Archive for April, 2012

Map Contest, GISCI

I’ll be judging the GISCI map contest again this year. The deadline is fast approaching for getting your entries in–April 15. See the GISCI home page for more details.

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What the Client Wants

The nice thing about making maps is that its not like a Jenga game. If you make a mistake, the whole thing doesn’t collapse. It’s called trial and error, and even the best cartographers do a lot of it. Unless you are in a production environment with a highly codified procedure that’s been vetted, has won awards, and basically has been proven effective–which is to say, not for most of us who are working on highly individualized cartographic products–you’ll be starting with your base knowledge and making modifications from there.

Mistake #1) Your assume that your base knowledge is what the client wants. For example, you might think Bell Gothic is fabulous for the project but you’ve failed to either a. feel out what your client likes or b. to ASK what your client wants. You give them Bell Gothic and they say they needed Arial all along because that’s the only thing their boss (a publisher maybe?) can work with. That’s trial and error.

Mistake #2) You assume the client will give you exact specifications for everything. Then what happens is that the client asks you to come up with something using your skills…just give them anything, they aren’t picky. You’ve failed because you wasted their time. When a client hires you and expects you to do all the creative work, they are often looking for a great quality product in a short time frame. They are willing to forgo all control over the exact product, but then again, they hired you based on their perception of your competence. But you waited around and kept asking questions when they really just wanted the product.

Mistake #1 and #2 are quite the opposite pair. And if you are good, you’ll be getting clients wherein you’ll make both mistakes. Good luck. 😉 Some will say that it doesn’t matter what the client wants, you’ve got to make the maps that you want to make regardless of these client constraints. Yes, good luck with that.

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The Power of Maps to Save a Species

The Power of Maps to Save a Species is the title of a short introductory video on the topic that I put together a few weeks ago. If you’ve been wondering what it is that I do in my daily GIS analysis life–aside from this blog, book, and article writing–this will give you an idea. I mostly focus on salmon. A while back I even made these pens to give out (they say GIS FOR SALMON on them).

Here’s the video, created via webcam. As someone mentioned, the sound quality could be better. I have a nice recording microphone that I should hook up next time I try this. But for now…

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Cartography, all About Choices

Here’s where I trot out, in casual-speak, some stuff about cartographic design. Some of your main choices in cartographic design are:

1) Projection (or not): Choice of projection. Do you want something equatorial that’s nice in the middle but hugely distorted at the poles? Do you want to omit projection and scale altogether such as for a diagrammatic map (e.g., transit map)? How about using my personal favorite: the winkel triple? Sometimes humor is the best way to figure out what projection to use. I’m kidding on that last one.

2) Colors: Are you going to be a neogeocarto and go for a dark background like grayish black for the continents and a saturated blue for the oceans, like the trend has been for a few years now? Do you have a lot of features to pile on the map, necessitating a subdued, light, background? Do you need to add some realism in there? If so, maybe you should take a few photos of spots with the features that you’re mapping so you can grab the colors off of those. Color can make or break a map…take your time and don’t be afraid of trial and error.

3) Typography: Do you need an old-timey feel? Maybe baskerville. A really old-timey feel? Try some calligraphy. Neat and modern? Helvetica. Interesting? comic sans. (Just kidding! Don’t get on my case.) Really nifty for a poster title? yanone kaffeesatz – it’s free. Do you have to create a feature label hierarchy? Definitely choose something that has a lot of flavors such as true bold and italics, small caps, etc.

4) Placement: The act of putting things on your map is hugely difficult. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. If you are making a trail map, don’t get caught up in the roads, topo lines, bathroom locations, and such. Sure, include them, but never forget that those trails MUST stand out from everything else. It’s even more difficult when you’re using a background map service like Google Maps or OSM that has it’s own hierarchy that you can’t do much about. Placement of all the supporting information is difficult too. Why is it that I would never generally tell someone to put a scalebar in the upper-right of a map, but yet just the other day I saw this done quite effectively? It all depends on everything else you’ve got going on in that presentation.

5) Catch-All: Perspective and 3D versus 2D; choropleth versus leader lines that connect to a chart; infographic versus full-on map; showing your map reader what you want them to see or making them figure it out; small-multiples vs. digital interactive vs. animation…
Yep, there are a lot of choices here.

And finally, the biggie:

Invent something new or go with tried and true?


Today’s Radar

On my radar today:

1) Tom Patterson’s Shaded Relief website, wherein he offers up the spectacular FREE seafloor map of Hawaii, other great maps, data, articles, and tutorials. If you haven’t already checked out his site, it is a must-see for every cartographer.

2) I follow @cornellalumni on twitter, and today they tweeted about a Dragon Day video. I was in the midst of watching it (at minute 1:04 to be exact) when I spotted a crowd member holding up a sign saying “ArcGIS 4 FREE.” I was certainly not expecting a reference to GIS software on this video so it took me by surprise.

3) The O’Reilly Where Conference 2012 is being livestreamed via GISuser today through Thursday April 4.

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