I've been keeping tabs on the Google I/O conference via twitter and the blogosphere. I'm very pleased to see that they've announced that in the latest Google Maps API v3 you can apply styles to Google Maps. Here's an example produced by Programmable Web a developer outside of Google:
This is a move I suspect is driven by Cloudmade, a competitor using OSM (Open Street Map) data. They've introduced the ability to style maps already, here's a nice muted example (Pale Dawn) that would work well if your background map was adding too much visual clutter:
So competition from Cloudmade has driven the development of features that help in the design of maps. Good. But I have a grumble:
No Usability Advice: The post discusses how you can now match the map color scheme with the surrounding web page and make your map 'stand out from the crowd'. Whilst web page styling is important the post doesn't discuss anything about how use color to improve map usability: having a common theme between web page and map isn't much use if it makes your map impossible to use.
Red Fail: The post illustrates the new functionality with an example which misuses color:
amongst several criticisms I could level at it the clear fail is that the sea is the same color as Yosemite National park making it look like California is a peninsular.
To Be Fair: A 'hello world' example illustrating new functionality isn't meant to be polished but the implication I read into the post is that map usability doesn't matter whilst standing out from the crowd does.