Role of Sketching in Map Design Layouts

Sketch map figure from Slocum 2005

Hand-drawn sketching plays an important role in the digital arts. The larger a project is, and the more concepts a client will need to see, the more sketching will prove its worth in your design process. Consider using rough sketches for composition or layout options in your next project. Or push yourself to do a handful of thumbnail sketches before firing up your cartography software of choice. Create ten well thought out map design options (not seven to make three look good).  Select three and refine each.  Select one for final design.

In Role of Sketching in the Design Process, Sean Hodge discusses sketching for rapid concept development in traditional design.  This same process should be considered in cartography.

Top 10 Sectors Using GIS in Indiana

This study was conducted to determine how mapping departments within local and state government, education, non-profits and private industry use geographic information systems map data every day. In 2008, 312 respondents told how they use GIS.

Here are the top ten use-areas among the public and private sector:

01 Transportation

For trains, planes and automobiles there are numerous government agencies, surveying and engineering firms, and community organizations who use the IndianaMap for proposed transportation routes, environmental assessments, infrastructure management, airport and roadway improvements, maintenance, accident locations, new facilities, emergency response and evacuation, state and federal reporting requirements, and system-wide transportation management

02 Utilities

Public and private utilities use the IndianaMap in their customer billing systems, routing meter-reading and inspections, load-testing, infrastructure planning and improvement, “call before you dig” locations, and emergency response

03 Natural Resources

Public, private, and non-profit organizations use the IndianaMap on a daily basis to protect endangered species and habitat, manage natural resource exploration and exploitation, protect the public from natural hazards such as flooding and earthquakes, manage wildlife for hunting and fishing, maintain parks and facilities, and manage forests, fish and wildlife for the benefit of all Hoosiers

04 Economic Development

We may not know when the next major corporation is looking at Indiana for their new home, but with the IndianaMap they can quickly see why the Hoosier state stands out; Indiana’s economic developers use the IndianaMap to locate sites for potential development, plan tax incentive zones, clear regulatory requirements, help existing businesses, and attract new business for a growing economy

05 Engineering/Surveying

Whether used for preliminary survey work, evaluating impacts to home owners, or managing construction phases, the IndianaMap saves hundreds of thousands of dollars when new developments are planned, bridges built, levees are constructed, pipelines are routed, and much, much more

06 Planning/Land Use

Communities and planning organizations use the IndianaMap to visualize land use patterns and trends, zoning, plan developments, acquire state and federal grants, and improve quality of life factors as part of “smart growth” initiatives; developers, assessors, and real estate professionals use it to look at current the landscape and changes over time

07 Infrastructure

From bridges to telecommunications, communities use the IndianaMap to assess and maintain their infrastructure, including Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) reporting requirements

08 Environmental

Government agencies entrusted with the responsibility of protecting our environment use the IndianaMap to track and manage regulated facilities and on-the-ground hazards, improve the environment through remediation, conservation, and preservation, and to communicate with citizens; private and non-profit organizations use the same consistent map information for conservation and preservation, and to assure environmental compliance within areas of new development, existing sites, and areas of concern

09 Wastewater/Stormwater

From flooding, to community growth, to modernizing outdated sewer overflows and protecting public health, utilities and communities use the IndianaMap to see where the water goes and manage the impact of that flow

10 Public Safety

The IndianaMap saves lives—it helps quickly get emergency responders to where they need to go; as an interoperable communications tool it is used for community preparedness, examining locations of shelters, warning sirens, population concentrations, critical infrastructure, and local resources; it is used by police, fire, hospital, health departments, Indiana National Guard, homeland security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Civil Air Patrol, the Red Cross, and others for all phases of disaster response and recovery; it is used daily as police patrol our streets and fight crime; it is used by corrections personnel to track geographic-restrictions and compliance of sex and violent offenders.

For more information, view the complete report (3.4MB PDF).

ScapeToad Cartogram Software

ScapeToad is an interesting, free, stand-alone cartogram software for Mac, Windows (and available platform independent). ScapeToad 1.1 is available for download under a GPL license.

Classical thematic mapping displays spatial patterns of theme or series data depicted on familiar reference maps of standard land-area polygons, which are typically distorted only by the selected projection. A cartogram is a map in which some thematic mapping variable – such as travel time or Gross National Product – is substituted for land area. The geometry or space of the map is distorted in order to convey the information of this alternate variable. There are two main types of cartograms: area and distance cartograms. To see examples, provides a nice collection of cartograms.

(from the ScapeToad website) “The visualization of social phenomena through classical thematic mapping often leads to unsatisfying representations… Cartograms are a well-known technique used to compensate for this inconvenience by breaking the link between statistical regions and their topographical areas. Consequently, this liberates one visual variable (that of polygon size) for a more relevant use, such as the representation of the relative social importance of these regions (usually measured by the size of their populations), while leaving intact their topological relations.”

The Organic City

The Organic City is an interesting and successful application of community blogging (using WordPress) and flash-based mapping (Worldkit). Created in 2006 by the combined efforts of Seamus Byrne and Sarah Mattern, students in CSU East Bay’s Multimedia Graduate Program.

Organic City is a collaborative digital storyworld centered on the downtown Oakland areas surrounding Lake Merritt. The interactive map is a gateway to location-based stories told by local community members. The map is annotated with storypoints. Roll your mouse over a storypoint to display the title and author of a story. Click on a point to read a story. You can navigate the map using the in (+) and out (-) magnifying glasses and the directional arrows.

Using Storybase Filters
You can also access stories in the storybase by using the filters on this page. You can view stories by genre, title, author, or date. You can also use the search form in the menu bar above to filter the storybase by keywords.

Flex Projector for Interactive Creation of Map Projections

Flex Projector is an interesting new program for anyone who has ever been interested in map projections. The program provides a great hands-on interface for understanding more about how map projections work as well as to create your very own. Alpha 0.32 was released 1 April 2008 for Linux, Mac and Windows by Bernhard Jenny, Oregon State University, and Tom Patterson, US National Park Service.

According to their website ( Flex Projector is a freeware, cross-platform application for creating custom world map projections. The intuitive interface allows users to easily modify dozens of popular world map projections—the possibilities range from slight adjustments to making completely new projections. Flex Projector is intended as a tool for practicing mapmakers and students of cartography. It took a couple tries to get the shape files to show up in the map window, but once they did I was off and running. Very ingenious application. I think this will become standard material for every introduction to cartography class out there. Its well worth a look for all mapping professionals.

GIS for the Mac – gvSIG

Thanks Marcel St-Germain for turning me on to gvSIG v1.1. This relatively new open-source GIS software was reviewed by Adena Schutzberg All Points Blog on October 1, 2007 (and at its startup in 2005) and provides a quick review on the status of the project and major features. What I missed was the ability to run gvSIG on the Mac OSX operating system (Intel only) as well as Windows. Since I am now a MacBook Pro user (and lovin’ it), I am always on the prowl for good GIS applications that are low cost and robust. I mentioned in my review of My World GIS that most open source GIS for Mac (that are easy enough for me to have installed) are currently heavy on viewing capabilities but low on analysis. I am pleased to see that gvSIG is another GIS platform that runs on the Mac and includes a suite of analysis/geoprocessing capabilities.

Data File Types

This no-cost GIS platform seems well positioned for enterprise implementations due to its impressive ability to use vector (shp, dgn, dxf, dwg, gml, etc.), raster (ecw, mrsid, tiff, img, jpg2000, etc.), and it’s ability to connect with remote services like WMS, WFS, WCS, JDBC (geodatabases), catalogue, and gazetteer services (though maybe with a bit more development; there are some known problems that may merit holding off) . This likely stems from its government sponsorship by the “Conselleria de Infraestructuras y Transporte” (Council of Infrastructure and Transportation) of the “Generalitat Valenciana” (Regional Government of the Comunidad Valenciana in Spain) and its strong orientation to manage geographic information and towards Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI).

Adding Your Own Data

Installation was easy. Even though a standard install file wasn’t available, it was easily created and I was up and running within about 60 seconds.

I’m one of those who dive right into a piece of software and then follow-up with the instructions if I can’t figure it out. While I didn’t find the interface immediately intuitive, MicroImages provides a good quick-start guide (January 2007 on version 1.0.1) that I found quite helpful for adding a WMS. Adding shapefiles and ArcIMS worked in much the same way. The gvSIG website states that most users of ArcView should find the interface intuitive. Unfortunately, its been a while since I’ve been on that platform.

Cartographic Features

Editing the symbology of layers was pretty straight forward. While the symbol sets are limited (small group of points and hatching), there appeared to be an option to add your own point graphics. Standard color ramps (swatches) and RGB menu ware available, as well as transparencies. Cartographic rendering options include display of unique values, intervals, and labeling with a similar interface to ArcGIS.

I probably missed it, but I didn’t see a print menu. Nonetheless, under VIEW>EXPORT users can export the map image to the following formats: JPG, BMP and PNG files.


I was able to use the geoprocessing tools, but found them a bit buggy and slightly clunky (for example, I changed the map and measurement units before preforming a buffer operation, but they didn’t seem to stick). The following analysis functions are available, complete with graphic depiction and description (in English) of the function:



-Spatial Join






Computational Geometry

-Convex Hull



Data Conversion


-XY Shift


To support SDIs, future development would definitely benefit from the ability to re-project map data “on the fly.”

Overall I found the system impressive, though there may be a way to go on development and usability. It seems the team is well on its way and has the right support to make this a great open-source option for desktop and enterprise GIS.


While I haven’t tested it out yet, the system appears to have a full range of vector editing tools. Users can also create new layers. Users have the ability to export layers in shape, Oracle spatial, dxf, postGIS, GML raster and annotation.

Other Stuff

In addition to the MAC platform, at FOSS4G2007 the first migration of the gvSIG product ( to mobile platforms was presented. This first launch is a brand-new open-source GIS client to be used in PDAs, with a good set of capabilities which fills a gap in the FOSS4G panorama, under a GPL license.


The third gvSIG Conference will be celebrated the next November 14th, 15th, and 16th in the Valencia Conference Centre. Congrats to the entire gvSIG Team for the contributions they have made thus far. I’m looking forward to following its development.

My World GIS for the Mac

UPDATE: My World GIS is no longer being developed and may not work with the latest operating systems.

(2007) Earlier this summer I made the switch to a MacBook Pro OS-X. While I knew there was a dearth of GIS software for the Mac, I knew all the other reasons for a switch made good sense for me. I continue to use my PC only for GIS needs and every time I use it I hate to boot up the system at all. I have been searching for an easy, inexpensive GIS system to use on my Mac and have been continually disappointed – until now.

First, let me give a quick overview of what I have found… (a more comprehensive review of these systems is on The tools I’ve downloaded so far are Quantum GIS (QGIS), UDig, SimpleDEMViewer, and OpenOX-Grass. The biggest disappointment is none of the really easy ones have any ANALYSIS capability — I personally don’t think it is a GIS if you can’t analyze the data. Viewing the data is great, but I definitely need more. Also, let me admit I am not sophisticated enough of a Mac user yet to do everything required to run OpenOX-Grass (it requires Apple X11) but I will try to work toward this because it does look very powerful and the price (~$60 US) is right. Also, QGIS with Grass support looks very promising (if I can figure out how to implement it). My conclusion with these existing programs is that those that are easy enough to plug-and-play lack basic analysis capabilities, and those that show promise for being very powerful are limited by not being plug-and-play.

This brings me to a review of My World GIS (v4.1.1) for the Mac (it can also run on a PC). So far I have been pleasantly surprised.

My World GIS

Northwestern University has developed a GIS called My World, which engages ESRI’s MapObjects Java technology. My World is distributed by Pasco Scientific ( Built in Java, My World runs on Macintosh OSX and Windows environments. It provides a robust subset of capabilities from a professional GIS environment, including multiple projections, table and map view, hyperlinks, and a common language approach to conducting analyses. It is marketed to educators, but licensing is also available for non-educational use (for research or other non-educational uses) directly from Northwestern University (currently priced at $99 US per single license). There is a fully functional 45-day trial period available.

Data File Types

My World supports the following types of data files and/or folders for reading and writing shape data:

* ESRI Shapefile, Comma-Separated Values, Tab-Separated Values, and GPX Waypoint Files; plus a variety of Grid and Image file types, and WMS data feeds (more info here).

Adding Your Own Data

I did find adding my own shape files a bit confusing at first since My World doesn’t support the shape files in their native projection and requires them to be un-projected. That this wasn’t totally straight-forward was my only real disappointment with My World. But once I got past the hassle involved with importing my own data, I had a lot of fun with this program.

“My World accepts shape data only in Unprojected Latitude and Longitude in Decimal Degrees, and the longitude must be in the range -180 to +180 (rather than 0 to 360).

If your data uses another projection or different units, you can use My World to un-project and convert it to the proper units by selecting Un-Project Shapefile… from the File menu, or by clicking the Import Data From File… button in Construct mode.

My World accepts projected grid and image data, but you must know all the details of the projection used to project that data before you can use it in My World.”

How I added my own shape files… (some data does come pre-packaged)

I had to really experiment with this before being able to import my shape files and have them show correctly on the map. I was successful using the following steps:

1. I copied my existing data into a temporary folder before using the “Un-project” function (and DEFINITELY HAD A BACKUP OF MY ORIGINAL DATA ON AN EXTERNAL DRIVE).

2. I also created a new folder in the Data directory (in the My World application folder) to hold my data after I un-projected it.

3. When I used the “Un-Project” function, I saved the new files into the new directory folder (I got errors every time I just replaced the existing files).

4. I then deleted the temporary folder containing copies of my original data (My World gets confused if it finds 2 datasets with the same name).

5. Under the “Construct” tab, I added my data to the map by simply dragging and dropping the layer from the Library to the Layer list.

6. You can set the map projection later.

Now the fun part – seeing what My World can do.

Note, under the Visualize and Edit tabs, single click a layer to make it active and double click the layer to set parameters or edit.

Cartographic Features

I am pleasantly surprised by the cartographic capabilities of My World. You can outline and fill polygons with any standard or custom RGB value, easy create color ramps, categorize data, create dot density maps, transparencies, etc. If you’re familiar with commercial GIS platforms it should be pretty intuitive (and maybe even easier). There are about 20 shapes for point symbols, all of which you can control the size, color and transparency.

Labels (Annotation)

In My World you don’t label features per se, you create annotations. This wasn’t intuitive and was kind of buried in the documentation (especially since I was expecting labeling to be done in the same place as symbology), but it was really easy to do once I figured it out. Under the Edit tab, you have to click create new layer. One option you will be presented with for the new layer type is “Annotation.” You can then create an annotation layer from an existing layer, select the existing database field for the annotation, choose from a wide array for fonts, colors, sizes, style, alignment etc. While you can’t do a halo, you can do a background block color and make it transparent to help your text stand out. And since it is annotation, you can just select and move your text around to improve placement. Pretty sweet.


This is by far my favorite part.


Not only is it robust, but the analysis menu is also super easy to use. Again, if you know GIS and how to do analysis it should be pretty intuitive. Otherwise, there is pretty good documentation available. For example, I was able to very easily “select by spatial relationship” all the building features (first layer) that were within 15 feet of all commercial properties (second layer)(see example). You have the option to save this as a new layer, or make it a selected subset of the existing layer. All the analysis capabilities for selecting by value, by comparing values, by spatial relationship; combining by intersect, union, subtract, and clip; adding fields by math operation, by copying values, reclassifying, computing distances, and selecting members; creating charts of the data, buffering data; dissolving, summarizing statistics, and converting data are all in one place, intuitive and easy to use, and come with a menu complete with graphic depiction of the operation. Wow.

Editing Data

From the edit tab, you can create new layers and/or edit the geometry and data for any of your existing layers, including grids. I easily moved vertices and created new polygons. A note of caution, it seems to automatically save your changes, but there is an undo button or ctrl-Z.

Other Stuff

Overall, the data were pretty zippy to load large files and Web Map Services (WMS). While this wont replace your enterprise GIS, it is a fine system for stand-alone GIS use on your Mac. Besides my own use, my kid’s school only has a Mac computer lab and I now have a good option for getting GIS into their curriculum. I personally am thrilled to have a functional GIS option for my Mac.

My World GIS – I put in the category of “robust low-cost GIS; professionals will be surprised.”

Loss of Free Data Services

Access to free web mapping services has many of us hooked – but what does the future have in store? Here is a recent experience with free going to fee. It leaves me wondering where the industry is heading over the long haul regarding web mapping services, and at what cost. Shortly after September 11th I assisted the (former) Indiana State Emergency Management Agency to set up GIS in their Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC also coordinates mapping efforts with the Indiana National Guard. The programs were set up on limited staff and budgets. For storms, floods, tornadoes and the like, weather data is essential but wasn’t being provided in the needed format (a web map service – WMS) from the National Weather Service.

Luckily we found and pulled the data from their WMS. Over the course of a couple years, I have pointed many professional GIS’ers to this source of free data. I recently learned from my friends at the National Guard that AccuWeather has stopped providing their service for free and now is subscription-based. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate that this is an industry and businesses are here to make money. I certainly don’t fault AccuWeather for going to a subscription service. However, it leaves us at a loss for an important data source.

With the obvious homeland security implications, and the infrastructure in place, I am left wondering why the National Weather Service isn’t making a free weather WMS a priority. It also leaves me wondering what is in store for us all as we become increasingly reliant on web map services provided by others. WMS is a powerful way for us to leverage geospatial technologies. I’m one among many who are enthusiastic about their potential. However, we need to approach the future with our open eyes. What is the long-term availability, reliability, and cost of this technology? Will we all get hooked and the then the rules change? What will that mean to our projects, and our budgets? I’d love to hear your thoughts (and if you know of another free weather WMS, please pass it on!)

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