Posted 15 June 2009 - 10:02 AM
Working as a “digital cartographer” for the past ten years and playing around the fringes of the GIS world, mostly as a data consumer, I have always been aware of the generally low cartographic standards evident in a lot of GIS work. I assumed this was due to a simple lack of cartographic or design experience in the workforce. Many GIS professionals come to that field not through Geography but technology; computer science, database management and software engineering. It’s understandable that map design may not be a familiar skill to many of them.
As a GIS student I have come to realize that cartographic experience is not the only limiting factor. In fact there seems to be a dismissive attitude towards cartography among many GIS practitioners. As various professionals cycle through my seminar class I have had the opportunity to meet a broad spectrum of GIS users in a short amount of time and the commonality of the attitude towards higher end cartography as art or graphics rather than information display has been revealing. Many of them seem to be ignorant of the function of maps prior to the invention of the GIS. The phrases “pretty map” and “artsy fartsy” have been common among the speakers (and the instructor), to the point that one begins to wonder if this perception is a part of GIS culture. While it may not be intentionally derogatory it is at least provocative. The implication is usually that any map made outside of a GIS is not data driven and therefore nothing more than a map “graphic” and somehow inferior to GIS driven maps.
As a cartographer I will admit to a bias when it comes to the display of spatial data. But my feelings are backed up by the (somewhat paradoxical) experience of being routinely considered for GIS jobs I am not qualified for simply because I have an extensive cartographic background. I feel that if you care at all about your project and a static map is going to be the end result (digital or printed) you should know how to do good cartography, ideally outside of a GIS. Why outside of a GIS? Because the map layout and design tools in most GIS programs are terrible. They quite literally make me want to pull my hair out and often leave me feeling deeply conflicted about the decision to move over to the GIS world. And I recognize that this may be partially the source for the anti-map design ethic in GIS. Perhaps they are acting out against their own deep shame at having so long neglected the foundational element of a GIS, the map. The database may drive the GIS but its real power is in the ability to spatially display and layer that information, in a map. If you can’t make a good map your message will suffer, no matter how great the data is.
In direct contrast to the prevalent attitude towards cartography I have found that many of these same GIS professionals have a baffling disregard for data integrity. I am at the moment interning with a local city IT dept. Where I am updating the General Plan by digitizing by eye layers form the old Mylar sheets used to create the original GP 15 years ago. These Mylar layers were themselves hand drawn by eye from paper USGS sources. No overlay tracing, no scanning and heads up digitizing.
One of the speakers I heard recently who used the term, “pretty maps” discussed a schism he had with one of his early GIS jobs where the planning depts. Asked him to produce a series of maps based on the APNs and then wanted him to tweak line-work to make it look better. His reaction was that he can’t change the lines, he has to change the data and that if they wanted a “pretty map” they would have to go to a graphic designer. This same person is right now creating an expensive and robust GIS system for the counties Ag department that will allow them to go from hand drawn plot maps on paper and Google printouts from verbal descriptions given by the land owners to digital polygons of the plots from verbal descriptions. To get the project started he is digitizing all of the old paper maps, by eye regardless of the completely arbitrary nature of the plot descriptions. Nothing has been verified in the field and there are no pans to do so.
My argument is that cartography is usually the last or near to last step in a GIS project and GIS professionals should know how to do it. It’s your data, your project; it should be your map. I believe that if the cartographic tools found in ARC or GM were as powerful and easy to use as Illy, GIS Pro’s would own there cartographic output and there wouldn’t be this image of cartography as something to be pawned off on some art student or a graphic designer as if it were beneath them to consider the look of the map as part of it’s power.
Posted 15 June 2009 - 11:29 AM
I think that good cartography uses a completely different brain process than good data production/analysis. A GIS analyst will think their job is done when the database is complete and updated. A cartographer rarely ever thinks their job is ever done.
There's also the matter of acknowledgement. Rarely will someone rave publicly about how nice a geodatabase is designed - but a good map can receive a lot of accolades with little honor paid to the data producer. In reality, it takes both parties to make a great looking map. Not unlike building a house – you have the framers and the finish carpenters (or in Hans's case "Finnish carpenters" ). If everyone gets along the jobs hums along and ends-up looking great.
If folks start calling names and walking around with blocks on their shoulders, feel comforted that you can make better maps!
Oregon Metro - Portland, OR
Posted 15 June 2009 - 11:47 AM
Posted 15 June 2009 - 12:37 PM
In reality, it takes both parties to make a great looking map. Not unlike building a house – you have the framers and the finish carpenters (or in Hans's case "Finnish carpenters" ). If everyone gets along the jobs hums along and ends-up looking great.
Certainly, and I don't want to diminish the importance of the work done to create the database, at all levels: collection, input, database design and analysis. This is a gut reaction and generalization of what I'm seeing and hearing in class right now. There are a lot of expectionall GIS pros out there with excellent map skills. Also I fully aknowledge that there are a lot of areas where GIS is being used that do not require or beneift from improved map design skills.
Still, I'm really quite struck by the frequency with which I meet GIS users who have not only no cartographic skills but no geospatial background at all before becoming a GIS user. Thier attitude towards high quality cartography does them a real disservice I think. They don't seem to understand the impact a really well designed map can have when combined with great data and a clear message.
Posted 15 June 2009 - 02:17 PM
A very similar rant I heard quite recently from another cartographer.
That would be me. I burned James' ear off for a while on Skype! My point of view is actually more extreme than Dave's. To me, Dave's description of how that nose-in-the-air GIS "professional" compiled a dataset is exactly what is least understood in this dark age of GIS-controlled mapmaking: that is, that cartographic skills are required even in GIS. You can't just digitize old maps and throw it all together into a mess and then treat it as something authoritative, just because it's in digital form now. You have to use human cartographic intelligence, even to create a dataset that can be trusted at all.
Cartography is senior to GIS. Any one who thinks that cartography is "making maps pretty" is, to put it as mildly as possible, an arrogant ignoramus.
Having said that, I've encountered many GIS professionals who do respect cartography, and who could even be considered cartographic specialists themselves. I've seen superbly created county and city datasets. These people are just as much cartographers as those who create locator maps in Illustrator, or paint maps on a canvas.
Posted 16 June 2009 - 03:43 PM
If those of us in the geographic information system (GIS) realm have disregarded design
in the past, we are now coming to realize that the elegant display of geographic data is
as important as the data itself. Some resistance may be introduced when we talk about
making a map look pretty; and rightly so. But elegance in mapping goes well beyond
making a map look attractive. In this text, I explain exactly how to convey information
to serve up the facts, hold the viewer’s attention, avoid potential confusion, and provide
all the necessary metadata.
That was from the very first page of the book, so you can see how strongly I feel about the subject as well. Did you know that attractive things are actually perceived as working better than unattractive things? This was concluded from a study that is sited in "Emotional Design" by Donald Norman (a great book!). Essentially, two ATMs with the exact same functionality were used with one having a nice looking user interface. Interviewees thought the one that was nicer looking worked better. Interesting!
Posted 16 June 2009 - 09:40 PM
I applaud your efforts. I think we had a tangentially related discussion on the subject previously, discussing the topic of "GIS Cartography" versus just plain old cartography and how much of the meat and bones of GIS Cart and Cart are (or should be) the same. Good excerpt from your book. And although it seems obvious I had never really thought of the correlation between good & bad design in maps and good & bad design in consumer products. Appearance or design is in many ways fundamental to modern advertising for that very reason. Coke and RC could taste the same for all I know, but I'll never try an RC cause it looks like a cheap knock off.
What really gets me is not just the lack of map design skills which I can understand, knowing that so many GIS professionals do not come to GIS from Geography or Cartography. It's the dismissive attitude towards cartography, the belief that map design is just "prettying up" the GIS data for show, that there is no connection between the information and how it's displayed.
Posted 17 June 2009 - 12:19 AM
The world of modern cartography isn't about pretty, though sometimes that is a pleasant side-effect. It's about clarity and effectiveness as a visualization tool. But the same things that make a picture pleasant to look at (pretty), are core parts of effective, clear communication: awareness of emphasis, harmony and contrast of color sets, attention paid to the framed shapes and to an overall sense of visual balance. What makes a good piece of modern cartography work is that attention to these things is not in the service of "pretty"—a vacuous word—but in the service of meaning and understanding.
I'm going to recommend an obscure book that really helped me parse this out, by one of my favorite illustrators, Molly Bang. It's called Picture This, and I really enjoyed it.
I think what people who talk about pretty maps don't get is that visual harmony is not the same as pimping your ride. I came to cartography from graphic design 19 years ago because I didn't want to do any more ride-pimping. There's a distrust of design in some quarters because it is, in the wider world, often used to deceive and entice; it's an advertising and marketing field in large part.
And so, I think, some people resist the idea of cartographic design because it sounds like covering up the data with some rhinestones and lipstick. They believe that a map that is "plain" and unadorned, is one which is most honest.
But what I think most folks don't realize is that "plain" is not the same as "lazy." Plain is just as much of a carefully crafted visual statement. I certainly have made that mistake in my personal life: I'm a lazy dresser, and I think I sometimes excuse myself by painting myself as "plain." The Amish put a fair amount of effort in preserving their sober dress: cleaning, ironing, etc. That's different from slapping on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.
"Pretty" is a straw-man used by those who want to get out of making a map work visually, by equating attention to visual flow and structure with propagandistic manipulation. Good "plain" design is just as much work, and requires just as much attention to design as an effectively pimped-up map will.
Head of Production, Hedberg Maps, Minneapolis, MN USA
"Life's too short for bad maps"
Posted 17 June 2009 - 08:28 AM
Posted 17 June 2009 - 09:45 AM
The GIS practitioner may not always have support from managers (at least not at first, until the managers see how effective good cartographic design can be) and they may be under pressure to get maps out there quickly, but many of the GIS people I talk to do understand there is value and satisfaction in producing well-crafted maps as part of their "deliverables".
The data production side is an important aspect of this issue, too. There are people like Charlie Frye and Aileen Buckley and their team who are promoting best practices, educating users and data producers/processors, doing research, etc. Often it seems when data is produced or processed analysis is foremost in people's minds, with cartographic uses secondary at best. Hopefully efforts like those of Charlie and Aileen will help balance the mix.
Posted 17 June 2009 - 03:26 PM
Take a look at the map created by Destination Nova Scotia, it's improved a little since at least there is now a road to Digby on the map. However you can tell that many of the rules of cartography are being ignored. And this map is supposed to relate to tourism: check it out folks.
On that bolded statement above, we could ALSO probably have a very lengthy conversation about just how often map designs are breaking multiple "rules" related to art/graphic design as well. Typography. Contrast. The balance and harmony between positive and negative space. Sensitivity to accessibility issues (i.e. color-blindness). Multiple levels of scalable output. Etc.
What I don't like are the people who only live in the "function" or "fashion" side of the field/business, throwing stones at the other camp. People who are only good at "function" scream and holler to high-heaven about how much those folks who do "fashion" stink at function. People who are particularly good at "fashion" but stink at "function" run like a bull through a china shop related to what all those tenured faculty teach you about effective map design in the classroom. Those darned hippies...always pushing the envelope and breaking rules! Fight the power!
Thing is, BOTH of them are right and BOTH of them are wrong. If you could transport one of the NACIS "brewer" or "data import and manipulation" sessions into a graphic design classroom, any student or faculty member worth their weight in tuition dollars would be groaning and threatening to not allow you and your "color by numbers" into next year's 200-level courses as a sophomore. If you put a graphic design student in a cartography classroom, they'll probably be snickered and smirked at to death about how much of an idiot they are when it comes to designing a map.
It's completely ridiculous. I'm not sure if it is fear, contempt or a bit of insecurity when it comes to the need to lob grenades at the other camp (or some combination thereof). All I know is that many cartographers think they are one HECK of a lot better at graphic design, aesthetics and legibility than they actually are...and graphic designers frequently and highly over-estimate their abilities when it comes to making maps.
Here's the $1,000,000 question though: So what?!
We can't all be great at everything, so why not just celebrate the things we are good at...as well as admire and celebrate the things we aren't so good at which others excel at...combining our talents to make some seriously cool and effective map designs? I'll NEVER be as good at pure, traditional cartography as 90% of the people on this board...and I would expect (at the risk of sounding immodest) that when it comes to color, type, contrast, positive/negative space, accounting for issues surrounding print AND electronic apps, etc., there are few reading this who as-closely understand or think about how to appropriately wrestle with those issues. So what though? What's the big deal?
What makes cartographic design SING is the ability to bridge the divide between function and fashion. Function without fashion leads to a boring, homogeneous, analytical visual world. Fashion without function leads to errors and confusion. It's not until people can effectively combine function and fashion that we've got something worth talking about and looking at.
Founder and CEO
Posted 17 June 2009 - 05:16 PM
I kinda understand what your saying. But I think it’s unfair to characterize this as an argument between these three separate groups as if they were all part of one spectrum of work. There are legitimate differences between how a cartographer and a graphic designer approach visual displays, cartography is not graphic design though it may be informed by it. GIS users on the other hand are making maps, doing cartography. There is a far greater association between GIS and cart than cart and graphic design.
I also don’t think its fair to assume that this is an evenly distributed issue on both sides of the fence. I don’t hear very many cartographers denying the importance of data or database skills in GIS work. But I have heard a lot of GIS users over the past 3 months dismiss cartography as a needless skill in the GIS world.
Posted 17 June 2009 - 10:00 PM
However, when you look at something such as:
...it's awfully hard to say that "graphic design" and "cartography" are separate, unrelated fields. Either that, or maybe you're in that camp that might say that those types of images are not maps...in which case I'll have to resist my every-urge to REALLY be a wind-bag in my response!
Seriously though, I've been making maps for hire for 16 years now. I don't have an art degree (missing four art history classes, but had all the studio classes I needed). I don't have a cartography degree. Actually, I've never even had a cartography or GIS class after high school! BOO!, I know. I do think I have an eye for design/detail though, as well as how to balance spatial depictions with all the layers and labels of information that makes an illustration become a "map." Cartography and graphic design are absolutely inseparable in my day to day activities...heck, even web design is mixed in there as well. How can one make effective decisions that impact the overall clarity and effectiveness of a map design without having intimate knowledge and understanding of typography, leading/kerning, contrast, color, etc.? I just cannot separate those things in my head.
Founder and CEO
Posted 17 June 2009 - 10:42 PM
I think thats a poorly structured argument for looking at the relationship between GIS and cartography. Cartography (both in and out of a GIS environment) is, as I said, largely informed by graphic design as well information design, print design, typography etc. It makes use of these disciplines but has its own set of best practices. I would not expect a graphic design student to be aware of every divergence between the two fields, and I would hope that if I were in a graphic design class I would be smart enough to understand that any distinction between how the two disciplines treat certain subjects was indicative of their different evolutions in information display and not an error on their or my part to be made fun of.
I'd like to remind you too that this started with my essay on the critical GIS perspective of my profession not the other way around. I do not go around lambasting GIS users for being irrelevant to map design! Instead I encourage them to see the interconnectedness of these skill sets and make the best use of each to create the best maps they can (when thats what's called for). Thats not hard to do when in reality most GIS users already know how important the map is to what they do.
And for what its worth I didn't take any cartography in my undergrad either. I actually took GIS classes. I see my discipline as Geography with cartography as a skill set and GIS as a tool.
PS, those are gorgeous maps BTW! That last one kinda crosses my map/graphic line, but thats my own bias, and ultimately you can't deny that it is a map of some sort
Posted 18 June 2009 - 08:17 AM
I'm not saying they are unrelated but in my opinion graphic design and cartography are distinct disciplines. Where as GIS and cartography are related fields within a single discipline.
The problem is, none of them distinct disciplines. People use them as named fields for marketing purposes, and then try and construct distinct disciplines and philosophies out of them, but in general when they do this the result is a kind of land grab. "Graphic design is about simplicity" shouts the manifesto, and so only plain design is good design, and so you should hire me (until someone comes along with a better manifesto). Ditto "rules of cartography."
I'm not saying there are no real disciplines, but that they are much more specific than "cartography" as a whole. Or GIS. Or graphic design. They're inherited and developed amongst individual practitioners.
Shaded relief is a discipline. Network analysis is a discipline. Newspaper ad layout is a discipline.
I see my discipline as Geography with cartography as a skill set and GIS as a tool.
Now, to me, this is a much more sensible approach, but I still think it's too general. All geography? I look at the AAG conference paper list and I have no idea what half of it is about. All cartography? All GIS? Your self-description is great for marketing purposes, but it doesn't help much defining yourself amongst colleagues.
Devil's advocate argument against what I just said: The broader the field you declare yourself in, the borader the range of work you will be allowed to pursue, keeping your work more interesting. I'm thinking of genre fiction writers (SF, Fantasy, Gothic...) who complain about becoming pigeonholed. Or actors becoming typecast. On the other hand, I think of musicians who love their musical tradition and just go deeper and deeper into it, the music getting richer and richer.
Here's the difference: is the value of your work in its originality or in its exploration of a deep tradition? Map-makers are all over the place on this: some people make maps out of a deep love of maps, and some just want to make things that are new new new. Most of us are somewhere in between, hence our (perhaps) conflicted sense of ourselves?
Head of Production, Hedberg Maps, Minneapolis, MN USA
"Life's too short for bad maps"
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