Cartographer as Designer – It’s a Process

Example Map by XNR Productions

Those who design maps for use by others engage in a specialized form of communication.  They create images to represent physical and phenomena in three-dimensional space, but they create them on two-dimensional surfaces. To do this effectively, a cartographer must understand not only the phenomena on which the maps are based, but also how to work with them to communicate information to others.  No amount of skill with computer software can rescue a map that displays a lack of understanding of the cartographic design process.

Cartography is a PROCESS, thus should follow a well thought out sequence of steps from conception to finished product. “So, what exactly are your intentions?” Know how the map is intended to be used at the beginning of your project. What is the presentation media? e.g., print, projected, web. What is the size? Is it interactive? How often does it need updating? Show examples of how you would create the same map differently depending on the presentation format.

PROCESS – A process is a naturally occurring or designed sequence of changes of properties or attributes of an object or system. More precisely, and from the most general systemic perspective, every process is representable as a particular trajectory (or part thereof) in a system’s phase space. (adapted from Wikipedia)

A map must be designed foremost with consideration to the purpose, the audience and its needs. In order to convey the message of the map, the creator must design it in a manner which will aid the reader in the overall understanding of its purpose.

What is your first step when someone asks, “Can you make me a map of…?”  Here are some questions you should ask (of your client and yourself) during the cartographic design process. It is recommended you make your own process list and format it as a form that you can re-use with each new project:

Purpose

  • Why are you making your map?
  • Who is your audience?
  • Primary audience:
  • Secondary audience:
  • Expert or non-expert?
  • Busy or motivated?
  • Able or disabled?
  • Other comments:
  • What should the map assert?
  • What do you want to communicate?

Data

  • What data are needed?
  • Existing or new?
  • Sources?
  • Is field data collection required?
  • Is analysis required?
  • Do you need to convert/geocode data?
  • Are there copyright issues?
  • Age of data?
  • Is there a budget for the data?

Tools

  • What tools will you use?
  • Other comments:

Design

  • What is the geographic framework?
  • Layout?
  • Will it be coordinated with other text? Or stand-alone?
  • Intellectual & visual hierarchies?
  • Map generalization and classification to be used?
  • Map symbolization?
  • Are there existing standards that must be followed?
  • New symbols to be created?
  • Type / font(s) to be used?
  • Use of color or black & white?
  • Existing color scheme?
  • Other comments:

Media

  • What is the final medium? (paper, poster, projected, Internet, interactive, computer monitor, other)
  • Resolution / scale?
  • Viewing distance?
  • Requirements for final file formats?

Evaluation and Acceptance

  • Who will approve the finished map?
  • What are the time constraints?
  • What is the budget?
  • Other comments:

Thanks to john krygier | denis wood, authors of making maps:a visual guide to map design for gis for their inspiring insight in the chapter “Why are you Making your Map?”