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James Fee Blog - "That looks a GIS map"

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#1
ELeFevre

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James Fee's latest post, "That looks like a GIS map" is worth looking at. Be sure and read the comments.

What I find interesting is that many of the comments are focused on how quality cartography isn't cost effective. It's as if cartography is nothing more than making plain data look good, and if the budget isn't there, oh well. I don't understand that mentality from any perspective, especially from a business one. IMO posts like this really emphasize the disconnect between GIS and cartography.



#2
benbakelaar

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Hey Erin, long time...

So I read the article, and the first 10-15 comments. Interesting stuff! I hate to be on the other side of the argument, but I think a few commenters nailed it on the head with the standardization argument. This concern over a decrease in cartographic "quality" or "design" reminds me of the following situations:

- document creation before Microsoft Word (ok yea, before computer word processing... or before typewriters... or before the printing press) vs. after
- software design with ample time for QA and error-checking vs. software design for a deadline

Maybe those aren't the best examples, but I think they generally illustrate my point. Standardization via technological means leads to a time-shift in production. So time-intensive aspects suffer. But at the same time, they can lead (maybe sometimes over a longer period of time than desirable) to creativity in other aspects and areas. Anyway, I would say the biggest change is that you don't _need_ to plan (as much) anymore, you can create first and modify/tweak as you go. It is very satisfying to have instant results, whether you are management, a client, or even the creator, right?

But I can also tell you that when I took geography classes (2001-2004), there was only one GIS class, and one map design class (close enough to cartography - taught by a cartographer too). Neither was required.

#3
natcase

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my response:

There are a lot of really dreadful maps out there, and there always have been. GIS and desktop publishing tools just make it faster to produce them.

Attention to the aesthetic needs of end user may not always be necessary. My car is an old Honda that runs great and looks like crap, but it does what I want it to do, and visual appeal isn’t one of the things I care about doing.

But good design isn’t about looking pretty; it’s about clarity, ease of use, fit to function, fit to fit context, and fit to end-user’s headspace. Clients do themselves a disservice if they give a mumbled presentation, and they do themselves a disservice if their map mumbles, regardless of whether they’re wearing a custom-tailored suit or t-shirt and cutoffs. That’s the kind of bad design that drives me crazy, and given a good basic toolset, that’s where the attention to good cartographic design needs to be paid: clarity, hierarchy, distinction between ground and object, and focus.


Nat Case
INCase, LLC

Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#4
MapMedia

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Its not all or nothing in the real world is it?

One of the comments stated having to make sacrifices to map design to fit budget (30 maps in 1-2 days), and these projects do arise, in fact, they are for many 'bread and butter' projects.
I face this too, largely with GIS work, where the budget pays for GIS analysis, and a sliver for final production. While production is important, you have to clearly draw the line for the client
and yourself as to what is 'good enough', or work for free.

I seriously doubt any professional cartographer would spend an extra 1-3 hrs making the maps 'up to standard' for free, when the client's budget had been used on the analytical GIS work.
Its all about WORKFLOW and EXPERIENCE. I can make a very decent map after completing GIS work, and I use ArcMap and Adobe creative suite, and I stay on budget. 7 years ago, I would
require the same amount of time to make a lousy GIS map. :lol:

#5
rudy

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I've worked in a shop where all sorts of geomatics activities went on, including GIS analysis and cartography. Clients would have no problems spending the money on GIS analysis and get a basic map to show their results but when it came to requesting a more finished cartographic product, either for print or presentation, they would balk at the price tag. Even though they knew that a higher end cartographic product was going to take some time to produce they still had the expectation that maps of any kind could be easily churned out.

Now working in a shop that focuses exclusive of cartographic production there is the expectation among cartographers that a good map takes time to produce. While this is understandable, I come at it from a different angle as the manager of this group responsible for costs and delivery. That and with my previous experience I'm a little impatient with the production process.

What I'm trying to say is this: cartography can learn from GIS and vice versa. It takes time to produce a quality piece of cartography but there are efficiencies to be found in the process (alot through technology) that would save time and get you 99% there. My challenge is to convince the cartographers here that the remaining 1% - though it would be nice to have - is not worth the effort in most cases.

Mind you, many GIS maps are only 50% (or whatever number you might pick) there. I guess it's really up to the client and how much they want to pay. But I think we do need to educate and enlighten our clients at times to the advantages of having a good map rather than just an adequate one.

#6
DaveB

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GIS and graphics apps make it easier for anyone to make maps that look neater, more precise, cleaner, etc., but many practitioners just don't have the training and/or aptitude to produce well-designed maps. Some are experts in other fields (subject experts, progamming experts, etc.). My experience at venues like ESRI's User Conference is that quite a few GIS people have not received any training in cartography or design, but many are eager to learn things that can improve the appearance of their maps. They understand that better map design can make themselves look good, communicate better, improve their efficiency (this probably applies more to multiple maps/series/product lines), make their jobs more fun/interesting, win friends and influence people (well maybe not this part, but you never know... :D ).

There are certainly things almost anyone can do to make better-designed maps (however that is defined - "prettier", easier to read, better at communicating to the reader, etc., etc.) that take little or no time compared to the amount of time it takes to make a poor map or even a "default" map.

Sure, you never really have enough resources to make the perfect map, but there's a lot of space between perfect and "good enough".
Dave Barnes
Esri
Product Engineer
Map Geek

#7
Derek Tonn

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Its not all or nothing in the real world is it?

One of the comments stated having to make sacrifices to map design to fit budget (30 maps in 1-2 days), and these projects do arise, in fact, they are for many 'bread and butter' projects.
I face this too, largely with GIS work, where the budget pays for GIS analysis, and a sliver for final production. While production is important, you have to clearly draw the line for the client
and yourself as to what is 'good enough', or work for free.


We don't design in or use GIS at all, but "good enough" is something that drives me crazy. I sometimes am forced to settle for that when one of our designers has gone through 5-6 rounds of edits post-initial proof (where the client was happy with where we were at 2-3 rounds ago) and I don't want to "burden" them with more annoying "honey-dos" from Yours Truly. However, we would end up eating time (FREE) on probably EVERY job we do if we didn't make sure and add a percentage above and beyond what we think each job should take related to design hours. Clients often force us to implement certain design techniques that we know aren't going to be the best way to handle things in the end (line width, color, fonts, orientation, etc.)...but I've yet to meet a client who was harder to please than we are on ourselves, in-house. We all can ALWAYS find 10-15 "shortcomings" in every design that is produced. If it's stuff that won't override a client's directives, we change it...even if the client won't notice. I just get frustrated when we're delivering known deficiencies in a map design and there isn't anything we can do about it. If we want to get paid, anyway... ;)
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

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

#8
mike

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Its not all or nothing in the real world is it?

One of the comments stated having to make sacrifices to map design to fit budget (30 maps in 1-2 days), and these projects do arise, in fact, they are for many 'bread and butter' projects.
I face this too, largely with GIS work, where the budget pays for GIS analysis, and a sliver for final production. While production is important, you have to clearly draw the line for the client
and yourself as to what is 'good enough', or work for free.


We don't design in or use GIS at all, but "good enough" is something that drives me crazy. I sometimes am forced to settle for that when one of our designers has gone through 5-6 rounds of edits post-initial proof (where the client was happy with where we were at 2-3 rounds ago) and I don't want to "burden" them with more annoying "honey-dos" from Yours Truly. However, we would end up eating time (FREE) on probably EVERY job we do if we didn't make sure and add a percentage above and beyond what we think each job should take related to design hours. Clients often force us to implement certain design techniques that we know aren't going to be the best way to handle things in the end (line width, color, fonts, orientation, etc.)...but I've yet to meet a client who was harder to please than we are on ourselves, in-house. We all can ALWAYS find 10-15 "shortcomings" in every design that is produced. If it's stuff that won't override a client's directives, we change it...even if the client won't notice. I just get frustrated when we're delivering known deficiencies in a map design and there isn't anything we can do about it. If we want to get paid, anyway... ;)


Somebody here told our team that "good enough" was what we should strive for. I was actually shocked that this person said it. In any case, when my work is dependent on so many people/factors, it's tough to come to decisions on something that is a final product. My team goes through so many rounds of reviews and proofing for our books that you will probably wonder how we make any money on them with all the time spent laboring over each word, map, and graphic. Sure, sometimes the easy thing to do is just overlook this and that, but sometimes you can't just overlook something. Our clients/authors are notorious for changing things last minute and sometimes you have to listen to them, whether you like it or not. So I've learned that choosing my battles wisely is probably going to save me in the end. There are too many times that I have come across that the client is WRONG! But if you believe in something, fight for it... even if you think it might take the extra 5 hrs to do AND you have to eat some of the cost. In the end, I wish some clients would more clearly see that we instill a sense of pride into our products and what we are trying to accomplish.

#9
MapMedia

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We all strive to do our best, and not settle for the 'good enough' attitude, that is clear from the comments.
The context of the thread was GIS-y maps. I think for those of you who are GIS consultants, you certainly understand my point.
Cartography is a different animal as the client is paying first and foremost for the best cartography you have to offer, so certainly going the extra mile in map production is job one.
Consulting by the hour is unique and having good judgment on where to spend time is important. Doing a lackluster GIS job, but providing an awesome map is not going to cut it.

#10
mikeb226

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This is my favorite type of discussion. I was a printer then a graphic designer for 10 years before I chucked it all to go to school to learn GIS.

This background has made me very valuable to potential employers since I graduated. Right now I'm working at a county planning dept because they were specifically looking for someone who "knew GIS", yet had a design background.

It has been a tremendous help for designing maps and representations. I regularly use Photoshop and Illustrator to enhance maps I've created.

This is not to say every GIS professional should run out and take design classes, but there are basic design concepts that should be taught and/or learned.

One reference I have recommended to my colleagues is to pick up any beginner book on design. For example - "The non-Designer's Design Book" by Robin Williams (no not that one) is a fantastic place to start.


Also: I have to mention the "Designer's Triangle" here.

Imagine a triangle where the sides are Fast, Cheap, and Good. As a customer, you get to pick two:
Fast& Cheap: You'll get a design quickly and for a low cost, but the quality will not be very good
Cheap & Good: You'll get an inexpensive design that looks our best. But don't expect it tomorrow. Or next week. Or even next month.
Fast & Good: You'll get a quality design in a quick turnaround time. But its really going to cost you.

here's a visual:
http://www.sixside.c..._good_cheap.asp

#11
Charles Syrett

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I first heard that expression years ago from -- believe it or not -- a client! He told me he had seen it in a frame on the wall of a print shop back in the 70s.
Thanks for the visual -- it really gets the point across! :)

Charles Syrett
Map Graphics
http://www.mapgraphics.com

Also: I have to mention the "Designer's Triangle" here.

Imagine a triangle where the sides are Fast, Cheap, and Good. As a customer, you get to pick two:
Fast& Cheap: You'll get a design quickly and for a low cost, but the quality will not be very good
Cheap & Good: You'll get an inexpensive design that looks our best. But don't expect it tomorrow. Or next week. Or even next month.
Fast & Good: You'll get a quality design in a quick turnaround time. But its really going to cost you.

here's a visual:
http://www.sixside.c..._good_cheap.asp






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