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Teaching cartography using CorelDraw

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#16
Derek Tonn

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Very good posting, David!

I think the question is: Is cartography/mapping a science, or an art?

I believe the correct answer is YES. AKA both! But up until the mid/late 20th century, art seemed to drown-out science, while in the past 50+ years or so, science is seemingly drowning out art.

Seriously, if my former graphic design/painting/drawing professors sat in on some of the workshops at NACIS where folks are talking about using code to make decisions on what is included in a design, or "brewers" to choose what'll look good related to color/typography, I think they might stand up, scream, and go running out of the room! :)

It's not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that for some projects that need to be done on the fast/cheap! But just like cartographers rail on companies such as Google for not employing cartographers and using their equivalent of "brewers" to make decisions related to map projections, data, and aesthetics, artists cannot understand how, or why, "art" is so-easily dismissed from the equation when it comes to cartography.

Maps are a visual art! They come with their own special set of "rules" that one needs to adhere to...since I can't just add streets or add buildings to a design because I think it'll look better as a composition! Well I can/could, but then a lot of end users might complain and/or get lost as a result. But that makes it no less a visual art...and to see the "art" of mapping so quickly and summarily dismissed by so many people in the profession (the people controlling what end-users can consume, and who are teaching our next generation of cartographers) is no less insulting to artists than it is for cartographers to be told by Google that they have never had a "cartographer" employed in their Google Maps division.
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#17
David Medeiros

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Thanks Derek. Exploring the intersection of what we might think of as traditional-cartography with GIS mapping is the current working topic for my masters thesis... so I've given it some thought.

There are some really important benefits to cartographic design in analytical mapping but that notion of art seems to be an obstacle to many practitioners. The real problem for many people making maps with GIS is their final purpose is often ill defined, by themselves or their mentors. They may think that they are only interested in exploring the data to answer a particular question but at some point in most GIS projects there is an output: to other researchers, to administrators, to the public, to potential financiers... at some point communication becomes the most important aspect of the project. And effective visual communication is tied directly to effective visual design. The need to design is inherent in almost any map project involving GIS but it currently gets little to no attention in GIS training. As a response to this many crutches have been developed to help aid the untrained in making better cartographic decisions (the "Brewers" etc.), but the best work is still going to come from those who get that design is related to information quality and not just appearance. I see a big interest in the GIS field as a whole for more training in real map design but still a lagging response from the educators and institutions.

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#18
Ted Florence

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Hello Blake and thank you for your interest in graphic design based cartography.
I am writing from Avenza Systems, the producers of MAPublisher, the cartographic/GIS plugin suite for Illustrator and while certainly I would like to see you end up adopting MAPublisher and Illustrator (and as such my remarks may seem somewhat biased) I do have some actual facts and comments you may wish to consider.

Firstly, while CorelDraw is certainly a fine graphics application it does, as you have commented, lack geospatial abilities and awareness. This makes it a very limiting solution for 21st century map-making wherein vast amounts of GIS data are available and used. We are seeing a very consistent and ever-increasing migration to the Illustrator platform by cartographers and GIS people not just from Corel but also from FreeHand and other platforms as the only geospatial graphics-based cartography program is really the MAPublisher/Illustrator one.
So honestly, as a long term thing and despite your loyalty and preference to Corel, it really does behoove to look at what is more widely used out in the real world.

So out there in the real world the MAPublisher/Illustrator solution is extremely widely used amongst the very employers in both government and the private sector at which your graduates will ultimately hope to seek employment. So certainly, providing them with this knowledge and skill set would certainly seem better than teaching them something that may not have as much relevance in the professional world. And in fact, I had a long discussion yesterday with a faculty member at a large school in the Southeast who has been teaching MAPublisher/Illustrator in his GIS/Carto course for quite a while and not only is he very happy but he commented yesterday that his students find it very valuable to be able to put on a resume that they know MAPublisher and Illustrator together. I can put you in contact with him if you'd like.

Furthermore, MAPublisher and Illustrator are taught at hundreds of schools around the world including many notable ones here in North America.

And finally, as a sort of rebuttle to Rudy's comments "If GIS is already being taught at your institution, why not teach cartography using the GIS tools currently available? This way you wouldn't need to spend time teaching the basics of the software but could instead focus on improving the maps that the students are already producing for other classes. I could be argued that graphics software is essential for producing high quality cartographic products but how many of your students will be going down that road? I would think that students are more likely to use GIS software in their everyday work than graphics software; hence I think it is more worthwhile for teach them within the confiens of whatever GIS software they are using. I can't speak for other GIS software, but Esri's ArcGIS has a plethora of tools at its disposal that can vastly improve the cartographic aspects of any map."
I would like to respectfully disagree as what we are actually seeing in the marketplace and amongst the GIS community is that there is a real emphasis on better map quality and that GIS being GIS and cartography being cartography, many organizations are using both types of products in a mapping workflow. Furthermore, we get a large amount of new MAPublisher users through GIS channels and in particular find that there is a great overlap between our users and those of ESRI. So to say that there is no reason to learn outside of GIS tools currently available is not fair. Some of our biggest customers are also major GIS users, such as CIA and USGS.

So anyway, I hope this provides some good food for thought and I invite you to contact us [Avenza] for more info and discussion. You can also visit us online at www.avenza.com

And yes, we do offer very attractive and budget-friendly academic pricing.

Regards
Ted

Ted Florence

Avenza Systems Inc.

When Map Quality Matters ®

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#19
Derek Tonn

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Thanks Derek. Exploring the intersection of what we might think of as traditional-cartography with GIS mapping is the current working topic for my masters thesis... so I've given it some thought.

There are some really important benefits to cartographic design in analytical mapping but that notion of art seems to be an obstacle to many practitioners. The real problem for many people making maps with GIS is their final purpose is often ill defined, by themselves or their mentors. They may think that they are only interested in exploring the data to answer a particular question but at some point in most GIS projects there is an output: to other researchers, to administrators, to the public, to potential financiers... at some point communication becomes the most important aspect of the project. And effective visual communication is tied directly to effective visual design. The need to design is inherent in almost any map project involving GIS but it currently gets little to no attention in GIS training. As a response to this many crutches have been developed to help aid the untrained in making better cartographic decisions (the "Brewers" etc.), but the best work is still going to come from those who get that design is related to information quality and not just appearance. I see a big interest in the GIS field as a whole for more training in real map design but still a lagging response from the educators and institutions.


Again, great post, David!

I agree with that bolded sentiment in particular. I think what it boils down to is that many in the field have little to no idea about marketing. They'll spend 100 hours making some map of 14th Century ___________ that is of interest to them and about 1,000 other people on the planet (who they don't know, and cannot easily locate), then lament about why they've only sold four copies of that great map in a year...netting them about $0.50/hour for their effort.

Sales? That's part of marketing, and anyone here who makes maps for a living who is still alive (hasn't starved to death) knows a little something about sales by now. :) But sales is one small branch (a very important branch) of marketing.

What about the idea of market research, as one of many other examples? Knowing one's competitors? Knowing one's end-user base and what they truly want/need (and what they are willing to, or can afford to, pay)? Knowing the difference between a "champion" of your services and the person who has the decision-making authority and purchasing power? Knowing how to properly track campaigns and use analytics? Knowing how to DEVELOP campaigns and position one's products and services in such a manner as to maximize earnings potential, minimize direct competition, legally build/avoid competitive barriers to entry, et al?

During my undergraduate course work in graphic design, all we were ever "taught" about marketing was "if you're good at what you do, people will want to hire you." AKA if you build it (well), they will come. But being good at what you do is just one tiny part of earning a good living. You've got to have a more memorable image/brand. You've got to be positioned properly so as to focus a majority of your time/attention selling to the folks who are most likely to consume your products and services. You need to maximize your per-hour ROI...especially since so many of us here are one-person shops trying to do everything by ourselves! Particularly when it comes to not chasing a lot of leads that have a low probability of turning into $$$ (or wasting time on prospective clients who either want to pay you minimum wage for your work, which drags our entire industry down every time any of us agree to work for "slave wages," or where you'll net minimum wage after responding to their 50-page RFPs and completing a few dozen of their TPS reports).

Marketing (including sales, but not "just" sales) is an art...every-bit as much as creating illustrations might be. But I fear that much of the "art" of marketing has been drown out by the "science" of marketing for a lot of folks...just as the "art" of map-making is being drown out by the "science" of map-making the past few decades.
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

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

#20
Jacques Gélinas

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Derek,

Not sure how your last post fits in with the initial post-question?
Are you saying that sales - marketing should be within a cartographic design course?



Cheers,

Jacques Gélinas
cartographer
www.cartesgeo.ca


#21
Derek Tonn

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Derek,

Not sure how your last post fits in with the initial post-question?
Are you saying that sales - marketing should be within a cartographic design course?

Cheers,


Jacques, essentially what I was getting at is that, like it or not, earning a living will drive production and design decisions. Not only what we create, but how we create it. Unless we are VERY lucky and find ourselves to be independently wealthy and/or creating maps more for love or as a hobby vs. to pay our bills.

So ROI and earning a living result in cartographers importing data sets, moving a few text labels around, using a "brewer" or two to choose some pretty blues and greens ;) , and calling it a project. GIS isn't inherently "better" as an information tool, and it most-certainly isn't better as a visual or artistic tool! But it is incredibly good at saving many of us hundreds/thousands of hours per year via not needing to spend time drawing and proofing "base layer" visual information in our designs.

One other thought on the topic: Many of us will complain about the homogeneity that exists in modern mapping via all of the Googles/Bings/Yahoos that have turned a fair portion of what we all do into almost a "commodity." But if everyone is using the same data sets, if everyone is using ESRI software and Avenza/AI and brewers, if everyone is using Tom Patterson's Natural Earth (which is phenomenal, by the way), aren't many of us guilty of the very-same thing that we are railing against other, larger, entrants to our industry for doing?

Kind of a convoluted, "back-door" approach to introducing marketing to the topic, but they are all intertwined "classroom" topics as far as I am concerned. Sorry if I "hijacked" the thread and/or took it a little off-topic though.
Derek Tonn
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mapformation, LLC

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#22
David Medeiros

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I'll second Ted's assertion that Illustrator and MAPublisher are a great compliment to a GIS to publication workflow. However while Illustrator is definitely industry standard, MAPub seems to pop up less frequently and I think you can get by just fine with GIS direct to Illustrator (no MAPub) for occasional publication cartography out of a GIS shop. But if publication maps are going to be your bread and butter, MAPub really has no equal interms of the flexibility and power it gives you to make great looking, georefernced and attributed maps in a graphics program. I personally would love to see cartography being taught with just MAPub & Illy in more programs, but I'll settle for cartography being taught at all!

To Rudy's comments, I read that more as being pragmatic about costs and likely exposure to software post GIS education. Most GIS credentialed students will end up working on ArcGIS and will have little opportunity to make maps with a graphics program. To that end, being taught best practices using the software they will most likely be using down the road makes a good deal of sense and saves money. On the other hand, having experience with GIS to Illustrator and personally having MAPub on my machine has served me fairly well in this competitive GIS market. I'm a good GIS specialist but my understanding of cartographic design and use of Illustrator is what always gets me call backs or interviews.

Ted, this is a little of topic, but since you mentioned the growing use of Illustrator and MAPub in the market I thought I'd bring it up here (maybe we can spin it into another thread?). I would love to see Avenza create an exchange of some kind to help connect employers who use MAPublisher with cartographers with GIS / Illustrator / MAPub experience. I know you've said that MAPub market share is growing but as a cartographer looking for just that kind of work it is incredibly hard to locate those opportunities.

GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

www.mapbliss.com

 


#23
Jacques Gélinas

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Derek,
thanks for the clarification. Please don't get me wrong as I always enjoy reading your ...long ... posts :)

Jacques Gélinas
cartographer
www.cartesgeo.ca


#24
Derek Tonn

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Derek,
thanks for the clarification. Please don't get me wrong as I always enjoy reading your ...long ... posts :)


I've got a reputation to protect (our resident wind-bag)...right?! :P
Derek Tonn
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mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
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#25
M.Denil

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I have used a lot of tools for making maps over the years. Pens, scribers, and computer tools, and I still see Corel DRAW as the best graphics package, bar none. GIS packages are getting better, but I still resist the notion of going to an offset press straight from ArcGIS or any othr suchh program.
There is a lot more to making anything than just the tools, and the craft of tool use is critically important no matter what the tool.
That said, I prefer high quality tools, and Corel DRAW happens to be the best one going.

Sure, AI is the "industry standard", and is fine if it is all you have, or if you are making resturant menus....

I started using CorelDRAW at COGS (the best hard core cartography school on earth, by the way), but I have used a lot of other tools in the twenty years since. I can still turn out top quality work faster and easier, and with fewer compromises, in Corel than in anything else




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