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Oct
21st
Tue
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October News from The Map Lab

Two+ books and an interview hit the streets recently.

Simon & Schuster’s The West Point History of the Civil War (and the enhanced ebook version) features an abundance of maps (many animated for the ebook).  Bruce has been providing cartographic guidance and enhancement for this project.  He’s honored to be acknowledged as ‘a maestro of mapmaking’ and looks forward to the music and mapping continuing through the American Revolution and World War II.

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The Map Lab has the distinct pleasure to have its work included in the NACIS Atlas of Design as an example of some of the ‘world’s most beautiful and intriguing cartographic design.’  The Asheville Map™ is the first publication under The Map Lab’s Best Local Map brand.

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Reporter Jordan McArthur sought the expertise of a cartographer as he was writing about event planning and the use of maps to enhance attendees’ experience.  Bruce spoke with him in some detail about maps’ ability to convey information and resonance of place at the same time. The full article can be found here.

Oct
17th
Fri
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The Edge of the (Map) World - in two parts

Explorers, travelers, and mapmakers have long sought to know what’s beyond the edge of the map. And it’s still true today.

Part 1 - Digital Context


A key problem of maps on digital devices today is how difficult it is to understand a larger context beyond what is displayed on a small screen. Understanding context in the digital realm is exacerbated by a number of factors: an ever-changing scale which is often not even shown; density of information tending to remain constant no matter what the zoom; the styling of many graphic elements remaining unchanged from zoom to zoom (roads remaining the same thickness, type remaining the same size). All of which deny the user clues of scale or context.

Certainly the user has, at their fingertips (literally), the ability and tools to investigate context. The opportunity to zoom and scroll, tilt and rotate, and swipe around the world in well less than 80 days makes context available — it just takes some physical and mental doing.

I like to think of these limitations as an indicator of how maps on devices can evolve and I’ve spent some time exploring possibilities to improve contextual awareness.

One approach is the incorporation of something I call a Proximity Panel. Invoked by a swipe or other user action, a temporary list appears showing 15-20 prominent landmarks (towns or features) that are nearby (dependent on zoom level).

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Selecting a list item zooms the map to include both your current  display-center location and the chosen landmark.  

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It’s a quick way to locate with reference to a recognized location.

Another new approach to help reveal context draws inspiration from atlas page edges that indicate the adjacent map. Developed in conjunction with a former colleague, this mockup displays the names of nearby landmarks at the screen edge.

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As the user moves the map around, the edge labels move and change in dynamic relation to the displayed map. Selecting an edge label can either move the map to that location or, again, zoom the map to include both your current display-center location and the chosen landmark.

There’s no question that providing an easier way to understand map context can greatly improve user experience. It’s an exciting challenge for cartographers and developers and I’m eager to see and participate in the evolution of this aspect of mapping systems.

Next up: Part 2 - Extending the edges of a paper map.

Feb
26th
Wed
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More about paper

I recently wrote a blog entry for The Map Lab’s new brand, Best Local Map, focusing on the choice of paper for its premier product, The Asheville Map.™

So it was with some interest that I read of the current adoration of the A-Z maps, prompting a musical!

Feb
17th
Mon
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Are we there yet?

Road travel with gps, Google Maps and Apple Maps

Part 2 of a series on my mapping world

“In 200 feet, turn right onto Perdido Way” and we follow turn by turn to arrive at our destination at the exact time predicted by our device which has already taken into account traffic (historical and current) and road conditions. One hardly even needs cartographic visuals to find your way to a destination as long as you have Siri, Jack, Daniel or any number of other disembodied voices directing you left and right.

Clearly, directions from point A to B are a key interaction people have with maps. But maps are also the invitation and support system for exploring. Sometimes that exploration is by choice and at other times, like during some of my recent holiday travel, weather and traffic combine to seduce one off their planned route.

What’s particularly missing on mobile and gps devices is the ability to easily gain a sense of context. Sure you can zoom in and out, but information magically disappears, reappears and changes. Case in point: Harpers Ferry, a key town on our drive from Asheville to Baltimore makes its appearance only briefly as a location on Apple and Google maps, supplanted instead by Bolivar.

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Now I have nothing against Bolivar. I’m confident that its geo-metadata pegs its population higher than Harpers Ferry (which only has 286 people according to the 2010 census), but in the eyes of a guy who grew up in Maryland, Harpers Ferry holds a much more prominent position in the area landscape — physically and historically. And for the casual driver it’s the place where you drive through Virginia, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland all in a matter of minutes … unless you decide to stick around.

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Difficulties in understanding context stem not just from fluctuating information, but also from the visual and informational conventions that mapping systems have adopted.

Consider the lowly scale bar found on printed road maps. Google seems to have no need for a scale bar on iPad or iPhone. Apple has no scale on iPad, but displays a dynamic scale bar on the iPhone only during pinch zooming, which despite being cool to look at, seems totally reverse of what would be most useful to a user.

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GPS units tend to have a scale bar in overview. Even when a scale bar exists, its usefulness is less than on a print map where a given distance can be assessed and understood within a known area of the map and then related to the area one is looking at. Simply knowing the numeric information of distance, while helpful, still lacks context in the digital display.

Another convention that combats context is the display of lines and labels. Zoom into twice the scale … and many lines stay the same width, most type stays the same size, and general information density stays at the same level, making it difficult to have an intuitive sense of relative scale, as in the following example.

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While this standard takes advantage of the fluidity of digital multi scale display, it’s counter to one’s natural visual perception of elements getting bigger as you move closer to them.

Aside from context, another limitation of our mapping devices is the bonded tie to data. Cartographers have often taken poetic license with accuracy in order to portray information for the best readability of the geo data. But data driven devices and the algorithms that turn that data into display currently fail to factor in the possibility of “inaccurate” display in order to increase communication. With I-81 at a standstill, we chose to exit onto paralleling Lee Highway, an adventure we were glad to take, though its route was sometimes obscured by I-81 on our devices. imageimage

We discovered some non-interstate joys along the way.

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So, are we there yet? My answer is that we’ve still got a ways to go. I’m as attached to device maps as anyone — I just want them to get better and address more of the cartographic issues aside from getting from A to B. I believe that the next big steps in mapping systems will involve a concentrated amount of hand working — of data and data placement and design. We also need to reexamine some of the accepted interface conventions, finding new possibilities for giving context and making maps more about the beauty and adventure which cartographic artistry has always celebrated.

Dec
3rd
Tue
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Mapping Pursuits - first in a series

Today I begin a series of longer posts looking at my mapping world.

Part I: The Asheville Map or What I Did Last Summer

I live in a town where analog is celebrated, where the old buildings survived the urban “renewal” of the 1960’s and 70’s, and where traditional craft re-emerges through new artistry. I’ve been wanting to make a map of Asheville since I first visited in 2005. For a city that draws upwards of 4 million visitors each year, I found both a need and opportunity, since the available maps have been wildly scale-free, advertising-driven, an unmanageable size, simply inaccurate, unattractive, or likely a combination of those qualities. Having a longstanding profession of designing maps, I wanted to create a map that could be worthy of the love of place I feel for this community. In fact, it was the strong and diverse sense of community that seduced my wife and me to move here in ’09, and here was an opportunity to give back some of our capabilities.

In April we began the project in earnest, with my wife serving as editorial director and overall creative collaborator, setting tone and content together. The Asheville Map began to take shape as a printed paper map available for sale. image

Paper, both as an homage to the traditional side of Asheville and as a visitor keepsake, and for sale because it could distinguish itself from other offerings by being free of advertising or sponsorship. I saw an additional opportunity for the map to impact the community in a tangible way and potentially promote the map in the process by earmarking a significant portion of the proceeds to benefit a local non-profit.

MANNA FoodBank has been addressing hunger and food insecurity in Western North Carolina for over 30 years and is the designated beneficiary of The Asheville Map. In some ways it was an easy choice. MANNA’s mission serves such a primal human need – one that still exists even in communities that support a bounty of food, farms and restaurants. MANNA’s stature and profile in WNC is well embedded and respected, and despite their terrific work, the need for their services remains greater than their resources. Perhaps as well there was some genetic proclivity to address the problem of hunger in today’s society. Well into the project I became aware that contributing to hunger relief was a choice my mother and grandmother had each made.

Along side the analog, the old, and the tradition is a progressive and aware populace and infrastructure. Through colleagues and friends The Asheville Map began to be realized with a wealth of publicly available data from the city, county and state.image

The visual style grew out our desire to embrace two elements of Asheville. Firstly, to show the topography of this mountain town, which no other map seems to even take note of. The map presents shaded relief in an appropriately Blue Ridge Mountains palette. image

Secondly, to fuse Asheville’s bright circus-like atmosphere through color and style with a cartographically accurate and detailed map.image

Two elements of production took more focus than anticipated.

In our desire to make the paper map as useful as it is attractive, we located hundreds of points of interest, chosen to reflect the diverse and local nature of Asheville. Particular attention was given to food related POI’s, including the plethora of breweries which ended up getting their own symbol.image

Food is important in this town on a number of levels: it’s a rich growing area; it’s a foodie town with great restaurants for locals and visitors; and the map sales benefit those in need of food. We also included POI’s that are particularly relevant to visitors, such as downtown gas stations, pharmacies, state liquor stores, dog parks, and river access.image

Curating and checking the POI’s and working through the sometimes difficult on-map placement ended up taking much more effort than we expected.image

Conceiving and designing the cover image was also an exploration that required many iterations. We knew we wanted an evocative image that captured the spirit of the community and the idea of a map cartouche came to us early in the production schedule. But working out the right image took some experimentation.image

The background image was a photo taken one stormy evening and, once treated, started to set the tone of the cover. The hula hoop defining the cartouche was the next element to fall in place. And finally connecting with a local baker (Jodi Rhoden, owner of Short Street Cakes) brought in the inviting sense of Southern hospitality through a spectacular banana split cake! Our goal was to blend the seductive, nostalgic and hip sides of Asheville in one cover design and we kept working through images and designs until we were satisfied that we had it nailed.

An early and important decision was defining the geographic extents of the map. We opted to show a larger area of central Asheville than most other maps here. The larger central area includes neighborhoods where downtown buzz is branching out, where breweries and restaurants are starting to open. And the larger area includes much of the River Arts District where artist studios have replaced warehouses and light industry. The Central Asheville extent shows a unified core of the city, encompassing both downtown and the vibrant downtown-adjacent neighborhoods.image

The other side of the map, labeled Metro Asheville, covers a much larger area and names many of the areas physical features. The Biltmore Estate is a huge portion of the overall metro map and we worked closely with them to determine what would be shown on the estate. Comprehensive neighborhood names are important in orienting visitors to the overall community and are not found on the other local map offerings. Biltmore Village gets its own inset, as does a Regional Map of western North Carolina.image

I’m happy with the results of our project. We’ve created a map that is full of detail and visual richness. It’s a guide that extends beyond the paper map and I’ll go into that in detail in an upcoming post. For now I have to get back to marketing it!

Oct
7th
Mon
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Prepping for NACIS

Just sent The Asheville Map to press and am preparing a talk for the NACIS conference, beginning Wednesday in Greenville SC. Addressing the opportunity for cartographers to consider aerial and satellite imagery as part of their design toolbox, not just data.

Working on an idea where light moves across a map revealing the shape and texture of terrain as it goes.  I’ll post when the visuals are done.

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Remember that beautiful data from my June 20 post… well here’s how some of it turned out.
The Asheville Map goes to press on Friday. Perhaps it’s an homage to paper print map design.  In any case, when it goes on sale, a good portion of the profits will support MANNA FoodBank, providing food to 16 counties in Western North Carolina. Each map sold provides funds for more than one meal. I’ll post a link to purchase the map ($2.99 + s/h) as soon as it’s ready.

Remember that beautiful data from my June 20 post… well here’s how some of it turned out.

The Asheville Map goes to press on Friday. Perhaps it’s an homage to paper print map design.  In any case, when it goes on sale, a good portion of the profits will support MANNA FoodBank, providing food to 16 counties in Western North Carolina. Each map sold provides funds for more than one meal. I’ll post a link to purchase the map ($2.99 + s/h) as soon as it’s ready.

Jul
23rd
Tue
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Love the visual comparison here:
"Track of the British Royal Navy flagships HMS Iron Duke and HMS Queen Elizabeth during World War One."
"Mapping the World’s Biggest Airlines."

Love the visual comparison here:

"Track of the British Royal Navy flagships HMS Iron Duke and HMS Queen Elizabeth during World War One."

"Mapping the World’s Biggest Airlines."

Jun
25th
Tue
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Imagery has such evocative capabilities, mostly untapped in map-embedded aerial images.  Here are a couple examples that hint at a richer map imagery experience.  

(Source: time-for-maps)

 

Jun
20th
Thu
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The Beauty of Raw Data
I am working on a map of my town and here’s a stack of raw, unstyled GIS data (1 point black line).  It shows such a beautiful fabric of the city, that I am tempted to print it as is!  Future promise:  I’ll post the final styled version of this as well when complete.

The Beauty of Raw Data

I am working on a map of my town and here’s a stack of raw, unstyled GIS data (1 point black line).  It shows such a beautiful fabric of the city, that I am tempted to print it as is!  Future promise:  I’ll post the final styled version of this as well when complete.