Why Is Map-Making Still Hard?

How hard can it be to make two simple maps, one showing the location of addresses and one showing sales by US state? James Killick tried products from all the big names—ESRI, Google, Microsoft, and Felt. Turns out, getting started is not straightforward.

Killick went into the experiment pretending he had no prior experience, which I think is unfair. Complex software is a reflection of a complex problem space, great flexibility, or both. Not everything can and should be dumbed down to the level a disinterested teenager can be bothered to understand. Instagram is easier to use than a traditional camera but the photos all look the same. Mapping software, like any design tool, requires domain knowledge: You need to know what you want to achieve. You need to know what kind of maps exists, and which can be used to most effectively represent your data. If you know these things you’re more likely to already know the right tools and where to find them.

And let’s not forget Felt is just over one year old now but they already raised the bar for map-tech user experience and managed to remove a lot of complexity from the process through clever design and impressive software engineering. Give them a little more time and they will further change the way we think about making maps. In a few years time we might ask ourselves why map-making was so difficult in 2023.