One of the things that has bothered me over the last few years is the role of design in map-making. I see very little of what I would call good design and very few people who either have the ability or enthusiasm to value design as a key component in the map-making process. I believe this is to the detriment of the quality and usefulness of maps and this is one of the reasons that the International Cartographic Association supported the creation of a new Commission on Map Design precisely to make design explicit.In this talk I want to think a little about how we might think about design and the art of (or in) cartography in a way that might be more accessible to the growing world of map-makers. I want to think a little about the juxtaposition of the art and science of cartography and the white elephant in the room…technology.
“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values”1974 philosophical novel, the first of Robert M. Pirsig's texts in which he explores his Metaphysics of Quality.Pirsig explains "it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either.“The book describesa 17-day journey on his motorcycle from Minnesota to California by the author who became engrossed in the question of what defines good writing, and what in general defines good, or "quality“.Ultimately, he found ‘quality’ indefinable but Pirsig's thesis is that to truly experience quality one must both embrace and apply it as best fits the requirements of the situation, with art and science being complimentary rather than being dome sort of diametrically opposed battleground. Such an approach would avoid a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction common to modern life...or cartography.
Frustration is how I fell every day when I see these sort of maps...so given Pirsig’s thoughts, should I be bothered? Does it matter? Do they in some way fit the situation?Yes…but there’s a combination of factors at work.Design fails, largely because of immature technologies, a lack of competence in applying it and the knowledge of how to design. The map isn’t clearly thought through.Mistakes in map design are normally fairly easy to spot, but often it comes down to the same thing. To design something you must have at least a basic level of domain knowledge. That doesn’t means you have to be a world famous chef in order to write a recipe web app, but you need to make sure you at least know the basics.
Of course, there is the other end of the spectrum with some truly beautiful maps being produced which meld together the science of map-making (whether the author knows it or not) with a beautiful, inspiring, aesthetically pleasing design.These are what I would call well-crafted maps. Well-designed maps. Some suggest that they herald a new type of neo-cartography, borne out of people eschewing old-school ideas and techniques and ‘having a go’ using new technologies as a medium for design and production. Sure, technology has allowed many more people to overcome the hurdles of making a map but I prefer to see these sort of maps as being made by people applying good cartography.They aren’t oblivious to what makes a good map…they just have the knack of knowing how to work with spatial data to communicate effectively….and they have mastered the new medium of map making faster than others. They are pioneers of a new wave of map-makers in just the same way as there have always been pioneers (early adopters?) of all technology.
Cartography is now cool…but it’s not cartographers that are making it cool.The new web mapping paradigm has changed the landscape beyond all recognition.An increased prevalence of maps and map-making has been brought about through the increase in use of GIS and associated technologies and the online and mobile revolution. This has led to a democratisation of map-making that has coincided with the decline of traditional cartographic publishing….but don’t cartographers like complaining about how this and that have destroyed cartography instead of harnessing new opportunities and reinventing themselves! They have the scope…they just seem to lack the ambition and prefer to whinge.So we now face a situation where there are many more people who make maps but few who have any formal training (much to the chagrin of ‘professional’ cartographers – the gatekeeping police of maps).Proportion of good vs poor maps has shifted….yes (and this needs tackling).Maps are now ridiculously easy to make but they are easy to make inappropriately or ineffectively (yes, but we need better tools and exemplars).As the world's population is becoming more geographically literate (knowingly or unknowingly), expectations of us as spatial knowledge providers have risen (cripes…no pressure then!).To meet these demands and facilitate spatial thinking, we must not only be able to deliver accurate, timely data but also provide it in a way that is easily found, consumed, and understood on any device (we are now all teachers as well as cartographers). We have beengrowing our skills in GIS, data storage, and web technologies but we need to remember to find balance in system design, application design, data uses, and cartography.This includes how we talk about cartography. People do not want to hear about single hue progressions, figure-ground relationships or typographic theory. While we may see these as the foundations of our careers, most people who want to make a map have other careers. They just want to make a map...so how do we talk about maps in a way that encourages them to think about the process of making them?This presentation explores some selected (and very loose) Zen-styled mantras, with my interpretation of them as strategies that we follow toward becoming better spatial communicators as well as spatial knowledge providers.
Cartographic knowledge is easy to think of in this context. We ‘get it’. Other’s potentially don’t. So we see maps and their errors and inconsistencies but that doesn’t change them.If the map has been made by someone who doesn’t understand the complexities of map making the map is just that...a map.It isn’t fundamentally poor (though it may be poor at doing what the author wanted it to do) and shouting about it won’t change the fact.In this example, data hasn’t been normalised to account for different sized areas or population bases so comparing across the map is meaningless.
And if you don’t understand, well…things will still be just as they are.In this map, a nominal colour scheme has been used for for interval data...rendering it almost impossible to understand. That’s without even debating the questionable choice of colours!
So let’s think about design classics as we work towards better understanding how the art and science of cartography are brought together by a technological catalyst…Design classics: unequivocal, tangible, iconicPaper clip was first patented in Germany by Johan Vaaler (1866-1910), a Norwegian inventor, in 1899, the paperclip remains indispensable. In its utter simplicity lies the genius of the paperclip. Ubiquitous.This little bit of minimalist springy folded metal does its job well enough and, besides, can be used as an all-purpose miniature tool, for shaping desk-top animals, cleaning finger nails, making miniature buildings, or simply as something to fiddle with in times of bureaucratic stress.According to an enjoyably time-wasting survey conducted by Lloyds Bank some while ago, of every 100,000 paperclips made in the United States, 19,143 were used as poker chips, 17,200 held clothing together, 15,556 were dropped and lost, 14,163 were absent-mindedly destroyed during telephone calls, 8,504 cleaned pipes and nails, while 5,434 served as stand-in toothpicks.
Greatdesigns are touchstones of future thinking that marry innovation with a practical need.Classic designs have been labour-saving domestic devices, portable electronics, buildings etc… and maps of course (we’ll get to those…)ConcordeRobin Day’s Polypropylene chairMary Quant’s mini skirtAlec Issigionis’s MiniBubble wrapLevisAnglepoise (Luxo)LegoBIC Crystal biroWillys jeepSgt pepper’s lonely Hearts Club Band album coverCatseyeMonopolyFender StratocasterSwiss Army KnifeThonet Bentwood chairSydney Opera HouseApple Computers
Design also fails in objects other than maps when the aesthetic and the science fail to marry up…Mark Shead recently used this example to illustrate the point.This is the Feinwerkbau P11 Piccolo Air Pistol. It costs somewhere around $1,500 and looks like it is mainly designed for people doing competition. The black barrel is what shoots the pellet and the silver barrel is the compressed air. If you have a gun that runs on compressed air, it would be nice to know how much air you have left wouldn’t it?
I’m not sure the design was fully thought through. I do know that you shouldn’t need to point the barrel toward your face to read a gauge.When I see something like this I like to stop and think about whether or not I make the same mistakes in my field of map design. Poor design decisions aren’t limited to guns of course….but this is a good example of how a map can fail, can jolt the reader if it’s not been carefully thought through. Looking at a poor map that fails to communicate is no different to staring down the barrel of a gun…both are likely to explode in your face!
Getting back to our traditional definition…At a recent meeting of the Chairs of ICA Commissions in Vienna we were invited to consider where our Commission ought to be located within the traditional definition of the disciplineSo where might map design sit within our traditional definitions of cartography?
Most people would put it nearer to the ‘art’
I place it at the visual centre (playfully) and think that design is the glue that binds the three main components. It helps us:Understand what makes great cartography great.Become inspired to think up and create (great) maps to serve a purpose and those of your readers.Influence readers to cast a more discerning eye on maps.Design is a sort of roadmap or approach that achieves a particular outcome.Informally, design as a nounrefers to some sort of plan or set of conventions used in theconstruction of an object or a system. We apply designto the creation of furniture, cars, architecture, businessprocesses and most other things.As a verb, ‘to design’refers to the implementation of the plan.So we are all designers…and while some of us paint by numbers, some of us can create masterpieces but design fuses together the art and science and I think this is where many modern web maps either fail spectacularly or succeed spectacularly.This got me thinking a bit more about this relationship between art, science, technology and how we can encourage better design in cartography.
Daniel Huffman: cartography is a form of art and just as other arts use science and tools, so does a cartographer. A painter uses coloured pigments and deals in the physical properties of light yet he is referred to as an artist. So why is cartography considered differently? Why isn’t cartography a form of art itself?Cartographers use fancy digital tools to construct bezier lines or translate RGB colourspace into CYMK process colours to determine how much ink to lay down. We use maths to determine projections, calculate buffer zones or calculate classification of our data. So is cartography a science? Not necessarily.A ceramicist requires a knowledge of chemistry to ensure glaze patterns fire correctly in well controlled kilns.A metalurgist welds and cuts and shapes with modern technological implements.A painter uses paint blended in all sorts of modern ways.Why do we not see these as sitting on the ridge between art and science. They’re art right?If cartography is an art and a science then so is sculpture, painting, photography, architecture etc… There may be science in the tools or the data or the materials but it is what the artist does with these inputs. This is where cartography lies….creating something out of spatial data.If art is missing from so much cartography, or at least not as present as we’d like, it’s because art requires people. Humanity is missing from cartography. We are too hell-bent on precision, accuracy and with modern mapping tools that tends to lead to sterile one-dimensional maps but cartography is a human practice. A cartographer puts thought into how things look. Every mark involves a decision and an intent to evoke a desired reaction from a reader, maybe to create understanding, a judgement or feeling. But most maps these days are created by a computer and most marks on a map are placed by a computer with very little active decision-making and even less intent. Less art because there is less humanity.Am I proposing that we revisit aesthetics? Not really. We shouldn’t confuse aesthetics with design (though it’s true that well designed maps are often aesthetically pleasing). Aesthetics is concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty. Cartographers have tended to assert that maps can contain aesthetic properties and that this in part is why they succeed but design is different. Design is about applying sounds ideas with care…crafting a good map. Design means making decisions based on defined goals. Using our brains to see something we want to see then making cartographic choices to get there. The random and organic are largely un-designed. Where there is cartographic intelligence and intent, there is design….so maybe thinking about cartography as an art in itself is one way of encouraging people to see that art isn’t the preserve of arty types…and that making maps is just as much about finding some sort of fulfillment through creating a pleasing product as much as it is being scientifically accurate. Fusing the two leads to more complete products.
Thinking of this another way, it’s very easy for cartographers to be critical (actually, many of the breed tend to thrive on being critical!). I was inspired by this graphic by David McCandless who tries to create a taxonomy of descriptions of ideas on an axis of function by structure. What maps might fall in the upper right of this graphic to serve as great examples? Maps that have good conceptual structure and are extremely functional in a particular context? Can this provide a framework for exploring what we might consider to be touchstones of cartographic design? Designs that inspire and can be used as exemplars?Oddly enough if we look at the lower left quadrant of McCandless’s taxonomy we see a collection of descriptors that are regularly and freely assigned to examples of sub-par maps. We don’t seem to have difficulty in describing what we don’t like in this way. Finding maps that we describe as incredible or genius are less obvious. Maybe we should release our conservative adjectives and become a little more expressive about what we like…and the examples that fuse art and cartography beautifully and completely.
Cartography, then, is a creative process where problem-solving is part of a production process. It’s a fusing of art and science, catalysed by whatever technology is being used (or abused). If we think of it AS an art, maybe we can shift the focus a little.When we look at a map, we’re seeing it through a design lens as part of a continuum…and not all maps are equally successful.Sharing content and information via a map is what cartographers do, but it’s also what map-makers do in this increasingly democratised landscape. So how can we reassert the relevance of cartography without preaching the mantra that map-makers need to know cartography? We have to encourage people to see the value, and that is through good examples that evidence the merit of high quality cartography.
Viz-o-matic by Wayne Lytle – Cornell University 1993 – provides an early insight into how design is often applied and is as relevant today as it was in 1993. Possibly more so since we now have a range of web-based technologies that support the easy design and production of an amazing array of visualisations.Carl Steinitz quote (from CASA conference in 2009) “too much these days goes round and round and up and down without saying very much, worse, it’s often accompanied by music”. I empathize with this view and we need better examples of what makes a great map great.
Given the lack of a compendium of good cartographic exemplars…and a different answer from anyone when asked what their favourite map is…Damien Demaj and I completed a survey of 20 “renowned” cartographers (paleo, traditional, neo…a smattering of all types) to simply ask them to name what they consider to be the best 10 maps and provide a short description of why they felt they exhibited great design as a marriage of art & sicence, form and function.We felt that creating a top ten was contrived so from over 100 separate maps suggested we compiled a set of 13 map types and then a selection of three examples in each category, a total of 39 different examples. Here are the first 19.
Here are the remaining 20 maps in the survey.We intend these to provide examples of excellence in design, a blueprint for cartographic artistry, best practice in the craft of map-making and, simply, as exemplars for people to follow, to demonstrate the art of design in cartography and cartography as an art.There isn’t scope to go through them all in this presentation (they are published in two articles in The Cartographic Journal Issue 49.1 and also on the ICA Map Design Commission web site) but I’ll discuss a few and highlight some important aspects of design in relation to the zen-styled sayings.
Induce the viewer to think about the substance rather than about methodology, graphic design, the tech of graphic production, or something else.Mount Everest has been mapped extensively using a plethora of relief representations so how do you make your map stand out.Possibly the most frequently cited example of excellence in design is by Eduard Imhof (1962) for his impressive use of colour. Here, though, Bradford Washburn used Swissair Survey aerial photos and Space Shuttle infrared photos to plot Mount Everest at 1:50,000 (Washburn, 1988). Possibly the last example of hand drawn Swiss relief representation makes clear the most detailed and accurate map ever made of Mount Everest. The peaks, glaciers, rocks and hydrography are particularly clear with scree slopes depicted in astonishing detail. Blue contours sit well in the overall design and take on the appearance of layers of ice. The typography is beautifully set and the map has a soft, photo-realistic feel that adds visual impact. The border separating China and India is so subtle it looks like it is actually painted on the ridgelines. A masterpiece of terrain representation showing natural beauty and scientific information in the most vivid possible way.As we set out to create maps in the new mapping landscape, we quickly find that we need more time to get to grips with a new lexicon. What’s a feature map service? Who came up with the term ‘intelligent map’?, How many servers should we have? Should services be cached or dynamic? What about security? How do we best ensure good performance? To move forward, we have to find a balance between learning and doing while overcoming our fear of making a wrong choice. Planning is critical to learning new technical infrastructures but also their impact on our well understood cartographic infrastructures. But the key should always be to consider how we want to visually present and this can hep guide us in how to group our data to create consistency among our applications, maximize server resources, and minimize service management.
When we begin creating a map, we get excited to finally utilize our data. Inevitably, we want to create highly detailed, accurate, and up-to-date information products and of course, we want people to see it.However, the level of detail in many maps is simply not necessary, and using it can have a negative impact which is off-putting to map users. You can easily be left with a clean pond with no fish.Cleanse data of unnecessary content and look for clean, efficient representationsThe London Underground map was originally created by engineering draughtsman Harry Beck in 1931 and first published in 1933. Beck drew the diagram in his spare time and although London Underground was originally skeptical of his radical proposal it became immediately popular and imitated across the globe for countless other metro and mass transit systems (Garland, 1994). Beck realized that the physical locations of the stations was largely unimportant because the railway ran mostly underground so a schematic diagram was a more effective solution by which to navigate. The simplified map consisted of stations, colour-coded straight line segments which run vertically, horizontally or at 45 degree diagonals. Ordinary stations (marked as ticks) were differentiated from interchanges (diamonds, later to be replaced by circles). The map exaggerates the detailed central area and contracts the external areas. The map shows no relationship to above ground geography other than the River Thames. The same approach is still in use today and copied by ever mass transit system in the world. The map has gone through countless revisions and design changes but the core characteristics remain.
There is great development going on in the geo community, especially when it comes to mapping. There’s always a temptation to use the latest, coolest technology or widget to present dataSimplicity can also pay great dividends when applied to mapping. Minimize the clutter. It should go without saying that a great piece of data visualization should tell an honest story. Pie graphs, and especially exploded 3D pie charts, are a favourite whipping boy because of their distortion and lack of clarity ("chart-junk").If you've got great data, do it justice by presenting it honestly.John Snow was an English physician, the father of modern epidemiology and the inventor of anaesthesia. His famous map, on the mode and distribution of deaths from cholera in Soho, London in 1854 is a classic not only in cartography but also analytically. Snow used the map as an exploratory tool to establish that cholera was a water-borne disease. Cartographically, Snow's map is often cited as the first to use separate thematic layers to determine a spatial relationship between variables. The beauty of the map is in its brilliant simplicity, showing only the detail required to make the link between deaths and water distribution. The mapping of deaths using a single symbol identified individuals for impact with multiple deaths being seen as a density due to their clustering.
To effectively communicate, we must act as the gentle wind acts on a snowflake and guide our map readers to the place they need to be. Rather than picking them up and physically directing them, our maps should invite exploration and discovery....almost serendipitously, but to the place we want them to get to.Maps don’t have to over-generalize or simplify complex data but it’s important to present it in a way that leads people. It’s perfectly possible to present hundreds of thousands of pieces of information sensibly on a single map. Rich content often helps garner interest but presenting complexity in a simple wayAs Tufte (Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 1990 p9) said “The world is complex, dynamic, multidimensional; the paper is static, flat. How are we to represent the rich visual world of experience and measurement on mere flatland?”.This example of a multivariate cartogram by Dorling does just that. The Dorling cartogram creates a social landscape so circles are proportional to the population of the area they represent. Here, though, Chernoff Faces replace circles to ascribe additional information. Sizes of faces are proportional to the electorate and shape, eyes, nose and mouth each display additional socio-economic variables allowing a theoretical maximum of 625 different faces. In reality only a fraction of these permutations exist, each coloured in one of 36 trivariate colours. The strength of the image is its overall impact as well as the ability to mine detail. Faces evoke emotional reactions and show social differences we can easily interpret. Sharp local divisions or gradual changes emerge. While such glyphs can often overload a map image, Dorling combines them masterfully and the strong colours on a black background create additional contrast and impact. is the ultimate goal of a successful map.
While we try to guide our map readers,guide their experience by making some decisions for them, sometimes it backfires. For this reason, we should encourage criticism.Try to remove ourselves from our map-making role and think even more like the map reader. A helpful question we ask ourselves is, "Would my mother understand this?“Without comparisons we don’t get a sense of what is important, what is an outlier and what trends might exist in the map. Designing the map to invite readers to compare patterns and distributions is what invites interest, curiosity and underpins a more informed analysis of the map in front of them.Charles Joseph Minard was a French civil engineer that created what Tufte calls, "The greatest statistical graphic ever drawn": A map of the Napoleon's Grand March and retreat into Russia.The graphic impressively manages to depict 6 different sets of data: latitude, longitude, direction of movement, time, temperature, and size of the army. We compare by looking at the juxtaposition of the colours used for the advance and retreat and the line thickness symbolis in the decimation of the army. Temperature scales allow us to compare the condition of the army in time and by temperature which means we can reveal an awful lot from such a simple map.
We try to create maps that help people become spatial thinkers,better decision makers and better map-makers. As cartographers, if we do our jobs well, we should see the fruits of our labour emerge as others make better maps, probably without even knowing they are applying cartographic theory (in fact, this should be the goal).This is hard for us as GIS professionals and cartographers; for years, we have been trying to explain what we do and all the great benefits of a deep understanding of our art and science. Now, we are trying to train ourselves that we will probably be most impactful if we can remove jargon and buttons and if we can just roll with it if people call a map a picture or an intricate GIS web application a map.Of course, if they ask, feel free to blast them with a stream of acronyms and technical jargon but I think by bringing people with us rather than trying to constantly tick them off for the mistakes they make, we’ll improve things. Who cares if they don’t get ‘cartography’…if their map ‘works’?Many ambitious datasets call for a visualization that gracefully handles the large scale right down to global coverage at small-scale, all while maintaining the proper spatial relations. This allows the viewer to explore the data; he or she understands smaller scales quickly, but has the opportunity to pick out some of the more minute details at larger scales.Some might find the inclusion of Google Maps odd in a discussion of design but they were innovators and the multiscale character of the map performs multiple functions, revolutionising the way the people view, use and make maps and how they interact with their surroundings. The design is recognizable and supports a strong, clear brand that is consistent at a local scale, globally. Integration of complementary functionality (e.g. routing, traffic information, overlay of social media and photographs, zooming, panning, querying and measuring) provides an application with a multitude of purposes that goes beyond a general reference map. The design is automatically modified depending on its use. For instance, secondary roads widen at particular scales when you overlay traffic information to show each direction of traffic flow. The appearance of 3D buildings and moving shadows at large scales (in some cities) represent the built environment like never seen before. Did Google explore cartographic theory before they made their map…nope! But they have learnt as they have iterated the map and refined its form and function in relation to changing demands and a more map-savvy audience brought about largely by their own success.
And here’s the crunch…it’s often said that cartography is a profession and it’s what sets us apart from mere map-making mortals. So you’d expect, then, that in our survey of classic maps they would all be designed and produced by proper, fit, well-trained cartographers. If this is the case then our argument about democratisation leading to a deficit in quality would be complete. We can retain the moral cartographic high ground and continue to pour scorn on those that clearly don’t get it.Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. In our world of democratised map-making how many of the 39 maps in our survey were conceived or drawn by cartographers?From this selection, only 5.
And from this selection, only 9...or 23% in total.This means ¾ of the people who made these great maps did so without formal training. They were not cartographers. They simply had a great idea…did the science bit exceptionally well and designed a fantastic map that innovated, inspired and fused art with science. They are incredible maps. The people behind them are/were geniuses. It simply goes to show that mapping has always consisted of people who call themselves cartographers and a larger proportion who don’t. This is nothing new. Neo has not changed this….it’s just a different mechanism and a new breed of people making maps with alternative technological catalysts and a desire to re-imagine data that might be shown effectively in spatial form. With more and more data (and bigger data) and tools to support making of maps it’s inevitable that more maps are made and that some will be beautiful and some will be terrible.What we need to do is stop bashing our heads against a proverbial wall trying to get people to understand the principles of cartography...instead just encourage them to explore what works and use that to inspire their own work.Creativity + clarity = convincing cartography
It’s no good telling people they are making bad maps.Show them what they can do to improve things.Involve them in the process so they can learn.Distilling down a big chunk of data is not easy, Tufte laments that the "lack of quantitative skills of professional artists" is what makes designing a great data visualization difficult. The best designed visualizations exist as a symbiosis between smart quantification and beautiful and elegant design.I think a lot of us have good quantitative skills because of the rise of GIS...but maybe we’ve lost the ability to think as artists….maybe we need to get a little more zen about things to fully appreciate that art and science (and technology) are complimentary.So here’s my simple equation to reinforce that and encourage better map design(content + clarity) * creativity = convincing cartographyOur map users' demands are simple—they want to be able to find without looking, understand without learning, and do it all fast. We can satisfy these demands by building our base of great examples, releasing some of our long-held notions about data and techniques, create reusable resources, show only what is needed, tell a story, and listen to feedback.
Zen and art of cartography
BCS Annual symposium, Hook UK, June 2012GeoCart 2012, Auckland New Zealand, August 2012Zen and the art of cartographyKenneth Field@kennethfield
Student says " I am very discouraged. What should I do?“