ArcGIS for Dummies
October 13, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I work for a local, city-wide nonprofit and would like to create a map that displays our client density by zip code. I have never made a map and have only enough knowledge of ArcGIS to know that I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Please point me to resources on how to accomplish this, or alternately, tell me that I'm simply out of my element.

Ideally, I would like to use a color gradient to convey this data rather than to plot each client by their individual addresses. I want it to look like this, but right out of the gate, that tutorial presupposes a level of GIS literacy that I just don't have. I am fairly comfortable with Excel if there happens to be any way I can format my data before uploading to facilitate this. So far I've been able to find the zip code layer for our county, and I uploaded the data so that it plotted a single dot in each zip code that displayed the frequency of occurrences when clicked on.

Is there an easier way to do something like this in the free trial of ArcGIS? Are there other (free) map making tools that might make this easier? Or is my desired map simply too complex for a novice to create?

Thanks an advance for any advice or reality checks!
posted by a.steele to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
You can totally do this with Google maps.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:44 AM on October 13, 2014


You can do this for free in ArcGIS online or in Mapbox using TileMill. This PDF has a pretty easy-to-follow step-by-step with screenshots on how to create a choropleth map (the kind with colors representing values). Here's a step-by-step for Mapbox that's a bit more esoteric but I bet you can work your way through it.

On preview - yeah, Google Maps will do it. Depends how pretty & customized you want it.
posted by desjardins at 11:46 AM on October 13, 2014


WAIT - are you planning to print this out? Or is this for a website? I really don't recommend the tools above if you plan to put this in a brochure or something.
posted by desjardins at 11:49 AM on October 13, 2014


QGIS is another free mapping tool that's handy to have in your repertoire. Keying off desjardin's pointing out that this is a choropleth, a search for "qgis choropleth" gives all sorts of results, and if you wanted grouped by geography rather than by zip code boundary, here's a tutorial on making heatmaps.
posted by straw at 11:50 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


@desjardins - This is for internal purposes only. I want to show our Director and Board where our clients are coming from to inform our outreach efforts. There's a chance it could be used in an academic paper, but nothing promotional that would necessitate it looking super sleek (if that's what you mean). Thank you very much for the resources. I am reading my way through the first one as we speak!
posted by a.steele at 11:53 AM on October 13, 2014


I don't have time to delve into it, but this seems like another option. This features German zip codes, but you can find shapefiles for the US here.
posted by desjardins at 12:08 PM on October 13, 2014


That guide you had is for use with JavaScript - you don't need to know any JS to use ArcGIS.

You need to join/relate your data (which should be organized in the way you want to display it (ex, # of people in each zip code, or whatever unit your basemap is using. Right click, check the attribute table) to the map you are starting with (the map of the US). *This can be the trickiest part*

Then, this tutorial should carry you the rest of the way.
posted by troytroy at 12:19 PM on October 13, 2014


If you want something simple that gives you a sophisticated-looking result, my recommendation would be GeoCommons. It's really straightforward and does the geolocation for you. You'd have to group by zip code and then it would assign colors accordingly. You get to choose the color scheme, too, so if you want a divergent scale (e.g., good to bad, plus everything in between), you can select for that. Am happy to walk you through it, if you like; feel free to drop me a MeMail. Good luck!
posted by GrammarMoses at 3:34 PM on October 13, 2014


From your description of what you want the end result to be, this can be done in less that 5 minutes using Tableau without any programming (note: I work for Tableau). You can either download a demo version of Tableau Desktop, or use the free Tableau Public. Since you want client density, I presume you need both the number of clients per zip code and the area of the zip code. This could be represented by two text CSV file data sources, one having zip and area, and one having zip and number of clients (there can be other fields in the files, those are just the ones that you care about).

Condensed instructions:


  • Connect to the area CSV file.
  • Connect to the client CSV file.
  • Go to the worksheet and create a calculated field for density.
  • Assuming your zip code column is named "zip" or "zip code", Tableau will already knows it is a zip code. Double-click zip to create a map on the worksheet.
  • Drag the density calculated field over the color pill.

  • Done.

    (If by client density, you only mean clients per zip code, then this is even easier. Only one data connection, and no calculated field needed.)
    posted by ShooBoo at 9:57 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Man, I hate to mark so many answers as "best" because it kind of depreciates the word, but these are all fantastic resources. Thank everyone for taking the time to answer. I can't wait to start playing around with some of these new programs!
    posted by a.steele at 8:54 AM on October 14, 2014


    I don't know if you have a budget for this, but another reasonably-priced, user-friendly, no-programming-required option is CartoDB. They do have a free option, but it requires that your maps/data be made public.
    posted by nosila at 9:31 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


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