Mapping with Mom

When it became clear this summer that the pandemic wasn't going anywhere anytime soon, I decided to move back in with my parents. We form a sort of funny high-risk pod with residual strained family dynamics. I'm painfully aware of all the annoying and now potentially unsafe things they do, even more than I usually am. We've had several conversations about how many times a week it's appropriate to go grocery shopping (to me, a huge haul once a month with online supplementary shopping does the trick, and to them, multiple times a week is vital). This means I've become attuned to how they spend their days and I am, for better or for worse, under their scrutiny as well.

Mom's days of retirement are very sweet. She spends many hours a day drawing flowers with colored pencils (a skill she encouraged me to develop as a young child and that I now realize she was far more invested in than I was). Before it got cold, she would also spend a lot of her time outside. As a leader in our neighborhood, she took it upon herself to chart out the community garden that sits in between our alleys for future planting. The community lore is that is a World War II Victory garden. It was meant for residents grow their own food given limited war-time rations. It was also meant as a morale boost. Not much food is grown in the Broad Branch Victory Garden (maybe when we reach full apocalypse), but it certainly has boosted my morale during the pandemic.

I watched Mom sketch out the layout of the beds and bushes and trees, erasing and redrawing, attaching paper with Scotch tape. I suggested that perhaps this was a problem for a computer to solve and it would save her time were it to live on Illustrator. We thus launched into a series of negotiations about placement and scale and vision as we translated her sketches to my computer. A recurring argument was over whether we could scale that one thing, or whether we'd have to rescale everything.

First, we came up with a system to categorize and label the plants in the garden. We decided on trees, bushes, flowers, and herbs...later adding bird feeders. Not all of these had subcategories, but those that did used an initial system as labels. Mom had her own system of categorizing objects—a tree was a circle, for example. Some of that system had become confused in the drawing and redrawing, so using easily replicable SVG iconography helped on the Illustrator version of the map. We eliminated unnecessary landscaping such as paths and rocks, but kept beds designated.

I used Misto Font, a typeface with Cyrillic and Latin lettering that takes its shape from the short buildings in Slavutych city in Ukraine, decimated and shaped by the Chernobyl explosion. DC is also a city of short stature with buildings mandated to be shorter than the Capitol. The playful type inspired the rest of the design decisions. I plan on making a simplified version for my Mom, perhaps with her simplified iconography. Although it was a relief for her to be able to adjust the size of the artboard as needed without resorting to Scotch tape, it will be difficult to print on our home printer. We made some design decisions to add contrast, but the map is primarily meant to be digitally shared.

#mistofont #mapping #informationvisualization #gradients