to teach GIS at both the introductory and advanced levels, so he developed a GIS of Middle Earth. Using that layered map, students were tasked with answering the questions: Was Frodo's path to destroy the ring the best option? Was there a better one?
That project went over so well, he took things a step further by introducing an entire GIS & Middle Earth course into the curriculum.
GIS can also help us map contemporary history.
Map-based application, WhatWasThere allows users to navigate streets as they appeared in the past: entering a sort of virtual time machine. The process is simple — upload a photograph and tag the location and year.
The idea is that if enough people upload photographs in enough places, the cumulative effort will create a photographic history of the world.
Another interesting site, Old Maps Online, goes a step further. Using the simple interface, users can browse and view over 250,000 historical maps - some of which date back as far as the 15th century.
Compare places of interest from centuries ago to today, or just take a visual meander through times long past - all from the comfort of your couch.
Remember at the beginning, when we said even the sky isn’t the limit?
We weren’t kidding.
On their Mars Exploration website, NASA was at one point soliciting crowdsourced entries to help “improve Martian maps, take part in research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet.”
Unfortunately, that portion of the Mars mission website is no longer available. However, you can still check out an interactive map of Mars on the USGS website.
Social and Political Trends
GIS maps can also be used to visually represent social and political trends.
Social and political maps run the gamut from voting trends and areas of greatest inequality, to more light hearted examples like favorite Halloween candy or alcoholic beverage by state.
The New York Times frequently publishes interesting socio-political maps, such as this one outlining the hardest places to live in the U.S. or the highest concentration of Syrian refugees throughout the country.
GIS maps can also help to visually display data on national student loan debt, average income by state, unemployment, and so much more.
The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to the wide world of GIS. Not only are maps a fun and engaging format, they can also share information quickly and effectively.
Whether it be fact or fiction, creative maps are a fun way to represent the world.
What map would you create?