One of the biggest challenges of making a map in Studio is knowing if it looks good everywhere in the world. When designing a map, you’re not just making choices about colors and typography, you’re working with data like layers of roads, and landcover, labels. Since these layers can converge in any number of ways all across the planet, each design decision you make is a global one. Editing the colors of your road layers is a change that spans from the tight highway networks of Tokyo to the sparse interstates of Des Moines, Iowa. How can you ensure that your custom style looks consistent in both these places, and everywhere in between?

Tokyo, Japan vs. West Des Moines, Iowa Left: Tokyo, Japan; Right: West Des Moines, Iowa, both at zoom level 10

Meet carto-cam, a tool that points you where in the world to look when reviewing your map styles in progress. Carto-cam starts off by showing you a few snapshots of what your custom map looks in a variety of different geographic contexts. You can add more snapshots by choosing what data layers you want to look closer at. Each snapshot is a frame of reference for you to check — and double-check — that your style looks how you’d like it to.

I worked with Nicki from our cartography team to compile a gazetteer of places that she likes to virtually visit while working on a map style. The featured destinations were chosen because they highlight interactions of data that can be tricky to design, but when done right, are beautiful to look at on a map.

See here how footway paths, styled with a dashed, white-and-orange stroke, can behave unpredictably from place-to-place:

Millennium Bridge vs. Michigan State University Left: Millennium Bridge, London; Right: Michigan State University

Or how grids of roads converge to form the distinct identity of that city:

Portland, Oregon vs. Milton Keynes, UK Left: Portland, Oregon; Right: Milton Keynes, UK, both at zoom level 14

Getting a view into our cartography team’s workflow is an essential part of our process on the Studio team. It’s important for us to keep an open feedback loop between those building the tool, and those building the maps. What tools do our cartographers need to design maps with confidence in their quality? How do they think about, organize, and describe data? Our goal is to feed the insights we gather back into Studio to improve its style editing tools, and to ensure all who interact with them can create compelling, imaginative maps.

Carto-cam was originally made as tool for internal cartographic quality control. To help us get feedback while the tool and its featured places are still a work-in-progress, we’re inviting you to use carto-cam to review your own maps. Try it out with one of your custom styles!

If you like the idea of tooling and experimentation as a part of the product design cycle, or if you get excited about the challenges of making tools for map design, apply to work with us on the Studio team!