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How does design make a difference?

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#1
steiner

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Hi folks,

This is what I hope to be the first in an occasional series aimed at generating conversation around the NACIS theme this year: how does design make a difference?

To start us off, here's something rather obscure but potentially interesting to cartographers.

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A recent article in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled "Simple line drawings suffice for functional MRI decoding of natural scene categories" reports that when presented with line drawings or photographs of a scene, viewers had similar brain activity. They reach the conclusion that a line drawing is just as effective as a photograph in communicating whether it is a beach scene, urban scene, etc. Read the whole article here.

This answers the question: What difference does design make in helping people recognize natural scenes?

So, what does this mean for us cartographers? Especially as more realistic scene rendering techniques become widely available, should we really be using them? Apparently simple abstract drawings are just as effective. Do you agree?

What difference does design make?

-erik

#2
David Medeiros

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I think abstraction is a key process in cartography. Maps can be very information dense and communication via a map can be muddied by too much "realism". Now a general reference map like say a topo or national park guide map relies to a certain extent on creating some realism in the terrain but I think if you pushed that too far the maps would suffer.

There is probably a curve (different for various map purposes) that one could subjectively establish where you start out fully abstract with a low user to map communication relationship, increasing realism to a point would increase that relationship until a certain point where too much realism is presented to the map reader and it becomes a picture with extra incomprehensible stiff on it. Some maps can push that point further towards realism than others. Some maps benefit from almost total abstraction. I think there is an example of this type of relationship in how humans view attempts to recreate the human face on robots. As realism increases we find them more and more relatable until we reach a certain point where they are not fully realistic but not abstract enough either and we begin to view them as grotesque. It would be interesting to conduct a similar study on maps.

Here's the article on robot human faces: http://web.mit.edu/z...lic/PRS1511.pdf I am considering a similar topic to this for my graduate thesis. I think it would be interesting to establish a base line for map abstraction but like I said above I think this is very map type specific.

GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

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#3
Soocom1

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From creating a series of base maps for clients, there were several discoveries that we made on our own that most will probably see as simplistic, but it is very informative:
1: Photographs (DOQs, satellite/ areal imagery and the sort) seemed to have a ‘cluttering effect’ and the various road data we would super impose upon them usually resulted in a poor quality map.
Visually and aesthetically unappealing, the maps were also quite dark and consumed far too much ink for the final product. This combined with poor color matching, poor font selection and use of highlights, the final product though seemingly advanced for the client, (it did communicate the needed info) wound up to not look overly attractive. When using shaded relief and contours, with overlays of “subtle land cover” (generalization not actual) the end result was far more appealing and indicated a better feel for the final map. In addition, the maps with the contours had a more realistic 3D effect visually and relayed the information in a far better manner.
2: With generalizations, the amount of clutter dropped significantly and the overall message was enhanced, but the generalizations were important to apply a feel of spatial association. Suddenly you “knew” where you were looking at. A simple contour map with shaded relief seems all fine and good, but when visual markers even when highly generalized, took on familiar shapes the message of the maps became potent. When contour maps with shaded relief are applied together, the shape of the landscape pops out, but then when you apply a forest or water aspect, the location becomes very familiar and the message becomes much clearer.
Design of the maps with the right posture of font colors, sizes, types and character spacing also attracts the eye to the focus of that particular notation either as a superordinante or subordinate note.
3: The color use has become more important not only because of issues with those who are color blind/color vision deficiency as it is referred to, especially red, then the use of opposite colors come into play. But that is very involved.
Simply put, yes design matters and more importantly, design can affect the overall message of the map either in a positive or negative manner.

Just my two cents worth.
Architects design things,
Engineers build things,
and Cartographers tell them where to go.

#4
Derek Tonn

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Erik,

If I ever am fortunate enough to have the time/ability to do doctoral work...this will be my topic. :)

Through nearly 20 years of drawing maps for-hire, if there is one thing I have become convinced about beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is that different people's brains are wired to navigate space and decipher wayfinding materials differently. Not just the obvious things, such as blindness, color-blindness, language, et al. I'm talking how our brains take visual bits of information and turn it into an understanding of where we are, and/or where we want to go.

We've worked with about 500 clients over the years. I've asked many clients the question about which makes "more sense" to them: planimetric map designs...where North is almost always on top, and a scale for distances is almost always present, versus bird's eye/oblique/pictorial maps...where direction and distances isn't as important as accurately depicting the details of various buildings/landmarks, getting color right, etc.

Almost to an equal split, about 50% of individuals have said that they need North on top and planimetric map designs to make the most sense of their surroundings, while the other 50% say they need accurate building facades and "three-dimensional" landmarks in order to orient themselves most-effectively.

Planimetric - Tend to be more men than women. Tend to be more "left-brained" in their career pursuits.

Bird's Eye/Oblique/Pictorial - Tend to be more women than men. Tend to be more "right-brained" in their career pursuits.

Now...look at who makes maps...as well as what has happened to cartography over the past several decades. The shift from hand-drawn work and more "bird's eye/oblique" depictions to GIS and data, with a program compiling the "base" which one then uses a "brewer" to choose their colors, fonts, et al. Map-making has shifted from more of an artistic/creative pursuit (right-brained) to one that is more left-brained at its core. Map-making has (at least from my attendance at several NACIS conferences and what I see here in CartoTalk) also remained heavily-dominated by men.

So...what happened? How did we go from the "art" of map design to "cartography" and a more left-brained pursuit?! And how effectively can all the left-brained men truly understand how "wayfinding" is wired into a right-brained individual (man or, even more difficult, woman)? To complicate matters even further, why is it left-brained men who have the privilege and responsibility of determining the "right" or "proper" way to navigate space?

It gets at the issue for web/GUI designers known as user-centered design. If a bunch of left-brained men are teaching the next generation of left-brained men the "right" way to understand wayfinding and spatial relationships, what about the (at least) fifty percent of the rest of them/us? How is it right for us to draw maps that make sense to us...then force others who get far less benefit/understanding from said maps to change and adapt to our way of understanding the world around us?

I think it is a similar issue to being left-handed (which I am) vs. right-handed...only in the case of navigating space, there are FAR more than seven percent of individuals who don't see things the way "we" see it. I still remember playing little league baseball back in the 1970s. How they gave every kid who wanted to play a glove...only they didn't have any left-handed gloves, so I had to spend the entire Summer learning to catch and throw at second base playing right-handed. How when they taught us how to bat, they taught me how to hit as a right-handed player. How they forced me to conform to the majority...even though that was *not* how I personally interacted with the world of baseball. Heck, even fast-forward to today! In 2011, when you buy a child's scissors in the store, try cutting a piece of paper with the scissors in your left hand. Doesn't work very well. Put that scissors in your right hand? Works great!

I think the danger in cartography, as with any industry, is making judgments of "right" and "wrong" ways to intepret and understand information being presented...versus really taking the time to understand how end-users make sense of what we create. How does design make a difference?! Well, we all can either be the little league coach asking kids if they are left-handed or right-handed at the beginning of Summer (before our glove purchases are made)....OR we can be the little league coach who just orders 15-20 right-handed gloves and calls it a day. ;)

Sorry for the novel. Does that count as partial credit toward a dissertation?! Ha!
Derek Tonn
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mapformation, LLC

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

#5
M.Denil

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The study mentioned above really only reinforces principles well known in cartographic practice: the fact that editing the mass of potential anecdotal information about any potential situation for presentation (as, say, a map) leads to a sharper focus on significant features and attributes. Certainly context is critically important: a single line on a sheet of paper is rather overly terse for most uses, but a mass of extraneous detail (however picturesque) interferes with coherent reading and effectively disrupts reading.

This is not because the single line is unduly or "fully abstract", but only because it lacks a context that can serve as an affordance for the sign to carry usable meaning. A STOP sign means certain things in whatever context it is encountered, and most drivers do not see it as an instruction to stop breathing at the intersection.

The issue of photography vs. line drawing in the study is interesting, but it does not carry things as far as has already been well discussed in the fields of either cartography or design. Bertin's exhortation to avoid encyclopedic cartography is well known, as is Jan Tschichold's 1925 remark that "Communication must appear in the briefest, most urgent form". The photo / drawing dichotomy is only a small part of the wider issue these writers were addressing, but the discussion in this tread has tended to the narrower matter, and to conflate it with other matters.

Certainly, there is a richness of detail in photography and to many people more of anything equals better (more explosions in the movie, for instance). It is, though. important to remember that photographs are not nature, and not natural: they are every bit as artificial as any other artifact. The matter of depiction vs representation is not an issue of realism vs abstraction: depiction is simply one means of representation. None of the means are real, and realism is only a convention: what is "realistic" today might not have been considered so historically, and may not be considered so in the future.

A map (as Jacob noted) is "the projection of a mental schema on a medium", and it can invoke mimesis in constructing a diegesis that affords access to selected information extracted from the empirical universe to a reader equipped to interpret the map. Design is a general term for the toolkit the cartographer can apply to constructing the map.

It matters.

Mark Denil
National Ice Center

#6
ravells

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What a fascinating subject!!

Erik, sorry didn't 't read the article you referenced as it's a pay per view thing. I'm particularly taken with Derek's reply though.

At the Cartographers' Guild the maps we make fall into a few broad categories:
1. Maps of imaginary places (overwhelmingly fantasy but some SF) either for novels or role-playing games.
2. Alternate History maps (real places but changed political information like borders and names and sometimes coastlines).
3. Maps for boardgames (some real places, some imaginary - depends on the game).

The one thing they all have in common in terms of function is that they are intended to provoke an emotional response almost as much as to provide geographical information. We try to make our maps 'things of beauty'. In the case of fantasy worlds total accuracy is not an issue and we often to try an replicate a period feel. In some cases the map is made to appear inaccurate or incomplete (here be dragons) to give the impression of it having been drawn contemporaneously with the time in which the novel is set or with the technology level of the world in question. Some of the maps we draw are intended to assist in a story narrative not just geographically but by texture, colour and feel to give an impression of what the world is like to live in. Vignettes are sometimes used for this purpose.

So in a sense we approach mapping from almost an opposite point of view to GIS mappers, say to whom accuracy is everything and an emotional response is very far down the list. What is interesting is that even though we are more 'right brained' in fantasy mapping, the overwhelming majority of fantasy mappers are men, probably because the fantasy genre is male dominated.

What is interesting is that the most popular fantasy maps are almost always ones in a hand drawn style where the personality of the mapper shines through the map. We have maps that have an atlas feel or a satellite photo look and feel but these seem to be less feted than the hand drawn look maps although there are many exceptions and a lot of overlap between styles. I think there might a (misplaced) conception that if something looks like it has been 'computer generated' then it is easy to produce and perhaps soulless.

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#7
DaveB

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Interesting topic and discussion. Could make for a good session (or 2) at the meeting in Madison... (hint, hint)
Dave Barnes
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#8
Soocom1

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To further down this subject and to take a small bit from the post about the artistic aspect:
Cartography as all who visit here (at least I hope) has the word “graphy” in it. Meaning to graphitize or to create a picture of. Ok all well and good. Any map on paper is a graph for a lack of better term, but what separates the men from the boys as it were is those who have an intrinsic knowledge of the art form not just from a technical side but also from the standpoint of expression.

I am a very strong proponent of education especially in the classic sense and firmly believe that anyone is capable of creating artful and expressed works that have a useful and functional purpose in ANY industry or art form.
To partially answer (and I say partial because I see more than one reason) the question of why we have gone to a “left brain” system and expression is because of two extremely important reasons.

1: Early computer work involving ANY level of graphics had limited space. Anyone who works graphics knows that they eat computer memory like candy. So many truncations and generalizations came about.
As a result a foundation of simplicity and “default” came into the norm. No level of originality is encouraged because companies see bottom lines and product-cost ratios. Not artistic expression.

2: The modern school system has also fallen into a “default” mode as well. Talk to many teachers and you will hear much frustration to the level of restrictions on teaching imposed based again on money, but more importantly, because of Politically Correct Thought and the need to simplify education.
Those taught this kind of simplistic education have long since passed through the lower and upper levels of education leaving their mark of rudimentary thought and passing it along by several generations of new teachers and school leaders leaving behind a concept that a doctor should not learn art because it is not needed. Besides: What doctor would ever venture into cartography?
Can anyone say John Snow?

Ergo: the simplistic nature and “default” aspect to modern cartography.

It is my assumption and opinion that if such in regards to simplistic education had never taken place yet GIS would eventually come into such a fold, that modern GIS and Cartography would be regarded in the same level and respected as such as those who were masters of the art in such like the Cassini Family, Ptolemy, Munster and for that matter Snow who though was no cartographer by any standard, created a map with attention to detail to tell a story and pass along information of and about Soho .
Greater emphasis on and about design requires the old school type training that is so lacking in our modern education system. It usually winds up with someone who has passion about art, spatial aspects and a yearning to improve their product.
Not a recipe of modern thought I would believe.

Cartography is an art form that by default REQUIRES design to make it understandable. And like the original post points out, rudimentary aspects of a car rather than a full photograph is all that is required to send a message.
Yet, understanding HOW to make a drawing of such and cause the observer to concentrate on it requires a more intuitive aspect than simple basic education can teach.
But that is my own humble opinion.
Architects design things,
Engineers build things,
and Cartographers tell them where to go.

#9
Derek Tonn

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I agree to some extent, Soocom1. Any/every craft or pursuit can be an art form...and any/every craft or pursuit requires a bit of "design" in order go from passable to great (or at least effective). That said, importing large data sets and shape files into a program that "draws" a map for us using algorithms and X/Y or lat/long, with us then using a "color by numbers" tool to choose which shade of green and blue we want to use in the design, is nothing remotely close to "art." In fact, I think "art" is insulted and cheapened by the comparison.

I am hyper-sensitive to this issue...as at least some "academics" in the field of cartography will go out of their way to say that the work that is produced by folks such as ravells and the designers in our shop is *NOT* mapping/cartography! Bird's eye/oblique/pictorial vs. planimetric. North [gasp] NOT always being on top of the design! :P And don't even get me STARTED on the lack of a scale for distance that someone with obvious cartographic deficiencies failed to include in the design. (hehe)

Not one of the 13 members of our team have any sort of degree in Cartography! Rather, many have undergraduate and/or graduate degrees in Art/Graphic Design...since having a proper understanding of how to use color, type, contrast and negative space, et al is 100-times more important than knowing the difference between a Mollweide and a Goode homolosine Pseudocylindrical projection. ;)

Mapping is a VISUAL art! And how a visual art can be taught, effectively, with little to no attention being given to color, type, the balance of positive and negative space, et al is beyond me. It is absolutely astounding! I had six months of education in graphic design studios hand-setting type...for goodness sake! We had Macs in the room next door...but there we were, with our paper and X-acto Knives, placing every single character of text on our 100- and 200- course designs by-hand. Being graded on our "mastery" (or lack thereof) of leading and kerning...as well as our understanding of the spatial relationship and negative space present between each character...which changes with every typeface used. Color? That was probably another 18 months of education. Etc.

When mapping/cartography moved from more artistic expression and visual interpretation to prettying-up whatever output comes out of ArcMap/ArcScene (in the name of speed/efficiency and accuracy/detail of information that might be excessive and unnecessary), it lost a bit of its heart and soul in the process. Not entirely...and not something which is irreversible! But the path "cartography" has been on the past 20+ years or so makes me a little sad. Not that there haven't been huge, wonderful leaps in technology and understanding along the way! More due to the fact we've lost at least a part of what makes maps worth the time, money, and effort.
Derek Tonn
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mapformation, LLC

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

#10
Soocom1

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You touch on one aspect that I find most interesting:
In your statement:

That said, importing large data sets and shape files into a program that "draws" a map for us using algorithms and X/Y or lat/long, with us then using a "color by numbers" tool to choose which shade of green and blue we want to use in the design, is nothing remotely close to "art." In fact, I think "art" is insulted and cheapened by the comparison.


Hits on several aspects that I will further propose:

I fully agree that actually generating the lines and text, etc, do in fact constitute true art in the purest sense, I also point out that so too the realm of drafting. A point I made with someone recently about drafting pointed that out. My statement was that the Twin towers in New York withstood the impact of aircraft going twice the speed and were twice the size of what they were originally designed for.

737 v 767. In addition, for the lesion of the Empire State building in 1945, the buildings took it very well and did what they were supposed to do. Now staying out of any “truther” debate, keep in mind this one aspect: The towers were designed and built with Drafting Machines and were calculated with Slide Rules.
We can do much the same today by hand but do you really think you will get business is you tell people your font standard is a Leroy set?

The key element in my prose is this: I too feel that much has been lost with modern equivalencies. Try debating film v. digital with a large Format Cyanotype Purist, or Bow verses crossbow. (there is a fight for ya.)
Point being that despite the means by which the lines get drawn, it still requires input from a person with a solid understanding of art, form, some kind of understanding in Homomorphism and topologic aspects,(by witch I am sorely lacking I might add) and some grace in topographic models and understanding color variations and font aspects. How communication works etc, and therein lays my primary guff:
It comes back to modern education and the packaged aspect of one size fits all.

Unfortunately the reality is political considerations of mass education, with a population in the hundreds of millions verses a time when education was a privilege, not a mandate and time in training, and emphases on excellence was something achievable. In times past, cartography was an elite industry filled with few who had solid knowledge and not a commoner with an education level equivalent to that of a 5 year old. Not to say I would even hope for such a return to that level of non-egalitarianism, I simply point out that in such times emphases was on excellence, not on mass production.
Any CAD/GIS monkey can do a job with “default” values and even enhance such values to a high level of appeal. (Such as myself), but a true cartographer (to whit I am defiantly NOT, simply a well paid slave), can in fact create maps of high quality and use if not longevity in style and prose.

Thus, I understand and sympathize with you on the art aspect but remember that art changes with tools and styles as times pass. I simply (and humbly) express that regardless of the tools, the art itself remains and good art v bad art is determined not on technology but instead knowledge.
IMO.
Architects design things,
Engineers build things,
and Cartographers tell them where to go.

#11
M.Denil

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Clearly, there is a good (healthy) deal of interest in this issue. Equally clearly, there is a good deal of confusion. It seems to me that this confusion arises primarily out of difficulties in defining the problem and in bringing to bear a vocabulary and reference frame equal to the task.

There seem to be a number of interesting points brought forward in the discussions above, but a lot of it is lumbered with peripheral or even extraneous matters. Issues about tool choice (ruling pens and Leroy lettering), of engineering calculations (using pencils, slide rules or computers), or ‘left or right brain’ discussions out of a 1970’s back issue of Popular Psychology may or may not be valuable, but are rather beside the point of the importance of design to cartography.

Certainly, cartography represents a nexus for a plethora of issues and concerns. Elsewhere, I have characterized these concerns as falling into three registers: cognitive, semiotic, and artistic. Other configurations of register are possible.

One of the concerns prominent in this thread is the concern with the craft aspect of map making. Map making is obviously a making activity: the tacit or craft skills and knowledge that are acquired through practice (often assisted by training) are central to this activity of making. Cartography is (perhaps) unique for the range of craft knowledge that is required or can be applied. One correspondent above states quite adamantly the primacy of graphic concerns (“…100-times more important than knowing the difference between a Mollweide and a Goode homolosine…”). Such a position is absurd: as absurd as would be maintaining the reverse. Both ‘types’ of knowledge are critically important and of great value. Is it possible to ignore one or the other? That is to say, to engage in a ‘naive’ or ‘folk’ cartographic practice? Sure it is, and this is where design comes in.

Design is the framework within which the craft knowledge is employed. Every map is designed: decisions are made (even using ‘defaults’ is a design decision) that result in the form and instantiation of the map.

M.Denil




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