Presentation by Kenneth Field at International Cartographic Conference, Dresden 2013
In answer to the question ‘what do you do’? cartographers have gone from nervously explaining that yes, there are people who make maps to reluctantly admitting “yes, it’s like Google Maps”. Cartography is now cool…but it’s not cartographers that are making it cool. Instead, cartographers continue to assert ‘principles’ and ‘traditions’ as core to effective map-making but the message is getting lost. It’s time to re-focus and re-imagine. One of the things that has bothered us over the last few years is the role of design in map-making. We see very little of what we 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. We 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 paper we want to think a little about how we might re-imagine design and the art of (or in) cartography in a way that might be more accessible to the growing world of map-makers. We want to think a little about the juxtaposition of the art and science of cartography and the white elephant in the room…technology.
Cartography is about purposeful design, combining aesthetics and visuals with an understanding of data and how people behave when viewing a map. Instead of trying to assert the importance of art as a component of cartography to map-makers unwilling to listen, maybe there is value in seeing cartography as an art in itself. Using examples of ‘great maps’ from an original survey we assert that art is not a part of cartography that we try to marry with science and technology. Cartography is about creating something; art is in the doing and poor maps are not a function of failure to put art in cartography, they’re because the map is not treated as an artistic endeavour. The survey sought to collate a set of examplar maps that the cartographic profession could point to; that illustrated the zenith of cartographic excellence. The results provided a fascinating mix of historical and contemporary examples; some obvious and some less so but we explored the design in each and explained why they exhibit high standards of cartography. The survey also revealed that the idea that excellence in cartography can only be achieved by those with a formal training is a fallacy. The democratisation of map-making is possibly not as new as we might imagine since maps have always been made by non cartographers as the survey reveals.