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  • Writer's picturehelenmakesmaps5

The 30 day map challenge 2020: reflections and advice

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

If you love maps and you haven't heard of the 30 day map challenge, I am about to rock your world.

A couple of years ago, Topi Tjukanov of Gispo fame started the 30 day map challenge. Each day in November is assigned a mappy category - "red", "water", "null" - for people to create and share a map on social media under #30daymapchallenge. It's such a fun, community-building month and it's amazing to see the creativity and talent out there in the mapping world.

November 2020 was a difficult month for me. In the UK, we were placed into our second nation-wide, covid-induced lockdown. That meant you could only leave your home to buy food, medical supplies, help a vulnerable person or exercise once-a-day. I was lucky in my lockdown experience in lots of ways, but sitting in my lonely, rental-beige, was-that-a-mouse flat with no outdoor space, it sometimes didn't feel that way. The 30 day map challenge came along at exactly the right time for me - it gave me something to do, and some people to talk to.

So I did it. All 30 days. Some days I LOVED, some days were a huge chore. A lot of what I created I'm so proud of, and a lot I would like to never look at again. But the sense of accomplishment on the 30th day was huge, and I'm so glad I did it.

What I found the most challenging through all of this was trying to find 30 days of inspiration. The themes are helpful (except maybe "a map"!) but coming up with something new and fun to map every day was tough.

As the 2021 challenge is due to start next month, I thought I'd share the main ways I kept the ideas coming for all 30 days in the hope that it's helpful for other people having a go at the challenge.


1 Map for someone

One of the great things about working in mapping is DIY christmas presents are easy. I love creating mappy gifts for people, and creating maps with the people I love in mind was definitely a great way of keeping the ideas coming throughout the challenge.

During lockdown I'd go months without seeing my family, and our usual summer holidays to Cornwall were definitely off the cards. Walking the South West Coast Path - a 630 mile coastal trail - is one of our favourite things to do. I remembered my dad describing it as "really just a long-distance pub crawl" and wondering if our favourite holiday spot (the west coast of the Lizard, Cornwall) was actually the worst-positioned for this, and it gave me an idea...


2 Over-interpret a theme

The first Friday night in Lockdown II was tough. I'd normally be out for drinks with friends or at the cinema, elbow-deep in popcorn. I wouldn't normally be sat in my cold kitchen, trying desperately to think of just anything to map for the theme "red." The colour red is typically associated with things that are bad or dangerous, and I wanted to keep my maps light and fun. I cracked open a cherry cider (not my normal drink, but seemed theme-appropriate) and blasted out my Friday night playlist. "Red" by Taylor Swift came on, and that was that.

I had so much fun going to town on the theme; data on the Red tour, Red album sales... all mapped in, you guessed it, red. I did the same for quite a few of the days - for blue I mapped blue whales; for yellow I mapped the Simpsons.


3 Map what you love

In 2020 I was working as a cartographer at a transport consultancy. That meant a lot of mapping infrastructure, modelling outputs and demographics. Really interesting stuff, but I wanted to use the 30 day map challenge to map the things I'd never have the opportunity to in my day job. Because of the challenge, I got to map things that really mean something to me like gigs from my favourite bands, dream holiday destinations and chicken shops. You know, the important stuff.

One of the things I've done for the 2021 challenge is write out a list of some of the things I enjoy or find interesting; my favourite animals, tv shows, video games, books, food... I'm then going to see how I can crowbar them to make them work for the daily themes.


Get mapping!

One of the most freeing things about the 30 day map challenge is how you're so restricted on time (I think most people aim to spend 1-2 hours on each map) that you're forced to relinquish perfectionism and not spend hours planning and agonising, but just doing. And remember the MOST important thing - you don't have to do all 30, you don't have to spend hours of your personal life doing this but you DO have to have fun!

I hope these suggestions were helpful and I can't wait to see what people come up with this year - it's going to be amazing!

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