GIS Practitioners Vs. Graphic Designers

There are two types of professionals that routinely make maps: GISers and graphic designers. They come from very different backgrounds and often come up with very different map solutions. But first, what do maps do?

(1) Maps are powerful to the extent that they convey useful information. The more useful the information, the more powerful they are.

(2) Maps are entertainment, to the extent that they appeal to the aesthetic sensibilities in the map reader. The better they are designed, the more entertaining they are.

GIS practitioners are traditionally focused on the level of powerful impact that their cartographic products impart. Whether or not GIS practitioners succeed in this is based on how well they also understand the entertainment needs of their map readers.

Graphic designers are traditionally focused on the level of entertainment that their maps provide. Whether or not they succeed in creating interesting maps does not always depend on their maximum employment of useful information.

Not all GIS practitioners have embraced what is really a critical part of their workflow: the aesthetic qualities of the finished map, and certainly there are graphic designers who could care less about the information behind their designs.

A cartographer, however, must be proficient in both ways of thinking, and it is what sets us apart.

  1. #1 by Bryan Swindell on September 26, 2012 - 1:50 pm

    Indeed! Some of my best maps have come out of collaborations with graphic designers. They possess an understanding of that entertainment element – it’s the special sauce that often takes my map to a whole new level.

  2. #2 by Ken Gross on September 26, 2012 - 3:14 pm

    You should have titled this GIS vs. Graphic Designers vs. Cartographers!

  3. #3 by LeighH on September 26, 2012 - 5:38 pm

    Practical question in this vein – at my current job, I make maps with ArcGIS. I also make charts and presentation graphics with Adobe Illustrator. I don’t have a job title, but I need one to put on my resume. Graphic designer? Cartographer? Data visualizer?

  4. #4 by Gretchen on September 27, 2012 - 8:30 am

    It’s a tough call. If you call yourself a cartographer you risk implying that you don’t know how to work with data. Perhaps Visual Data Specialist would work, but then the mapping component is not called out. Visual Data and Map Specialist? It’s not elegant. Anyone else have an idea for Leigh?

  5. #5 by Bryan Swindell on September 28, 2012 - 12:00 pm

    Depends on the audience, I think. Based on feedback from graphics/photography friends, I have moved away from using ‘GIS Specialist’ in favor of ‘Mapping Specialist.’ The latter is more familiar, and ought to imply GIS/GPS/carto/geodata to both spatial and non-spatial folks. Remember, though – portfolio first, job title second!

  6. #6 by Gretchen on September 28, 2012 - 12:52 pm

    @Bryan That’s good advice.

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