There was an article today on Slate.com in regards to David Imus‘ CaGIS’s “Best in Show” award-winning map of the United States. The story was also picked-up by Uber-nerd tech blog Gizmodo!
Even though this map has been out for a while (I think the map had to be published in 2010 to be eligible for the 2011 award) there are a couple items to take away from the Slate article. As the readers of this blog know cartography is both a science and an art. The Slate article discusses how Mr. Imus spent a tremendous amount of time placing labels and focusing on the details. For anyone who has every been involved with a large cartography project knows the best GIS label placement algorithms will not place all the labels in the best locations from a design perspective. I’ve personally seen drastic differences in how ArcGIS places labels compared to Quantum, or how Quantum places labels compared to CadCorp. I’ve personally spent hours fixing the location of labels and graphics, but no where near the time Mr. Imus dedicated to this project!.
Beyond proper cartographic construction (the article discusses the use of a conic projection, label placement theory, feature identification, color usage, etc.), the author brings up what I believe is the key to creating a beautiful and effective map. Design. Without having an eye for design a cartographer will often create a map that is often boring or hard to understand. Combine a well designed map with proper cartographic techniques and you get a map like Mr. Imus’. One that is elegant and effective. The map reader should be both interested in the content of the map and the “look and feel” of the map. The design will pull the reader in and the content will keep them interested.
From a technical perspective I’d be interested in getting more information on a couple things, which may be answered when Mr. Imus’ website is back-up and running:
- What set of programs did he use to create the map. We all know there was some component of GIS in this effort, but how much? At what point was this project moved into Adobe Illustrator or a similar graphics program?
- What were the data sources? Did he do any verification?
- How long did this image take to draw on screen? I know that when I have a ton of labels and graphics in a map the drawing time can be horrendous.
- Do you think he has generated tiles of this map and will make them available as a map service? Hey, Esri, call this guy up and add this map to ArcGIS.com!
I believe we need more high quality cartography like this in the world. There is a lot of really good cartography happening in the world today, and people are now more familiar with maps, cartography, and GIS than ever before. Unfortunately, their point of reference of what is a “good map” is the most bland and cartographically boring map I can think of.
Currently, the CaGIS site has the 2010 awards posted. Go and check out some of the past winners. Some are truly impressive maps. Also, Mr. Imus’ website is down (*Update – It was back up as of 1/3/2012). I think he got a lot of traffic today and his hosting company didn’t like it.