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What's the future for cartography?

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#1
liz1110

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I was talking with a colleague recently and I mentioned that I was interested in getting into cartography, probably as a freelance cartographer, to supplement my income and to indulge my love of maps and graphic design. His response was "In a few years no one will need maps anymore. Most cars will have navigation systems, people will have handheld GPS units and you can already get all the maps you want from Google Earth and MapQuest. Why would you want to get into that?" Taken aback by this statement, I managed to stammer something about wanting to make beautiful and useful thematic and topographic maps, not maps for navigation in cars, but I don't think I convinced him that there's any future in cartography. If you had been in that position, what would you have said to my colleague?
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#2
Hans van der Maarel

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While he is right in a way (car navigation systems and Google Earth/Maps being more popular), there will always be a market for custom designed, good-looking maps that show the information the way the client wants (instead of the way Google decides to show the information). A map doesn't need batteries to work, it doesn't need a clear view of the sky to work, it shows a much larger area in one go, you can draw on it with markers and so on.

The sad part is that nowadays, when we explain what we do, car navigation and Google Earth/Maps is pretty much the only thing most people will associate maps with. Once they find out that there is a whole lot more to it, they will see there is a lot of potential for work there.

Anyway, if you want to start doing freelance cartography, don't let this hold you back. Go for it, good luck, and enjoy!
Hans van der Maarel - Cartotalk Editor
Red Geographics
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#3
MapMedia

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Hmmm. I understand where this attitude is rooted, yet the important thing to remember is not everybody needs the services of a cartographer, and as your colleague pointed out, now more than ever.
Yet, if he happened to work in a technical field, publishing, business/marketing, analysis, or is a planner for the government, then his attitude would be the polar opposite. These are our typical clients, no?
The need for custom maps will never end, especially for high-end cartography (no Mapquest maps in National Geo).

If you serve clients who need maps (as above), you will never have to argue as to the need for professional cartographers.

#4
ELeFevre

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This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Washington DC and discuss our maps with customers who use them on a daily basis. These customers happened to be journalists and editors. One of the questions I asked was if they would prefer to have maps in digital form (either PDF or an interactive map). Surprisingly everyone I spoke with had no desire to go digital.They wanted something they could all stand around, mark up with pen, fold, mail, et cetera. They had maps on the walls and on their desks going back to the early 1980s (or older) that they still used everyday for general reference....even though they sit in front of desktops.

Your friend doesnt realize maps play roles beyond the ones provided by Google and Mapquest. Rather than viewing Google or Mapquest as a threat, I see it as an alternative new vehicle that broadens our field and further solidifies our survival. More options is always better IMO. Google and Mapquest are making people more and more aware of the map in all it's forms. Cartography isn't a dying a field at all. It's only changing into something more mature and diverse. Erin.



#5
Derek Tonn

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(no Mapquest maps in National Geo)


Those six words are about as succinct a way of summarizing the future of cartography as I could imagine! :)

Google, MapQuest, in-car navigation systems, etc. are making the traditional "map" viewed as more and more of a commodity in the marketplace. True map designers and cartographers can obviously still point out 50 reasons why their maps are "better." However, consumers vote with their wallets....and when you can acquire/download/print infinite numbers of maps of nearly any location on the globe for free, you are placing EXTREME pressure on one's ability to have a large enough consumer basis and/or high-enough price points to earn a decent livelihood at mapping.

What all of those "maps as commodity" outfits have NOT been doing, at least to this point, is addressing the rather sizable need for CUSTOM cartography. Google or MapQuest, for example, can show you where a university campus is! However, if one wants to see that campus in any type of reasonable, quality detail, one STILL must rely upon someone out there to create a custom image....even if that image happens to end up in Google Earth or the Google Maps API.

People ask me all the time if I view Google as a "threat" to what our firm is doing. Maybe I am being overly-optimistic or naive, but I actually think our services COMPLIMENT one another much more than they might compete for dollars/euros/???

I think the key to long-term survival in the mapping industry is specialization and expertise. Offer something that either nobody else is currently offering or that nobody is offering as well as you, and you'll have your seat at the table in the industry for the indefinite future. Street maps, atlases, GIS, etc. is facing SERIOUS threats on 2-3+ different fronts right now.....but if you can find your niche and enhance/exploit it in the marketplace, you should be one of the survivors over the long-term.

Interesting discussion! B)

Derek
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mapformation, LLC

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#6
burwelbo

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I also see the cartographic field growing. There has been a huge surge of spatial information put into the public domain over the past 5 years (Google just being one source) with many different non traditional users and applications. Looking at spatial information in new ways using GIS requires effective methods to communicate the results. Of course I tend to look at cartography as one segment of a larger industry not as an industry in itself. Industry now want to see their data in either digital or hard copy output. Mapping in many industries has now become more main stream. Just look at retail marketing, real estate and demographic analysis. I work in the oil industry and we make maps every day. I guess you could argue that the world has been mapped but at what scale, how current, etc.. People who know how to use and present spatial data will always be in demand.

Bruce

#7
peanut

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IMO all of the web based mapping serves to educate the public about the usefulness of geographic information. I can see the need for custom cartography growing as people become more spatially literate thanks to Google Maps, Google Earth, Yahoo, MSN etc...

I figure over the next several years the web based mapping services will mature as cartographic products. The web based services already allow people to overlay their own custom data. The possibilities are endless. My feeling is that it takes cartographic expertise to know how to overlay this data in such a way that it conveys a proper message... Creating overlays to web based mapping services will employ many cartographers in the future.

Rich

#8
GISRox

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Interesting topic. I encountered this type of "threat" when I started developing software about 15 years ago. At the time, automated software development was all the rage. It was going to take over software development as we know it today(early 90's). Of course that never really materialized and despite the tech boom bust and the threat of out sourcing, developer jobs continue to remain strong.

Getting back to the Google and car navigation threat. I don't worry about this is the slightest. I think the technology will only compliment and enhance our abilities to present data in a more effective manner. Even my wife, the most spatially unaware person you will ever meet, appreciates the quality and detail of the maps I create over the Garmin navigation system.



#9
Rick Dey

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From my point of view this is a conversation that we have quite regularly. Since our job is producing folded street and road maps for members there seems to always be a VP somewhere in the company that asks the question "Why do we still produce these things since it's all available online?" While our total numbers of maps distributed each year has dropped a small amount in the past 5 years, it still is in the many millions of units. We of course have a distribution advantage in that the members receive the majority of them free of charge so they are more likely to pick up replacements than they might if they were paying. Surveys we have done however show that most people still prefer to have a printed map that gives them a better overview of a large area when going to a new place. For getting to point A, they like the nav systems. Additionally the age of the individual makes a difference, the younger they are the more they tend to gravitate to the electronic versions.

Of course there is always the argument for quality. We believe that our product far exceeds the online versions in accuracy, readability, and overall quality and that is something our members have come to expect from us.

So for the time being we'll just keep on making the best damn buggy whips out there.
Rick Dey

#10
Hans van der Maarel

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Rick,

For getting to point A, they like the nav systems.


You're making a very good point here. A nav system, or a free online route planner, tells you how to go from A to B. You may have an option of specifying a "shortest" or "fastest" route, but that's it. Don't get me wrong, they're great at that and I use one myself, sometimes... However, for planning a scenic route, a paper map is the better option. Often, especially when abroad, I decided to get off the highways and drive along lesser roads to get to my destination. Generally it takes me more time to do so, but if I'm not in a hurry, I'd like to see a bit more of the surroundings and really enjoy the trip.
Hans van der Maarel - Cartotalk Editor
Red Geographics
Email: hans@redgeographics.com / Twitter: @redgeographics

#11
MapMedia

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Honestly, even if there were a wiz-bang online tool with a huge raster and vector library, had tons of style/color palettes to choose from, and exported an EPS as if just out of Illustrator, ready for print, people would still be calling us, because the cartographer's typically help have zero time to do it themselves, and want it done right.

If with navigation, people want hard copy maps in the glove both just as much as the nav on/in the dash. (my gut feeling, but am not interested to know if there has been a survey of nav users!)

Also, thematic maps will never be 'automated' to a reliable degree, and being able to work with and understand data (e.g., census, environmental, etc.) opens a door to a huge market. Years ago, when I was an environmental consultant, I would hire out project to Greeninfo in San Francisco. I relied on them to (a) understand my map needs, (b.) possible offer new ideas/solutions, and (c.) provide a map with a little 'wow' effect for my publications and talks. The thought never crossed my mind to make the maps myself, with software or web tools. I needed to pass the task on to competent people and move on. Now the table has turned 180 and I try to remember that mind set so I can find and serve these clients. They don't need to be convinced on 'why do I need a cartographer', they need to be convinced on 'who can do the best job within my budget, and will have a good experience through the process'.

So there are many 'markets' for cartography (and GIS mapping) beyond nav tools.

#12
Mike H

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His response was "In a few years no one will need maps anymore.


Just like they said (in 1990) that internet and email would create a paperless office, and cripple the postal system... just the opposite occurred - we print more junk than ever! I think the incredible surge in mappable data of all types, and an expectation to have that data presented visually, will continue to increase the demand for both web and print maps. I don't think there has ever been a better time to be in cartography. Print maps will be in demand as long as we use paper and pens to communicate.

m.
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#13
CHART

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... I tend to look at cartography as one segment of a larger industry not as an industry in itself...

From Bruce

Very true!

I sometimes think we forget that cartography has been included as a field within the Geomatics industry (and if you push the concept further, Geomatics is part of the IT world). While some might have a different opinion on this, I believe in this outlook.

To create a map today you cannot rely on pure cartographics skills. You need a range of skills, most likely related to GIS, imagery etc...(all activities within the Geomatics industry).
Chart

#14
Derek Tonn

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Just like they said (in 1990) that internet and email would create a paperless office, and cripple the postal system... just the opposite occurred - we print more junk than ever! I think the incredible surge in mappable data of all types, and an expectation to have that data presented visually, will continue to increase the demand for both web and print maps. I don't think there has ever been a better time to be in cartography. Print maps will be in demand as long as we use paper and pens to communicate.

m.


I agree 100%, Mike! With the propagation of cell phones, PDAs and other wireless communications technologies though, the issue of "digital vs. print" is always something to be mindful of, however....kind of like the 800-pound gorilla in the back corner of the room that lots of folks are aware of but don't like to acknowledge or discuss.

My own firm has ten designers, and we engage in a very-aggressive amount of design work and promotional efforts on an annual basis. Last year, our "paper footprint" at mapformation consisted of:

- The printing of eight new sets of 500 business cards for our designers
- Approximately 5 reams of 8.5" x 11" paper made from recycled materials
- Approximately 1/3 of a ream of 11" x 17" paper which may or may not have been made from recycled materials

That's it! Other than that, our firm was completely "bits and bytes" last year. Now, that's not to say that our clients did not print hundreds of thousands of copies of their finished map designs! However, all of our own processes (bids, proofs, billing, etc.), except for a few public institutions who are still operating in the 1970s/1980s related to RFP submissions via state legislative requirements (paper-only), were handled 100% "digital". We've also noticed a shift over the past 7-8 years when talking to prospective clients about projects. In the late 1990s, people would say "I need a map that looks great in print.....and oh yeah, we'd like it to look good on the Web as well." Today, that conversation (about half the time) goes like this: "I need an interactive map design for my online virtual tour......but we'd like it to look good in print as well."

There are three key things that I take away from my participation in those conversations:

1. "Electronic" mapping solutions are becoming an increasingly important player in the overall mapping industry. Stating the obvious, I know!

2. In either case, clients want BOTH solutions (print and electronic). I think this helps to reinforce the point that paper will never be completely replaced as a delivery method for maps and wayfinding. Paper and "electronic" though, at minimum, deserve equal billing from the standpoint of marketability and the overall industry.

3. Related to #2, those of us who personally prefer paper (as I do) but refuse to change/adapt to the ever-growing digitization of our industry are likely going to come upon hard times unless what we have to offer is so much better/unique than other solutions out there that people will be compelled to pay us a profitable price for our services.

As a map collector and user, paper is KING for me. However, in marketing map design services, "print" has been having to share equal-billing with "electronic" via client requests for most of the past 3-4+ years. A lot of the "digital" map solutions aesthetically don't hold a candle to work being done by folks such as Jean-Louis or Bob North and Steve Gray (two designers on our team who start all of their designs at the drafting table). However, every year it seems that "gap" is closing just a bit more with better software tools....and every year the demand for "electronic" solutions seems to grow by at least a fraction. The demand for "print" will ALWAYS be there! However, the demand for "electronic" has been growing exponentially since the late 1990s, and is showing few signs of slowing down anytime soon.

My $0.25 (sorry for being a wind-bag). :)

Derek
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datonn@mapformation.com
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#15
byzantium

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At times I'm very concerned that in a few years, the only people employed in cartography are going to be a few brilliant programmers, one at Google Maps, one at ESRI, and one at Virtual Earth. The only creativity involved will be how efficient you write to the monolithic APIs.

With handheld GPS units getting enough memory to store giant maps, and cellphones/PDAs like the iPhone getting a GPS capability + a robust operating system, you can see the writing on the wall in terms of the need for paper maps, at least in the first world.

At other times, I think maybe there will still be a small niche for cartographers. But even so, I suspect more and more of the cartography will involve programming rather than communicating the nature of geography.

I realize I'm not including the GIS folks who keep the tax lots up to date. I don't think that kind of thing will be thrown to the offshore crowd or Google mashups anytime soon.

bb




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