Concept to map: My ideation process

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Aug 19, 2019

Concept to map: My ideation process


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Aug 19, 2019

As a designer at Mapbox I design new map styles for many reasons: to match specific use cases, to highlight product features, and even to speak to current events. Taking the time to brainstorm ideas and collaborate is critical. I have 100 bad ideas before I have 1 good one. Without the right idea, the implementation is all off. This is usually documented with several open tabs and a few quick notes written jotted down. Many of the maps I’ve made are either inspired by a photo, concept or an existing map.

My map ideation process goes through the following steps:

  1. Generation
  2. Extraction
  3. Simplification
  4. Ideation
  5. Creation

Here’s how I followed this process to make an updated version of “Wheatpaste” a designer map style made by Ian Villeda in 2014.


Idea generation and design generation are tightly coupled in this initial step. This step focuses on balancing what’s interesting with what’s possible. During this step, I try to make quick mocks of prominent design elements. This step produces a quick sketch of basic ideas and themes.


Once we have an idea we want to run with, I start gathering information, graphics, conceptual thought process, and anything else I can find on the topic. I extract everything I can from the original idea. To start, I open Adobe Illustrator and analyze the original style. I compile a small sketchpad with the color palette and views of the map at different zoom levels and geographic locations. This in-depth analysis helps me understand the intention of the map and work through design decisions.


With a near-information-overload, I begin to simplify the information into themes, visual elements, and intentions. I start creating a taxonomy chart for the map during this step.


In this phase, I begin formulating how I want the map to look. I create textures, collect fonts, polish color palettes, and make sure the design is consistent with the original intention.


It isn’t until I have a clear picture of what I want the map to be and look like will I start iterating in Mapbox Studio.

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That encapsulates the conceptual half of my process for taking an image or idea and transforming it into a map with Mapbox Studio. Find your favorite place on Wheatpaste and tweet me what you come up with!

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