Opinions on GIS maps

James Fee wrote an interesting post a few days ago: “That looks like a GIS map“, which sparked some good comments there and on a related Cartotalk thread.

I think in the long run, it doesn’t matter so much in which application a map is produced. True, some offer more tools and tricks than others, and I would pick the Illustrator/MAPublisher combo over anything else every time, but ultimately, it’s how much time you spend on perfecting the map that makes the difference between ‘good enough’ and ‘great’. The human factor is still the one defining the final look and feel of the map.

Whenever I label a map, I often end up going back time and again to tweak it just a little bit more. We’re talking minute changes here… “move this text half a mm to the left and it’ll look a little bit better”, that sort of thing. And yes, that takes a lot of time and sometimes the budget and/or deadline don’t allow for that level of sophistication. In a way, a complex map is never finished… it doesn’t get published, it escapes!

Part of the problem that James identifies lies with education. Most GIS classes don’t focus on (cartographic) design that much. I think that’s a major problem. Looking at the local job market here in The Netherlands, it seems there’s more GIS/cartography job openings than people looking for them. Wouldn’t it be ironic that in a time of renewed interest in the geo-market (Google Earth, navigation systems), we run out of cartographers and GIS people?

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