Zen and the art of cartography

Here’s a copy of the talk I recently gave at the BCS conference in the UK (June 2012) and Geocart in New Zealand (August 2012) that explored design in cartography.  It focuses on the juxtaposition of art and science and the white elephant of technology that means cartography is in a constant state of reinvention.  Click through to view on slideshare where I’ve fleshed out some bottom notes.

 

Reasserting design relevance in cartography

Alongside Commission member Damien Demaj, I recently completed a survey of cartographic experts to establish what the profession considers to be some of its best work.  The general idea behind the survey was to provide a set of examples that showcase high quality cartographic design; work that exemplifies how excellence in cartography transcends the purely functional map into something more-a map that invites scrutiny, exploration, engagement and fascination.  The work is presented in two articles in the latest issue of The Cartographic Journal.  In the first, Reasserting design relevance in cartography: some concepts, we explain a little of what design is and why it is important in cartography.  In a second paper, Reasserting design relevance in cartography: some examples, we showcase 39 maps that demonstrate excellence in design accompanied by comments on what it is that makes them so engaging as a map product.

The articles are only available to subscribers of The Journal through IngentaConnect but over the coming weeks we will also be showcasing these examples and hosting links to accompanying resources on the Commission web site.

Jack Dangermond comments on map design

In a recent ArcWatch article, Esri president Jack Dangermond provides some comments on how he sees the mapping landscape developing over the next few years.  He sees web maps (which he refers to as intelligent web maps) as becoming the new medium for the way information is delivered.  Well, paper is probably a long way from being dead but certainly, web maps are increasingly important and increasingly used.

We’d agree…and we also agree fundamentally with his opening quote: “We need to spend more time designing maps and not just producing them”.  It doesn’t matter in what medium your map is made but design is crucial to its success as a communication device.  If you have something to say then your map should contain good content, clearly illustrated in a way that captures and holds your reader’s interest.

Far too many web maps are poorly designed, partly because of the lack of maturity of web mapping tools, but as with any developing technology, potential is not always fully explored.  Dangermound continues… “The problem is that most of these maps are not effectively designed.” and that “You need to understand the issue [that] you are going to communicate, and you need to bring the appropriate data to it and do analytics and manipulation, and then come up with a compelling graphic design that helps us understand”.

Good web maps can be made and useful tools do exist.  What we need to encourage in map makers is for them to see design as an important component of their work.  That, of course, is what this Commission on Map Design is focused on and we endorse Dangermond’s comments and look forward to a future populated by excellence in web mapping.  Much work to do to realize that of course…and we’ll be helping shape the conceptual and practical landscape to support that aim.

Map Design alive and well at AAG2012

Alongside the new ICA Commission on Cognitive Visualization, the Map Design Commission held a series of very well attended sessions at the Association of American Geographer’s annual meeting in New York 23-28 February.

A wide array of papers explored overarching issues of the value of design in mapping to specifics including the way colour is applied in particular circumstances and reworkings of the Minard map.  The best papers from the sessions will be published as part of a Special Issue of The Cartographic Journal later this year and evidences the importance of design in mapping.

More generally, there was quite a focus on mapping at the conference and a particularly well attended session by the team at the New York Times graphics department gave an insight into their work.  The maps and infographics in the New York Times are widely recognised as being some of the clearest, cleanest contemporary examples of good design and the session showcased much of their work and processes.

Map Design Commission at AAG2012

The ICA Commission on Map Design is co-organizing (with the ICA Commission on Cognitive Visualization) a range of paper sessions at the Annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers 24-28 Feb in New York City.  We have 7 sessions themed Cognition, Behavior and Representation dealing with design, color, people and design, user interactions and map interpretation, space reasoning, movement in real and virtual spaces, wayfinding and research challenges.

The sessions bring together a vibrant group of researchers and practitioners and we look forward to a highly engaging forum with 40 papers from both renowned speakers and early career researchers. The sessions also give us a platform to promote the work of the two Commissions and encourage participation.  A special issue of The Cartographic Journal is already slated for the end of 2012 to showcase the very best papers from these sessions.

If you are at the AAG then please come along and take part.  We very much look forward to seeing you in NYC!