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What makes a winning map, according to the 2024 Map Calendar Contest judges

Want to get your best map in front of thousands of Canadian GIS fans and map lovers? Want your map to be what people see when they sit down at their desks or check their calendars? Then enter the 2024 Map Calendar Contest for a chance at countrywide recognition for your hard work. Wondering what the judges are looking for when they’re reviewing submissions? Look no further than this blog post, where four of our judges tell you exactly what makes a map worthy of the shortlist.

What’s this about?

Mapmaking can be a time-consuming and lonely business, with many hours of work put in to create something that only a few people might see. The 2024 Map Calendar Contest is a great opportunity to get your work seen by thousands of Canadian map lovers.

Great, but what are the criteria?

Esri Canada’s selection process for the contest is jury-driven and involves several shortlisting stages, culminating in final selection by Esri Canada president and founder Alex Miller. This year, to help you put together a version of your submission that’s more likely to make it to the shortlist, I asked four members of our judging panel what they believe makes a winning map. Read on to see what the judges are hoping to see.

Chris North, Director, Technology Adoption

  • The map should tell a compelling story. What is happening here and (more importantly) why? After looking at the map, I want to be saying “wow”, not “so what”. Don’t just show me the location of assets—tell me a story about what’s going on.
  • The map should be a work of art in its own right. I want to see some care in the selection of colours and styles, some effort put into the layout. Little extra thoughts like hillshades and fades make a huge difference. Please don’t just take a screengrab of a web map and email it.
  • The map should showcase ArcGIS technology. I want to see maps that harness the power of Esri technology to make them beautiful, rather than maps that have been taken into a third-party graphics package.

Joy Chan, Manager, Marketing Communications

These are the maps that stand out to me:

  • maps with stories that are insightful about a timely topic or that tell stories that we’ve not seen before (e.g., the citizen science of litter
  • maps that use different techniques to present data (e.g., 3D, imagery, hex bins)
  • maps that use unique colour schemes and styles (those that look like art as Chris mentioned) and have clear layouts, complete with title, legend, north arrow and creator’s logo

Paul Heersink, Program Manager, Roads & Addresses

Contest-winning maps generally have:

  • great cartography / design: The best maps have a clean, easy to read design that makes the main focus of the map immediately evident to the reader.
  • a great story: It’s always important to engage your readers.
  • an interesting / different way of presenting the work: A winning map isn’t necessarily different for difference’s sake, but different in order to effectively communicate the message.

Emilie Rabeau, Senior Community Engagement Specialist

I want to see maps where not only did the author leverage principles of good map design, but they also clearly put a lot of thought into it. Colour palettes were deliberately chosen, good visual contrast between all elements, all elements are laid out in a balanced manner. Bonus when it’s equally informative and beautiful. 

The topic of the map and the data being presented matter. An interesting dataset or an interesting approach to showcasing a dataset we’ve seen countless times makes for a really cool map.

In summary…

If we try to identify the common themes in the judges’ responses, their advice suggests that you:

  • Tell an interesting, unique story. Tell a story only you can tell.
  • Make a beautiful map. Spend time thinking about your colour palette, layout and design.
  • Showcase the power of GIS—whether by using an interesting analysis, visualization method or dataset.

Overall, take your time to make your map shine in these specific ways. You’ll be all the more likely to be shortlisted by our judges’ panel!

Contest closes June 30, 2023

Now that you know the ingredients of a winning Map Calendar Contest submission, it’s time to put them together and send us your best!

Submit your contest entry by 11:59 PM ET on June 30, 2023 at for a chance to be featured in our print calendar and on our Map Calendar Hub. Winners also receive a copy of Dawn J. Wright and Christian Harder’s GIS for Science, Volume 3: Maps to Save the Planet.

About the Author

Dani Pacey is a Marketing Specialist for Esri Canada. She digitized her first map at the tender age of 10 and has been fascinated by the relationships between people and places ever since. An avid technical communicator with degrees in Science & Technology Studies from York University and History of Science & Technology from the University of King's College, Dani has always blended science, social science and the humanities and loves bringing them all together to tell great stories about human life.

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