Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ways to Design Better Maps from a Noted Cartographer

The maps in Cynthia A. Brewer’s Designed Maps: A Sourcebook for GIS Users look lavish enough to hang on a wall. But the author hopes the cartographic work featured in her new book from ESRI Press will be seen not just as pretty maps. She would like the maps to be viewed as visual solutions to design challenges that geographic information system (GIS) users and other mapmakers face on a daily basis.

“Map designers work from visual examples. Some GIS users receive little exposure to a variety of strong designs. I wanted to put some good-looking maps in front of them and help them build their own abilities to make excellent maps,” said Brewer, a cartographer and professor in the Department of Geography at The Pennsylvania State University.

The book is a companion to Brewer’s 2005 ESRI Press best seller, Designing Better Maps: A Guide for GIS Users. She differentiates between the two, explaining that while the first book focused more on cartographic design specifics, such as map labeling, color use, layout creation, and legend design, “Designed Maps provides the inspiration for excellent design.”

Of the more than 70 maps featured in the book, Brewer chose six to redesign. She refashioned each three different ways to show readers some alternatives. “The intent of the redesigns is not to improve on the original map, but simply to show different approaches one could take depending on audience and the medium in which the map will be displayed,” she wrote in the book. “These redesigns emphasize different features by using alternative color palettes and symbols. With each map design, I’ve pointed out the specific symbols, fonts, fills, and colors I used, which will help you create similar effects.”

The maps selected for publication in Designed Maps came from several sources including the Map Gallery at the ESRI International User Conference. The stunning topographic maps include one of Switzerland that artfully renders the high-relief landscape. Readers also will find navigation maps such as a Paris street map that uses brightly colored labels to pinpoint clubs and tourist attractions; visitor and recreation maps like the one of Chicago’s bike trails; infrastructure maps including a New York City road resurfacing map; categorical maps such as one depicting chimpanzee ranges in Africa; and quantitative maps including one excerpted from the Census Atlas of the United States that shows the largest net migrations of people between California and other states in the years 1955–1960 and 1995–2000.

Brewer also includes an ArcMap Tips section, complete with example images of cartographic effects, for experienced users of ESRI’s ArcGIS software. “I also wanted GIS users to learn about the cartographic tools that are buried among the GIS tools,” she said. “Seeing something you want to accomplish—whether it’s a special line effect, a transparency effect, or a color combination—is a way to get you to go hunting for the tools that offer that capability.”

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