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  • Writer's picturehelenmakesmaps5

2021's #30daymapchallenge: my top picks

I'm writing this in the second week of December. It's been two weeks since 2021's 30 day map challenge ended, and I feel in equal parts relieved to have my evenings back and at a loss for where to channel my creativity. So I've decided to fill that void by revisiting the challenge, day-by-day, and sharing my favourite map from each day and why I think they're so great.

This is of course, an 100% subjective, biased and inexhaustive list.


Day 1: Points

Created by: @Gaelle_Sutton

Well this is just perfection isn't it - a look at ocean temperature change around the arctic. Stunning application of the theme, thoughtful and subtle geographic elements included, and a perspective-shattering projection. The best maps make you think, and this one definitely does.


Day 2: Lines

Created by: @MRuehringer

I have a transport background so I love a journey time map, particularly when they're as well-designed as this. The magma colour palette gently fading into the dark background is just *chef's kiss.* And that neon text is SO Amsterdam - I love it when a map's design ties into it's subject sense of place.


Day 3: Polygons

Created by: @samwise_v

This map is just very very cool. Sam used blender to extrude and style OpenStreetMap buildings into this epic glowing cityscape. I wish I had a gif of it and a projector so I could have it flashing on my wall through the parties I'm not cool enough to have. Love it.


Day 4; Hexagons

Created by: @shinysci

This visualisation really looks like you could reach out and touch it, and I love that. This shows elevation on Olympus Mons on Mars. It uses a counter-intuitive terrain ramp; I'd normally expect blues and greens at lower elevations and warmer colours at higher elevations because of the relationship you often see between elevation, water and vegetation. I think this really gives it an other-wordly, sci-fi feel which is totally appropriate for the subject. Amazing!


Day 5: Data challenge 1, Openstreetmap

Created by: @ioddg

Day 5 challenged participants to create a map using only OpenStreetMap data, or data derived from it. I love this map from being such a creative spin on a reference map of Athens. It's really made by the details; all of the information in the blueprint information box to the bottom is a great inclusion.


Day 6: Red

Created by: @geo_coe

I often go on about how amazing I think Daniel Coe's epic LiDAR maps are, so I had to include one of them in this list. What I particularly like about this one is that you wouldn't normally associate rivers with the theme of red; you'd go for blue, or brown if you live in the UK. The burgundy colour palette just looks so stunning here and works so well.


Day 7: Green

Created by: @tjukanov

I'm a real fan of monochrome base maps as they're an instant win for creating a strong visual hierarchy. This one is no different - Topi's dark green basemap beautifully contrasts the bright shades of his renewable energy data points and has a real vintage aesthetic which is an interesting juxtaposition with the theme.

Oh and this is a great place to give Topi a shout out for being the brains behind the whole challenge - thanks Topi!


Day 8: blue

Created by: @RGuedonHG

I love a good Spilhaus map (one that uses the Spilhaus projection, which emphasises the connectivity between oceans rather than land) but sometimes it can feel a bit seen one, seen them all. That's not the case with this one. The blue mosaic effect (is there a technical term for this? Please @ me if you know it!) is stunning. If I was rich and owned a villa in the Mediterranean I would commission a mosaic floor with this pattern for my terrace. Unfortunately, I live in a particularly grey corner of grey London so it will have to brighten up my life from Twitter.


Day 9: Monochrome

Created by: @Cchurchili

In 2020's map challenge, one of the themes I found most difficult was "yellow." I've always found it such a difficult colour to work with as I can never get it quite the right yellow. Carl clearly doesn't have this problem; his yellow monochrome map of shipping activity around the Arctic is AMAZING. My favourite thing about this map (and it's so hard to pick just one thing) is the inset map in the bottom left corner. I love the idea of using a halo over a globe to communicate this - genius!


10 Raster

Created by: @ksituan

One of the things I love the most about this challenge is it opens your eyes to so many geographies you might never have known about before. I've never seen a map showing urban/industrial night time lights before, and never even heard about this dataset before - but now so glad I have! Really really beautiful cartography.


Day 11: 3d

Created by: @gontsa

Tactile maps are incredible. They're great tools for people who are visually impaired, but also people just LOVE them. I was on holiday in Bruges once and there was a tactile map in one of the squares and people were all over it. Maybe there's something about them that appeals to our instinct to create physical representations of the world around us (sidebar: did you know the oldest known map was created in around 25,000 BC and carved on a mammoth tusk? How cool is that!?). Anyway, I think using the 30 day map challenge to promote a great tool like Tactile Maps Easily | Touch Mapper ( is definitely deserving of a spot on this list - props to @gontsa.


Day 12: Population

Created by: @Kenneth_KHW

Joy plots are a style of mapping which basically takes a quantitative dataset - say elevation - and creates a series of line graphs pertaining to this dataset to create a semi-geographic view of it. I love that Kenneth has combined two different joy-plots here to show the relationship between elevation and population - it's something I haven't seen before. I love even more that he's broken the two plots down to show us how he got there. Also that colour palette is a stunner.

If you're curious about making joy-plots but not sure where to start, check out my tutorial here which uses a combination of QGIS and R which shows it's actually much more straightforward than you'd think!


Day 13: Data challenge 2, Natural Earth

Created by: @StaridasGeo

Natural Earth is a great resource, but as a dataset it's also a little... dry? As in it's mostly topographic and reference data. I found this day particularly challenging (which is a good thing - the clue is in the name!) so I'm in awe of what some people came up with. This was my pick of the day because it's just so damn attractive. Everything from the colour palette to the marginalia to the typeface; it's so thoughtfully designed and someone should make it into a poster, like right now.


Day 14: New tool

Created by: @hughagraham

Considering this was a day dedicated to people trying out a new tool, the quality was outstanding! I love this map of the City of London, particularly the way the multiple shadows work. The detail of the LiDAR data is great too, and St. Paul's Cathedral and the Barbican both look particularly awesome.


Day 15: Without a computer

Created by: @DiasporaDan

Map without a computer was maybe the most difficult yet most fun day for me. I loved seeing so many creative submissions - particularly the edible ones - but I picked this for my favourite as I'm so in awe of how someone could draw something so detailed free-hand - really impressive.


Day 16: Urban / rural

Created by: @HeikkiVesanto

I love this map because it's such a great way of visualising how fluid a concept 'place' is. Everyone's definition of what constitutes a neighbourhood is different and I always love seeing research and visualisations of this. This map show what % of respondents agree that they would class each grid cell as the "Kimmage" neighbourhood of Dublin. I think this is such a fantastic and simple (which is a compliment!) way of visualising this.

Sidebar: one of my favourite visualisations on this topic is"This isn't f*cking Dalston" here by @euanmills which is a fun look at how differently people understand place along one road in London.


Day 17: Land

Created by: @nello394

How could I not include a map dedicated to Age of Empires? So many hours of my life spent being thrashed by this game. A million things to love about this map, but in particular the foil effect of the gold lines is just freaking gorgeous.


Day 18: Water

Created by: @dr_xeo

What initially drew me to this map was the plasma colour palette completely contrasting with the blue hues you'd expect for the "water" theme. I love the minimal design and how the breaks in the data create a sense of turbulence and currents.


Day 19: Islands

Created by: @sarahbellmaps

What an amazing idea! I love how Sarah's video slowly transforms from a photo of a rock into a gorgeous fantasy map. The gradients of the rock create such a stunning and natural hillshade, and its texture just feels so appropriate for the theme. The illustrations are fantastic too and have such an authentic, hand-drawn aesthetic - I particularly like the castle on "Raven Island."


Day 20: Movement

Created by: @DiasporaDan

It's really the details that take a map from good to great, and will you just LOOK at that legend?? Pure genius. The lego effect of the map looks so real I can practically feel the infinite pain of stepping on this. Amazing amazing amazing.


Day 21: Elevation

Created by: @researchremora

Well this is just a stunner. Extreme latitudes can be missed from common global elevation sources like SRTM, elevation maps of this part of the world can be quite rare. There's a lot to love about this map, but my absolute favourite part of it is Greenland. It just has this really gorgeous holographic feel to it which I really really like.


Day 22: Boundaries

Created by: @schochastics

This is a really fantastic idea and a great way to visualise the long-lasting impacts of one of the most famous political boundaries in modern historic. The effects of the East/West German boundary on median income and unemployment rate still appear to be particularly pronounced.


Day 23: GHSL data challenge

Created by: @pokateo_

Those of you who know Kate for her championing the #mappymeme trend or just really, really loving potatoes will also have seen this brilliant population map she's created of California in 1975. So, so retro. Do the population peaks outside the California boundary remind anyone of little scuffs on a record case? Just adds to the retro vibe. 10/10, one of the best.


Day 24: Historic

Created by: @Julian_H0ffmann

Julian created some amazing visualisations across the course of the challenge and his 3D work is unparalleled. This one is particularly evocative, showing the extent of the Fire of London across it's modern-day built environment. The way the fire illuminates the surrounding landscape - particularly the Tate Modern on the South Bank and some of the taller buildings to the north - is just stunning.


ay 26: Interactive

Created by: @radamar

This has got to be one of the most fun and inventive things I've seen come out of this challenge, and one of the reasons it's such a great idea. A game to find places around the world by using your nose is just completely mad and completely fantastic.


Day 26: Choropleth

Created by: @dgplacenames

A really, really excellent idea. So simple, so brilliant. Also here must be someone out there who can think of a way to turn this into a real board game, and they can have all my money (I'm sure a fiver and a £10 Nandos gift card will make a real difference to your life, whoever you are).


Day 27: Heatmap

Created by: @JoshCopping

The slickest map. The monochrome, almost metallic symbology is really hypnotic and also alludes to the subject really well. Very sick and/or rad.


Day 28: The earth is not flat

Created by: @neilrkaye

I'm just a sucker for maps which illustrate how maps lie, particularly projections and particularly THIS projection. This animation demonstrates so beautifully the impact the mercator projection has on the size of areas furthest from the equator. Watching this it also really struck me how even areas closest to the equator experience huge distortions. Excellent.


Day 29: Null

Created by: @KateEllen100

This is such a great interpretation of this theme - looking at gaps in data is such a refreshing take on the infamously tricky "null" theme (made even more tricky by being the 29th day...). What I particularly love about this map is the watercolour texturing, and also its simplicity - Kate really lets the data speak for itself.


Day 30: Metamapping

Created by: @OrdnanceSurvey

As Great Britain's national mapping agency, you'd expect amazing maps from the Ordnance Survey but I really do like this one. The guidance for day 30 was "Spend the day either by 1) collecting your entries from the challenge to a common gallery, 2) writing a tutorial or a blog post on one of your maps or 3) create a map from a theme you have chosen yourself." I love the idea of creating a gallery of entries that is a geographically-correct patchwork of the maps from the rest of the challenge.



That was fun!

Choosing just one map a day was TOUGH and there were so many I loved that I couldn't include. I discovered so many talented cartographers and amazing maps to inspire me throughout this challenge, so thank you to every single person who got involved - whether it was for a day or all 30!

Only 10.5 months til next year...

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