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NACIS Map Design Survey – Results........

Map examples


Share your thoughts about map design. All topics are welcome—practical advice, philosophic musings, observations, rants, definitions, theory, etc.—whatever you think is important. Comments are anonymous.

1. "No matter how good of a designer, to be a cartographer one needs cartographic knowledge. To be a good cartographer one needs design skill."

2. "The survey assumes a design dominant perspective. The maps I make are integral to the subjects I study, and the method by which I analyze the problem. Whether it is the inequalities in the US organ transplant system or the distribution of tobacco smokers over 65 years in the USA the design element is secondary to the problem to be addressed. It's hard to express this in a survey that is about design rather than content, about presentation rather than the elements to be presented."

3. "Map Design is a topic that has become a very small component to current GIS education and training criteria. Just look at the minimal or lack of break-out sessions and courses that are offered at the major GIS conferences that pertain to map design. I can't tell you about the many maps I've seen which are abysmal in design and have very little thought to presentation, interpretation capacity, or just looking pleasant to the eye! Hopefully your efforts can help bring this topic into the forefront of GIS technological thought and concern..."

4. "Based on a 15-year experience as cartography professor, my impression is that (regarding university students) frequently technical or software skills overrule map design "skills". I dare to say that map design skills can only be acquired to a certain degree. For me, a good performance in map design is related to a talent in graphic arts or at least to a certain aesthetic feeling in graphics, independent of software skills."

5. "My formal education, both undergrad and grad, did very little to teach me about map design or graphic design. Instead I learned primarily through looking at the work of others and really studying how and why the maps I intuitively liked actually worked; then trying to do the same kinds of things in my own work (not always succesfully!). Later, watching master cartographers at conferences like NACIS talk about their work (and how they do what they do) has been inspiring and helpful...which is why I now take my own students to conferences, and have them put their hands on actual projects with actual clients as part of their formal training."

6. "There is a significant debate going on about map design in the UK at the moment and there has just been a very successful "Map Designers" workshop in Glasgow. The crux is the what should be the roles of GIS/data specialists and cartographers in map design. The mapping in Catalunya and Belgium shows that when databases and cartographic design are used constructively and creatively the product can be both economical to produce, practical and aesthetically pleasing. This is what we should be aiming for. If any one of these become dominant over one another the result is poorer for it. We should aim to build on the practical yet beautiful conventional designs of, foreinstance, the Swiss Federal Survey and not sacrifice their beauty and practicality for economic or database reasons."

7. " I got into cartography to share with people how to get around without a car. I wanted to share some of what is special about bicycling and public transportation. To me, the map is important and fun to make, but it is secondary to the symbolism of the map. The very existence of a nice looking map is a statement by a government or other organization that it recognizes the importance of bicycling, walking, and public transportation as part of a livable community. Maps so often don't convey a sense of place, and my approach to addressing this has been to heavily incorporate photos to support the message that bikes are welcome and fun modes of transportation.  A big challenge with design is to accommodate the changing perspective of a client throughout the development of the map (which is often a several month long process). The data to go on the map changes and has to be updated. The target audiences can change. A new project manager mid-project or a non-associated funder can have conflicting priorities. All of a sudden there are unexpected influences. I don't know if this makes the map any worse. Probably not. But it causes me to divest myself emotionally from the project so that I can get it done without taking time from other ongoing projects.  My best maps now get completed in under 2 months (where as similar projects might take 10 months). I think this is because of clear, immediate goals of the client. And the short time frame makes it necessary to stay focused."

8. "Cartography (which I think of as a subset of maps in general) is a broad tradition with conventions within which cartographers work. These are the most basic design constraints we work within: something "looks like a map" or not, and so at that level is acceptable to a client or customer or not. Customers want accuracy (both error-free-ness and currency), and they want utility, and those are the basic criteria for judgment among equivalent maps. Design is not art. People want to conflate the two, but art (as generaly constructed in the 19th and 20th centuries) is about content perceived through contemplation. Design is about content perceived through use. Some maps work as art, in that they are beautiful, and act as pictures of the places in question, as much as landscapes are pictures of the places. Others are clearly not art but function beautifully as tools. They are pleasurable to use, which makes people think of them as "beautiful," but this is a different sort of beauty as you get in a painting or a ballet or a novel (although some novels make very effective doorstops and hammers). It's this beautiful utility that is the core of what I try to do every day, in terms of design of map artwork, and in terms of framing that artwork within effective, elegant map publications."

9. "I applaud recent attention to encouraging GIS users to learn the basics of cartographic design, though it's very hard to tell whether new textbooks aimed at that group of map-makers is yet having any impact. It is very difficult to compare the previous generation of hand-made maps to maps made today because so much of the earlier generation was in black and white, which almost no one uses today except academics constrained by print journals. In five to ten years it's likely all academic journals will offer color publication, which will remove that constraint (and make even rarer the delicate art of black and white design). Brilliant maps require native talent, but good maps are within the reach of almost anyone who is taught well."

10. "When I think of a map I think of the broader definition that would include a chart, a graph, a mental picture, a navigation bar in a website etc. as well as a typical printed or digital map. When looking at a map that way, one can see the artistic an technological influences that have transformed other areas and are now influencing traditional map design. The best maps are those that appeal to several senses: site, feel, emotion, sound, etc. As a teacher I find that a students' interest in mapping and map use changes dramatically when they have had a personal experience with the areas located on a given map. This is because they can connect their own mental picture of an area with the abstract image on the page. The integration of multimedia, which is still in it's infancy, go a long way to make this multi-sensory connection on any given map, and therefore give it more meaning and appeal."

11. "I think many people using GIS software producing maps have no concept of what an appealing map looks like. They have no concept of color schemes, layout, and balance. I think that many of the maps produced would be much better if GIS technicians had more artistic layout type classes. I have seen many maps that had great information on them, but lacked the eye appeal or were just too "busy" to get the point of the map. Some were just obnoxious with their color schemes."

12. "Great survey - thanks. A few thoughts... 1. Design standards are alive and well - and are a constraint against more frequent innovation, but are necessary in the cartogaphy business. But what continually defines these design standards? What is seen as the leading edge for cartographers? National Geo? Are organizations like this the innovators of the field?  I think design innovation (breaking the standard mold) is a strong criterion for any map contest."

13. "Although I am not a NACIS member, I received notice about this survey via the Map/Mac list serv.  I've always viewed my place in the larger cartographic community as being on the periphery, mainly because I am not a trained cartographer. My background is instead in fine art, although I have been a staff cartographic artist for many years before starting my own freelance company. That said, I have been making maps of one kind or another for the better part of the past quarter century. It is interesting to note that there is no graphic design background category in your survey query of experience.  It has long been my feeling that the cartographic community places a heavy emphasis on the technical over the graphic elements in map making. The ability to create geo-referenced products is truly astounding, but often I feel that basic good communication suffers. For me, the digital revolution is merely a means to an end, and that it is the essential understanding of how line, color and type work together that produces great maps. In my view, cartography is no different at its core from any other print media. News you can use – certainly, but readability first and foremost."

14. "In a world where most consumer products are designed for the masses, I suspect that there will be a growing demand for (and offering of) Consumer map designs that look and feel like those found on commercial maps site or those provided by main map making companies. The pursuit for standerdization seems to be an everlasting constant in the world of Cartography. That quest alone provides work for map design improvements. I believe there will always be a niche for those who provide innovations and variations in design. Fast Food restaurants are designed for the masses while some local restaurants offer something else and succeed."

15. "I found it interesting that the survey implied that a graphic artist or designer can become a cartographer, and that a cartographer can be produced sans graphic arts and design training ala geography or GIS schooling. Further, the body of knowledge we call "map design "is an independent qualification that either kind of cartographer can acquire either formally or through experience.  If the advent of Geographic Information Science can be said to have expanded the context for modern cartography, can it then be said that map design has kept up? Personally, I don't think so. Too few cartographers are like Imhof, who could explain his design methods clearly, and who took the time to do so. The complexity of GIS and graphical illustration software competes for mindshare in all cartographers today, making communities, like CartoTalk, necessary. In fact such communitees, are finally forcing increasing numbers of cartographers to explain their designs in a meaningful way, and perhaps spawning the basis for a revolution in cartographic design theory."

16. "The following comments are strongly colored by my recent forays into web based presentation of cartographic material.  Improvements in available software have made mapping easier, however default settings in most software packages are not necessarily useful for cartographic design. When common graphic design and GIS software packages include customized skins or perspectives that focus on cartography instead of data analysis and data visualization, it will be a boon to the training of future cartographers. One problem that I often see when critiquing others maps is the increasingly poor use of graphic design staples, particularly pattern and negative space. I have found it instructive to print all maps in black and white. If a map is usable in that form, it will most likely be usable when colored. This method has also been very beneficial as a teaching tool.  The switch by programmers to the richer semantics of XML based content has led to an increased understanding of the value of separation of content and presentation in their programming methodologies. An understanding of the value of such separation seems to be an important element in the creation of well designed maps, and lacking in many map designers.  Rich Internet Applications(RIA) such as the now ubiquitous Flash, SVG, Microsoft's soon to be released Sparkle, and others, will become common platforms for much of the interactive mapping content that we will see in the future, particularly with regards to mapping in more than two dimensions(Sparkle). The lack of a tools to easily work with geographic data in these formats has forced much of the work of map creation to move from design to data manipulation.  The most innovative map design methods are found in what are often poorly designed maps in the computer gaming industry. This is because most cartographers do not have the necessary computer skills to create the maps they can visualize. Most programmers do not have the design skills to visualize the maps they would like to create. Somewhere in between there should be a happy medium, perhaps a Web Services devoted to cartographic design, all in a standard, open format (XML based Style Descriptor Language (SLD), GML or similar), and most importantly with XSLT transformations to standard formats."

17. "Education plays an important role in good map design. Unfortunately the current emphasis in gis is changing how mapping is taught in our schools. The education sytem focuses on problem solving and use of data rather than communication art. The definition of cartography as both an art and science is being neglected. One GIS instructor at a local university summed it up this way-training in cartography is no longer necessary. It has no benefit. Yet, the computer age offers many benefits not possible 40 years ago. It provides the ability to experiment freely. Ideas can tried out without losing large amounts of time. However, we need to encourage our young people to experiment. The computer has lessened the needs for large amounts of mechanical equipment in the production process-especially in the dark room. But the maps of today, suffer from the look of craftsmanship that was reflected in books created by Raisz, Lobeck, and Robinson. So that's my two-bits."



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