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Cartographer vs. Graphic Designer vs. GIS Professionals

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#16
ELeFevre

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yet, i have had conversations (i.e. arguments) with my graphic designer friends that make maps in illustrator and want to be credited as the Cartographer. i have told them that they should be credited as the Map Designer, not the Cartographer.


just ask them about projections. if they don't know, then they are just map designers.


that's a great point Rob.



#17
Derek Tonn

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Rather than "cartographer", I've started using: "A resourceful bipedal primate who creates useful maps for food and fun, but can do a whole lot more!" I think Ben summed it up nicely with his, "welcome to the mashup generation" line. Right-on Ben.


:lol: Excellent posting, Erin. That made my evening.

I've said this in other threads before, but I personally do not care what people call me/us and the services we provide. There are many "cartographers" who wouldn't understand effective map/wayfinding design if it hit them in the forehead with a 2X4. There are other "graphic designers" who have created some of the most beautiful, easy-to-use (and understand) map designs that I have ever seen. Really though, what do labels matter anyway? In a visual art such as mapping (AND graphic design), we can talk until we are blue in the face and it doesn't matter one bit. If we are all completely honest with ourselves, our degree does not matter, our GPA does not matter, even our resume does not really matter. The ONLY thing that really matters is our gallery/portfolio. The degree, GPA and resume help us have the opportunity to build said gallery/portfolio, but people outside of our tiny community don't care about all that.

We can add "C.A.R.T." behind our names or write 30-page abstracts on the "gestalt of our axonometric projection adaptation from Dr. Compass' work from the 1920s," but what it all boils down to in the end is the quality of our work....it's accuracy, appearance and usability. That's it. I fought that fact for the first 10-12 years of my career, but I FINALLY entered "Stage Two" of my 12-step career recovery about 2-3 years ago. :)
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
http://www.mapformation.com

#18
MapMedia

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Good discussion - one of the favorite topics on Cartotalk I think. :P
For those interested, see "Guide to Geography Programs in the Americas 2006-2007" by the American Assoc. of Geographers - Link

#19
natcase

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Sorry, I don't buy it. Anyone can write and call themselves a writer. Same with any of the "making" trades, including mapmaking/cartography. You get your reputation not by certification but by portfolio.

The exceptions are the professions, which are there to allow strangers to judge those with skills that aren't product-based ("Show me a portfolio of your gall-bladder operations, and I'll see if I want to go with you or Dr. Doolittle over there..."), and made-up names like Realtor ™ which are association-based... you can't call yourself a Realtor, a 32-degree Freemason, or a NACISite without paying dues. Real estate salesperson, man with secret handshake and cartographer are fair game.

My 2¢...

Nat Case
INCase, LLC

Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#20
byzantium

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I think the right to call yourself a cartographer occurs after reaching some point of critical mass (what I’ll call the cartographic-backbone) consisting of:

* a certain amount of work in the field, and/or
* learning geography, design and cartographic norms, and
* possessing an unusual level of passion for maps

Does this rule out graphic designers with no cartographic backbone? Maybe. It would probably frost my tofurky if they were making maps for important or well-paying projects and those maps didn’t communicate worth a darn, and committed numerous cartographic errors.

I do agree that a portfolio of work is critical to demonstrate that you really are a cartographer.

To my mind, there are multiple paths to becoming a cartographer, some more efficient than others. I can understand both points of view. There are a lot of benefits to traditional training/education in a field, and certainly there is plenty of respect by most employers for someone who has proved themself educated in a field by one or more college degree(s). And there are some people who achieved great things despite not being able to be completely certified in a field – often times this path is a very long hard slog through personal experience of trial and error.

Certification has traditionally been one tool to try to limit the supply of a type of worker. To maximize those worker’s profits, another tool of funneling demand to the certified few has to be used. Otherwise Joe Cheapskate can hire any wet-behind-the-ears graphic designer at minimum wage (or less--just hold a 'design contest', or offer useless stock options) and tell them to copy so and so map and then change the style just enough to avoid a copyright violation, and they’ve just bypassed the entire certification moat and castle. Until you address that problem, all the time and effort creating and maintaining the moat seems wasted, unless your main concern is not economic but about the prestige of the title.

The other thought I had about this is whether there would be any relevance to having certified cartographers when probably a good proportion of teenagers will soon be able to roll their own online map service by tweaking some APIs, writing some Joomla templates and coding up a few lines of Perl. Is that kid a cartographer? I don’t think so.

Another framework to consider when thinking about this topic is how fair is a certification moat around a profession when most Americans are likely to have to or desire to change careers after their primary career that they went to college for became obsolete, all its jobs outsourced, or the field overrun by hundreds of thousands of job-jumpers trying to make a quick megabuck and retire (i.e. possessing no intrinsic passion for the field). From what I can tell, there are plenty of people who are switching careers mid-life because of any number of reasons. Maybe their employer just decided like “ShortCircuitVille” to dump anyone who had relevant experience because they earn too much. Besides all that, there is the ever-so-American trait of re-inventing oneself.

Now say you just turned 40 and are out of work and are faced with going back to school to get certified as a cartographer. Who is going to pay for that? There is no safety net in this country for people to retrain after they’ve been unceremoniously dumped by an employer or industry that up and moved to India. Should those people just crawl off to a corner and weep to death? Move to India? Or should they be given a chance to compete on a level playing field of ideas and creative solutions to cartography problems despite the fact they didn’t travel down the path you did?

I think the idea of cartographic certification makes more sense in a country that had any kind of progressive policy with regard to retraining workers affected by the huge tectonic shifts in the economy. The icing on that cake would be if certification meant something in terms of people needing maps having to use a certified cartographer. But I don’t see how either of those would happen here.

bb

#21
burwelbo

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I look at cartography as being the graphic design of the spatial sciences. I haven't met any pure graphic design people making maps but I sure know alot of gGeologists who say they make maps for a living and its the same problem. A graphic designer is just as capable of specializing in cartography as a person who graduated in Geography. Personally, I don't like to be put into a set job description and I don't think anyone who does mapping wants to either. Lets face it we all probably run projects the same way from data collection through remote sensing, photogrammetry and GPS collection through data magement using some kind of data base. You might then analyze the data through thematic mapping and finally produce a good quality cartographic map. I have the same problem. We have a large graphics design department that actually teaches Illustrator and Photoshop but because they don't think those skills are part of my job function, I can't take these courses. I've since learned it on my own but they think I should be just taking imagery related courses.

Just my thoughts.

Bruce

#22
Derek Tonn

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A graphic designer is just as capable of specializing in cartography as a person who graduated in Geography.


Correct. NACIS was a good experience for me....to be reminded of how lucky I am to have also received 3+ years of formal classroom training in graphic design. To hear all of the talk about "TypeBrewer" or "ColorBrewer" reminded me that many map designers have not had any formal training on things such as typography, proper use of color and contrast, and (one of the most important things of all) the balance between positive and negative space. For every one snide remark made about graphic designers "trying to make maps," I challenge each and every one of those persons harboring those attitudes to attend an AIGA or UCDA conference and start-up random conversations about using "Brewers" to create your design output. The "come-uppins" might be more than some of those people could bear, however. ;)

It is an ART to be able to find that balance between function and fashion, information and "clutter," accurate and easy-to-understand. Since many of us are developing maps for-pay, sometimes our clients will dictate some of those elements to an image's degradation (in my opinion). However, being able to create a map design that is accurate, informative, beautiful AND easy to use/understand is The Holy Grail of our industry....and the more we can all educate ourselves through classroom or experiential learning on how to achieve that goal, the closer we each will come to developing outstanding work.

I just don't understand how one can separate the "Art" and the "Science" of map design. It is such a foreign concept to me. However, I see folks ALL the time on the "science" side of the pendulum running like a bull in a china store related to the "art" in their designs, while other individuals on the "art" side of the pendulum complain about "text and iconography cluttering up or destroying their beautiful illustrations" (to which I remind them that it is NOT a map without those types of features and elements). That is why I believe a liberal arts education is so important....as if you "specialize" TOO much in your degree program, you run the risk of only learning the "Art" or the "Science"....never truly appreciating the balance/harmony of BOTH. Anyone can learn a software program, read a book, make a map, etc. However, to design accurate, informative, beautiful AND easy to use/understand maps is a talent reserved for a much smaller segment of the overall industry.
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
http://www.mapformation.com

#23
natcase

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I think the right to call yourself a cartographer occurs after reaching some point of critical mass (what I’ll call the cartographic-backbone) consisting of:

* a certain amount of work in the field, and/or
* learning geography, design and cartographic norms, and
* possessing an unusual level of passion for maps


You may get to call yourself a good cartographer or an experienced cartographer or a trained cartographer then, but I think i was a cartographer when I first made a map and started telling people that was part of what I did for a living. You can be a lousy teacher by showing up in the classroom, but you are not a certified teacher. You can be a "health professional" by looking at someone's throat, saying "you have a cold" and then charging them money, but you need a doctorate to legitimately call yourself a doctor.

The other thought I had about this is whether there would be any relevance to having certified cartographers when probably a good proportion of teenagers will soon be able to roll their own online map service by tweaking some APIs, writing some Joomla templates and coding up a few lines of Perl. Is that kid a cartographer? I don’t think so.


Yep, that is an issue. A hundred years ago or so, folks could buy Brownie cameras from Kodak, send the film off and voila they had a photograph. They were photographers. Does that mean professionals disappeared? Nope.

We need as mapmalers/cartographers to get over the idea that we have to protect our professsion from the hoi polloi. Denis Wood may say it gratingly, but his basic point is well taken: the doors to making decent maps are open, and those of us who try and lock ourselves behind certification or any other self-perpetuating club are going to find our fortifications overrun.

Nat Case
INCase, LLC

Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#24
Claude

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I read that Denis Wood article and had a good laugh. I thought that some of his points were great and some were nonsense but mostly, it just reminds me of the Onion headline "Man Who Plays Devil's Advocate Really Just Wants To Be Asshole".
Claude
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#25
rudy

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This is where the Certification for Cartographers discussion comes in. Is that why some look for certification? To differnetiate themselves from the masses who might draw a map and call themselves a cartographer? This is a a tough topic. Those of us who are trained cartographers and have been making maps professionally for years would like to see some way of setting ourselves apart from those who aren't. But can we really? Is it not just a gradient of professionalism?

I've had this discussion before on another list (can't remember which one) in which some listers were insulted when it was initmated that they could not call themselves cartographers because they didn't have the training or the experience. A topic worth considering but one that is unlikely to be resolved. If some sort of certification did occur, how many of us would seek certification?

#26
benbakelaar

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It's not really all that different from IT and certification. I grew up putting together computers and programming them. I could call myself "IT" to anyone I want, but employers want to see my skills in action (portfolio), and certifications on paper (resume). That being said, I've barely done any. I got my Cisco certification back in 2001, and the information contained in the course I took was enough to keep me going to this day.

I think everyone is much more sensitive in cartography because of the artistic element, which IT also has but it is not really acknowledged in the same way. Also the field size may have something to do with it.

Anyway, in IT, certifications don't mean much, or they make or break the candidate, depending on who you are talking to. So, certification in cartography can be the same - a service offered by a standards-creating body (or business) that is useful to the market as a whole. And remember, there is no "IT" certification - only specifics, like CompTIA + certs (Server+, Network+), company certs (Microsoft Cert, Cisco Cert), and protocol certs (IPX, VPN, TCP/IP).

#27
Derek Tonn

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Those of us who are trained cartographers and have been making maps professionally for years would like to see some way of setting ourselves apart from those who aren't. But can we really? Is it not just a gradient of professionalism?


Rudy,

I would contend that what sets any of us apart is:

1. The quality of our work.
2. The depth/diversity of our work.
3. The particular niches or areas of specialization that each of us might have.

Someone can have 20 degrees and certifications and have a body of work that is far from impressive. Another person could have a degree in Philosophy or Psychology and have some of the best, most functional/beautiful work on the planet.

What does certification give you/us that we do not have already? I suppose if folks are focused more on academia than commercial projects, certification might make more sense to gain better access to the certain journals or tenure or ???. However, when I am looking at other map designers and evaluating their work or looking for others to occasionally refer clients to, the first (and often ONLY) place I go is straight to their portfolio/gallery. It is cliche, but a picture IS worth 1,000 words! :) If somebody sends me their resume and asks about an internship or gig with us, I'll spend 20-30 seconds skimming their written words, and 10-15+ minutes looking at? You guessed it: their portfolio/gallery.

I just don't see the purpose behind certification, nor do I care about "titles" or "labels." All I care about is that you can call me gainfully employed in the custom cartography business for the indefinite future. ;)
Derek Tonn
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mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
http://www.mapformation.com

#28
burwelbo

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Just to play the 'Devils Advocate', I would say that certification should be viewed as very important. I don't necessarily agree with a certification in cartography as such. I have done all the educational requiremnents from my undergrad in Geography, through my masters in Geographic Information Systems and I most recently obtained my professional designation in GIS. It was very important to me because I felt it showed that I was committed to this industry. The GISP certification reviewed academic, work and contributions to industry and you had to obtain a certain rank to obtain my certification. So Derek, if you had to choose between 2 people for a job that had a very similar portfolio, who would you choose? The guy who has shown a sincere committment to the industry or the guy who may be a good artist but hasn't really put the time in. I know people who put GIS Analyst as credentials and don't have any education credentials at all and maybe a year of work experience? I'll tell ya, it burns me. That brings up another point. I think you would be making a mistake to just hire a cartographer based on his artistic output. As we all know, there is alot more that goes into building a map than that. From accurate data collection to the proper reference grid and scale bar. If I was taking a map in the field, I would want someone who knows about Datums and Projections, magnetic declination, etc.. not just if the fonts are right or the colours flow. I just think as an industry we need to set the standards and that should come in the form of proper training and experience. In industry, that is basically all they look at.

Just my thoughts

Bruce

#29
natcase

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We are way overgeneralizing from our personal experiences and industry segments here. I'm with Derek in that portfolio is a big component of hiring. So is personality and enthusiasm. Our company has hired people with zero cartographic experience but extensive graphic design and editorial experience, and they were doing research and editing and got on track pretty fast. We've also had people with BS's in GIS, and they also were great but had a ramping-up period.

But we are a very small shop (we had 7 employees once, now we are down to 4 plus temp/freelance) with a lot of collaboration, so personality is vital. If you have an office structure where people go and work in their cubicles on a project for a week and then emerge with a product made to external specifications (DOT county maps, or motel locator maps), then certification may be more important comparatively.

Also, like Derek we are selling ourselves as a presentation-graphics map company, not a GIS analysis company, or even an interactive web map company, so the technical training needed to do the job is somewhat more amorphous and can come from a wider variety of classes and experience.

To me the issue of certification is not unlike the issue of test scores in college entrance. Scores act as gatekeepers: if you have a low score, you better have a good reason; if you have high scores, you need less additional evidence but you can't be getting D's in school; if you have middling scores they don't mean much. At some schools they are weighted more, at some less. At art school they are meaningless; it's the portfolio that counts.

A certification just means people have passed their exams. It means they'll know the software they are certified on enough to be able to perform basic functions, and probably somewhat more than basic functions (depends on the certification). It means they probably have been exposed to the theory behind their field, though not having put it into practice on the ground, their employer may be surprised at the "aha!" moments they witness. Basically it means they have met someone else's requirments, so in a way they are like a job reference from a related but not identical field--clearly they can make someone satisfied with their work, but will they make you satisfied? That is million-dollar question which certification alone cannot answer.

Nat Case
INCase, LLC

Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#30
CHART

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Showing a good portfolio might be good selling point for some clients.
But for clients that don't not know anything about what makes a good map a good map (which is probably why they want to hirer you) SHOWING them your portfolio might not get you the job.

The client might say your maps look great to me but he does not have a clue if they were made within the 'rules' of the trade. Your showing him nice stuff, but is it good stuff.

Showing him that your maps meet a level of quality because they were produced by a qualified cartographer and were produced following the rules of the trade (a set standard of quality assurance procedures, data source reporting etc...) adds to your marketing efforts.

To me a nice looking map is not necessarily a good map.

Apart from the artistic aspect of a map there are numerous technical aspect that can be reviewed. (From the generalization procedures, to text placement etc..). The percentage giving to the art or science aspect of mapping is debatable.

I believe that the fact that there is a an 'ART' percentage in making maps has prevented numerous map makers from being interested in 'certifying' their maps by another party. (Who are they to judge my choice of colors, type of response)

As for Erin comments ....
' If there was an official certification board, who would certify the certifiers as certified cartographers?'....
I think it is just a matter of willingness.

If their was a Map Making 'dynamic' certification program, a per map quality seal etc... How many would be looking into it?
Chart




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