If one really wants to penetrate any foreign market (and that includes markets within the western carto-community), one needs to go in asking what they need (and it may not be the graphic expertise that our eye tells us is lacking), learning deeply about not just map traditions but more broadly about pictorial traditions and geographic traditions. Sense of place and space and so on. To the extent that we want to sell tools, we need to be sure our tools run on local current and fit local metrics.
EXCELLENT point, Nat!
We've been quietly looking at Europe and SE/NE Asia for years....and have spent time "on the ground" in Italy, England, Japan, South Korea and a few other places....soaking in not just the maps that are available to folks, but also the CULTURE in which those maps exist (not to mention countless hours "surfing the web" and looking at hundreds of examples of existing map artwork). My wife even taught English as a second language in Tokyo for a year or two....so we are (hopefully) not going in with too much "American arrogance" or blindness when it comes to other regions of the world having both spent about 3-4% of our lives outside the "continental 48".
What I think is the case when I look at lots of "bad maps" in countries such as India is *not* cultural or societal differences when it comes to actual design techniques and presentation of information. Rather, the focus is on "function" over "fashion", given the developing economies. If people would have looked at lots of the resources during the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America, you would have seen very few images such as maps for the masses which focused on "beauty" over utilitarian purposes. Some map graphics from that period include the most beautiful maps I have yet set my eyes on! However, the common uses of map images for the average map user would have not worried nearly as much about the aesthetic as getting them to where they were going as quickly as possible.
That is what I think we all are facing in developing countries: Maps that just need to get people from Point A to Point B, rather than look "pretty".
I don't know....maybe the ART of mapping is way too important to me in relation to the BUSINESS of mapping! I didn't get into this field to get rich though, as there are 1,000,000 easier ways to make money than starting your own mapping business.
I just want people to look at the work we do and find it both functional AND pleasing to the eye....hopefully something that will outlive me if I/we are lucky. Bad maps certainly aren't limited to developing nations either! If I had a dime for every lousy map I've seen here in the States, developed by American designers, I'd be Bill Gates by now.
If all of us CartoTalkers can just do our best to rid the world of bad maps, one map at a time, that's all we can do.......