Many of us graphics types keep a number of templates that we constantly pick up and modify from day to day, from story to story, from graphics assignment to graphics assignment.
And then there are those geniuses who go a step beyond and create software to do those repetitive tasks for them.
Enter Patrick Garvin of the Boston Globe. He’s created his own open-source online tool that will turn Excel data into those chloropleth maps that we use so often.
He calls the tool Mr. Map Generator and it’s very, very cool. Especially since he’s giving it to us for free.
Here’s how Patrick describes the tool:
The user copies the contents of a spreadsheet, pastes that into a field, clicks a few buttons and then has code for a responsive, color-coded map that can be used on any browser on any platform. It can also be modified to be used in a vector file.
The reaction via social media Tuesday was strong and swift:
Patrick tells us:
I created Mr. Map Generator this past summer. I had just finished updating my gay marriage timeline…
…and felt this void now that the timeline didn’t require daily heavy lifting. I wanted an evergreen project that I could work on in my slow times at work.
In the year or so since I had originally launched my gay marriage map/timeline, I found myself using the SVG of the U.S. map a lot. I had repurposed it for a web map about state by state insurance numbers and then gotten the idea to save that file as a PDF so I could use it for the print version.
From the summer of 2013 through the summer of 2014, I found myself repurposing the U.S. SVG a few times so that I could make color-coded maps. It saved time to reuse an old file, but I wondered if I couldn’t find an even easier and more efficient way.
Around the time that I had wrapped up version 2.0 of the gay marriage timeline, Chiqui Esteban and Gabriel Florit were both making web graphic generators for our department to use. These were in-house tools that helped graphic artists and web producers make web graphics that played nicely with Methode, our CMS.
Méthode, for those of you not familiar with it, is the Globe‘s front-end system — also used by the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Times of London and the Washington Post.
My friends at Media24 in South Africa use it, too — except they call it by the name of its corporate parent, Eidos.
As I was looking for projects and was already considering ways to streamline my process of making color-coded maps, I followed Chiqui’s and Gabriel’s leads and began on a tool myself.
I was very much influenced by Shan Carter‘s Mr. Data Converter website.
As of now, Mr. Map Generator has more steps than Mr. Data Converter, but I tried to keep that same feel. It might seem daunting to novices, but I wanted the steps to have screen grabs that explained things. I’ve found that in the explainers I’ve sent to staff members on other projects, screen grabs make a huge difference.
Therefore, you’ll want to bookmark this post — the one in which Patrick walks you through how to use Mr. Map Generator.
He shows you how and where to enter your data and then what to do with it.
In the end, you can generate files to post to your web site or PDF vector files that you can then open in Adobe Illustrator…
…for incorporation into your print graphics. Easy peasy.
Currently, Patrick has templates for U.S., Massachusetts and Boston area maps — with more to come, he says.
The Massachusetts maps really paid off. Color coding 351 shapes by hand in Illustrator is a nightmare and can introduce errors. That anxiety is significantly reduced when the process is automated.
Color coded maps are common for graphics departments, and I think that simplifying the process has saved us time to focus on more complex projects.
Here are the links to save:
A 2004 graduate of the University of Missouri, Patrick spent a year-and-a-half at the Myrtle Beach, S.C., Sun News before joining the Times-Union of Jacksonville, Fla., in 2006. He moved to Boston in 2010.
In addition, Patrick does stand-up comedy on the side.
Find Patrick’s blog here, his portfolio here and his Twitter feed here.