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Dump cartographic 'rules'…!

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#1
Clive Cartwright

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I have long thought that the notion cartographic rules is a misnomer, in the context of presenting spatially related data.

For one, the term instantly raises hackles for those who ‘don’t like being told what to do.’ and a culture of ‘rules are there to be broken’, develops. People from more creative backgrounds strive to challenge ‘rules’ in order to develop new ideas and approaches to ever changing needs and requirements. This is in itself, an essential element in the context of 3D and 4D spatially related visuals, exploding onto screens and books. However, this is only a small aspect to why I feel we should dump the ‘rules’ in our profession.

Much ink has been spilt on the subject of whether Cartography is closer related to GIS or Geography, or Graphic Design, and so on. People who associate (specialize) themselves within one of these disciplines will tend to have preconceptions as to what a cartographer does to spatial data. I’ve read on this forum that some cartographers have heard GIS experts/users vocally perceive Cartography as and art, implying that spatial data handled cartographically is nothing more than ‘making a map look pretty’, or at best ‘Emotional Design’.

I feel cartography is neither a science or an art; it is a language.
Cartography, like language, is a form of communication. In this case, one is audio and the other visual; and just like language, it is equally malleable in its application. For example, no spoken language is fossilised in stone, our vocabulary is constantly changing over time to meet new influences and styles, just as cartography has to move with new media deliverables and concepts. Why, for one, we wouldn’t be updating the Oxford English Dictionary every year, otherwise.

Cartographic ‘rules’ are guidelines, best followed by those who need to communicate visual data to other ‘human beings’. We, the cartographer’ use a Cartographic grammar to communicate, and it is this grammar that allows those who are wise enough to use it, to communicate their visual data at its most literate. Those that do will more likely succeed in communicating their point, than those who choose to ignore this.

Spatial data is only created for one use, and that is for another human being to read it. Choosing to bypass this important element of visual communication, would be like sticking to mumbling ‘baby talk’ for the rest of your adult years.
Clive E. Cartwright
Mapping & Charting Officer
British Geological Survey

#2
James Hines

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If you take a look at the perception of the world views cartography or normally as pronounced map designer often it has been related more to the graphic design field. If you ask a cartographer what map design is, it's a spatially designed map that is graphically designed & scientifically produced with GIS. There are other terms that can be used to describe a cartographer such as a geo-visual artist or the one I came up with myself a map design engineer. But it doesn't matter what we see ourselves, it's what the client sees us. And to most potential clients we are nothing but graphic designers trained with a specific discipline.

To understand further we have to look at who we are competing against, & most of the time it happens to be graphic artists. And many graphic artists can produce beautiful maps, but as cartographers we have the eye to search out the mistakes that are made. And to many of us find the colours are beautiful but there are many cartographic errors such as text placement, & the area of non interest is dominant over the area that is supposed to be the focus of the map. But the majority of clients don't look at that, all they see is beautiful well designed map.

The truth is as cartographers we have failed to gain control of the GIS world, as you can see there are too many engineers that are running the place. As someone said cartography in itself is being debated whether it is needed to output the final presentation. I would argue that in at least three quarters of the time cartography is needed especially if the results are too be outputted as part of a presentation especially if it's that line of professionalism, for example cartographic presentation to me is like in journalism if you have several spelling mistakes in the paper.

If cartographers are to gain control of the GIS world what companies such as Manifold have to do is to improve the drawing tools, perhaps Manifold or ESRI could come up with a contract with Adobe or Corel to provide the necessary tools using the same features in the GIS package. For example Manifold could be given the ability to import a AI file for example & have the use of the bezier tool for drawing purposes. If this can occur then Google Maps might find themselves in a world of hurt competing against more professionally made map servers. Cartography would be a major component of GIS even more so, & besides with strong improvements like this in the GIS world map servers would be a lot more presentable.

"There is much beauty that we fail to see through our own eyes teeming with life forms that give us that perception of our reality.  Leaves on the trees blowing gently in the wind, or scarily, the waves pounding through high surf, or lightly on a warm summer’s day; that opportunity to sit or swim in the water on a white beach.   That comfort to shout, “The universal conscious do you hear me?  I am alive, guide me dear logos towards the path of rightnesses.”  Earned what has been kept, no longer to be absorbed into a life filled with cold damn winds and  that stubborn fog clouding  my vision with nothing but darkness."


#3
David Medeiros

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I like to think in terms of "best practices" rather than rules. There are established guidelines that help us create good cartography but map making being such a broad field is neccesarily flexible in it's application of any rules. As Imhof says, "the solution to a mathmatical problem is either right or wrong, but the solution to a problem in cartography is, within certain limits, only good or bad".

dave

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#4
jrat

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If you take a look at the perception of the world views cartography or normally as pronounced map designer often it has been related more to the graphic design field. If you ask a cartographer what map design is, it's a spatially designed map that is graphically designed & scientifically produced with GIS. There are other terms that can be used to describe a cartographer such as a geo-visual artist or the one I came up with myself a map design engineer. But it doesn't matter what we see ourselves, it's what the client sees us. And to most potential clients we are nothing but graphic designers trained with a specific discipline.

To understand further we have to look at who we are competing against, & most of the time it happens to be graphic artists. And many graphic artists can produce beautiful maps, but as cartographers we have the eye to search out the mistakes that are made. And to many of us find the colours are beautiful but there are many cartographic errors such as text placement, & the area of non interest is dominant over the area that is supposed to be the focus of the map. But the majority of clients don't look at that, all they see is beautiful well designed map.

The truth is as cartographers we have failed to gain control of the GIS world, as you can see there are too many engineers that are running the place. As someone said cartography in itself is being debated whether it is needed to output the final presentation. I would argue that in at least three quarters of the time cartography is needed especially if the results are too be outputted as part of a presentation especially if it's that line of professionalism, for example cartographic presentation to me is like in journalism if you have several spelling mistakes in the paper.

If cartographers are to gain control of the GIS world what companies such as Manifold have to do is to improve the drawing tools, perhaps Manifold or ESRI could come up with a contract with Adobe or Corel to provide the necessary tools using the same features in the GIS package. For example Manifold could be given the ability to import a AI file for example & have the use of the bezier tool for drawing purposes. If this can occur then Google Maps might find themselves in a world of hurt competing against more professionally made map servers. Cartography would be a major component of GIS even more so, & besides with strong improvements like this in the GIS world map servers would be a lot more presentable.

The representations abilities offered in ArcMap go a long way to bridge the gap between the GIS software and the Drawing suites. Don't they?

#5
Derek Tonn

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To understand further we have to look at who we are competing against, & most of the time it happens to be graphic artists. And many graphic artists can produce beautiful maps, but as cartographers we have the eye to search out the mistakes that are made. And to many of us find the colours are beautiful but there are many cartographic errors such as text placement, & the area of non interest is dominant over the area that is supposed to be the focus of the map. But the majority of clients don't look at that, all they see is beautiful well designed map.


That bolded statement from your quote always is of interest to me. Truthfully, I see as many or more cartographers making text placement errors (or at minimum unfortunate decisions related to contrast and legibility) as I do graphic artists. WHY? ...is the million dollar question.

I think the answer generally boils down to one simple fact:

Cartographers (at least in our modern world) import data sets, graphic artists type in their text labels from scratch.

The advantages of importing text are obvious! Huge, HUGE time savings. Minimizing typos (assuming the data sets are solid). Etc. However, when someone is importing dozens/hundreds/thousands of text labels into a design, how often is Joe Q. Cartographer (not the best in our business at that task, like a Nat Case, but the average/middle-of-the-road cartographer in our industry) checking each and every label for accuracy, contrast/legibility, etc.? I'd like to think 80-90+ percent of the time, minimum. However, I'd be willing to bet that percentage is probably closer to 10-20 percent.

Why? Because it's boring. It's tedious. It is something where that little voice in a red suit with a pitchfork on our shoulders will say "Aw, c'mon! Nobody other than you or 1-2 other people will ever notice anyway!"

A graphic artist...a GOOD graphic artist, by contrast, is creating each and every text label from scratch. Custom leading/kerning, placing that label in the EXACT sweet-spot it belongs to generate the best balance/harmony within the design while creating good contrast and legibility. That graphic artist is probably more prone to making a few more typos, especially if minutia is not their strongest suit! However, their hands touch every label...and for at least a second or two, their brain is focused on that one object within the overall design.

That's the first thing I look at/for in every map that is put in front of my eyes (how the cartographer/artist handled the balance of text, contrast and legibility against the overall palette and map illustration)...and it's the first thing I look at for anyone who approaches me about joining our design team. If they've got black text running right on top of black streets/roads in their designs, their work is not finished. It may be a fantastic, beautiful start! However, if an end user cannot tell whether a street is named "Cartotalk Avenue" or "Cartatalk Avenue" or "Cartetalk Avenue" because of the cartographer's/designer's positioning of that label in the design, it's not done.
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

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

#6
natcase

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The advantages of importing text are obvious! Huge, HUGE time savings. Minimizing typos (assuming the data sets are solid). Etc. However, when someone is importing dozens/hundreds/thousands of text labels into a design, how often is Joe Q. Cartographer (not the best in our business at that task, like a Nat Case, but the average/middle-of-the-road cartographer in our industry) checking each and every label for accuracy, contrast/legibility, etc.? I'd like to think 80-90+ percent of the time, minimum. However, I'd be willing to bet that percentage is probably closer to 10-20 percent.


I blush. And then I note that we find stuff all the time. Type that's been hanging out for the world to see through umpteen revisions, and then the eye falls upon it and OUCH gotta fix that one.

Then we run the map through an application upgrade (or god forbid run over to a new application) and AIEE we start all over, like a game of pick-up-sticks.

What a job. What a life. I'll be starting in on Downtown Minneapolis tomorrow. Again.

Nat Case
INCase, LLC

Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#7
Derek Tonn

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Nat, NOBODY is perfect! :) That said, and I mean this with all sincerity: You are probably in that group of 2-3 people on this planet that I know who are the very-best at your specific craft. You have no idea how many people I tell that to when they ask me about map designs of urban centers or other regions. I tell them "if you want it done right, and you want to know that what you're paying for is going to be as accurate as it possibly can be (with the understanding that we ALL make mistakes), Nat Case at Hedberg Maps is your guy to call."

Now, if Hedberg Maps decided to launch its brand-spanking-new Campus Maps division next quarter, spending tens of thousands of marketing dollars to try and hit our firm where it makes its livelihood, I might not gush quite as much/often with praise! :P However, since our two firms really do not compete directly for business AND since I've frequently seen the results of your professional efforts, I tell anyone who will listen to me that you are the guy they need to be talking to about those types of projects.

You deserve high-praise...as you are absolutely one of the shining stars in our field. IMHO.
Derek Tonn
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mapformation, LLC

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

#8
natcase

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I blush to my roots. You are excessive in your praise, but thank you.

Now back to the original topic: cartographic rules.

I think the problem with the term is it implies one set of rules for all map-making. In fact, for any given map, we have a structure of rules, and part of what makes cartography work is that those rules are adhered strictly too, for that map. Next map, different rules. There are some overarching ideas across cartography: clarity, hierarchy, completeness, currency, classification... but these are not rules, just themes. But actually rule-following, I think , is one of the hallmarks of the trade.

And there are map-makers/geographic-image-makers who work outside the cartographic framework, like many "geo-artists" or keepers of traditional geographies. Not that many of those don't stick to their own set of rules. Using a set of rules to guide the "game" of a particular project is a pretty persistent human phenomenon...

Nat Case
INCase, LLC

Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#9
David Medeiros

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Regarding type, I have always felt that type setting is actually one of the more difficult aspects of cartography. This statement always receives a few odd looks from my GIS brethren when ever I make it, but coming from a road-map cartographic background I know it to be true. Line work is easy compared the agonizing you can do over type placement and style.

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#10
Clive Cartwright

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Regarding type, I have always felt that type setting is actually one of the more difficult aspects of cartography. This statement always receives a few odd looks from my GIS brethren when ever I make it, but coming from a road-map cartographic background I know it to be true. Line work is easy compared the agonizing you can do over type placement and style.


I totally agree. Typography is such an underrated, essential skill. So many maps fail due the the lack of attention to this.
Clive E. Cartwright
Mapping & Charting Officer
British Geological Survey




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