Q: Making Maps is an weird cartography book – what were some of the ideas behind its creation?
A: A NACIS Conference (Oct. 12-15 in Salt Lake City) included a panel of critics (Stuart Allan, George McCleary, Peter Keller, Margaret Pearce) interrogating Cindy Brewer’s new book Designing Better Maps (ESRI Press, 2005) and Making Maps. I prepared a statement about the intent and ideas that shaped the look and content of Making Maps.
Making Maps: A Visual Guide to Map Design for GIS: Author’s Intent
When Peter Wissoker (then of Guilford Publications) asked me to write a cartography text, I told him the world did not need another cartography text. The number of academic cartography courses were not growing, and probably declining, despite the explosive growth of GIS. Peter then asked if I liked existing cartography texts, and I said I did not use them in my courses. “So what kind of text would you use, if it existed?” asked he. This question led to Making Maps. I wanted a book that would get readers excited about maps (existing texts are rather languid), I wanted good examples to show why map design matters and how it works (also not found in abundance in existing texts), and I wanted to promote creativity – fundamental to good map design, and difficult to teach. Denis helped to shape and refine the goals and develop the content of the book.
I designed the book like I would design a map. The audience? Cartography courses, maybe as a supplement, GIS courses, certainly as a supplement, and individuals who make maps (or like maps) but don’t have a background in cartography, and don’t want to be academic cartographers. Then what? Coherent concept, a hierarchy of content emphasizing what is important and excising the rest, creative design to grab attention and make a point, all so that the book works as well as possible for its readers. A few key ideas shaped the design of Making Maps:
1. Maps are visual, so make the book visual (rather than textual), to promote visual thinking and creativity, both fundamental to map design. As far as possible, focus each page on maps and arrange text around the maps (rather than the reverse, which is what other texts do). To subsume text and emphasize the maps required a profound generalization of all the words about maps that dominate cartographic texts. We promote maps as a vital way of seeing patterns in data that would not otherwise be evident, and stress that less is better than more. Apply these ideas to a map design text: carefully designed maps, rather than words, used to reveal map design principles.
2. It is impossible to teach map design without good and creative examples, but it helps to have poor examples to contrast with the good to show how and why design matters. Eduard Imhof used this visual approach to the map design process in his classic article on map type, and I applied this idea throughout Making Maps. I also tried to incorporate good and creative design in all the maps in the book, supposing one can learn by seeing.
3. Enthusiasm and excitement about maps abound in a world where maps and the tools to make them proliferate, so design the book to espouse enthusiasm and excitement about maps. Many of the real maps in the book comprise a cartography of affect – hate crimes, AIDS deaths, bombing sprees, hurricane impacts, war deaths, poverty, alcohol, queer geography, projected naked bodies, suicide, radioactive fallout, military targeting maps, spiritual geographies, and aliens. The text and maps were also infused with a ludic sensibility – humor, farce, satire, sarcasm, irony and play. The mystery maps that preface the book and are between chapters encourage playful engagement (what is it?) with maps, their visual form, and the curious things we can map. Engaged emotion and play promote enthusiasm and excitement about maps, and creativity in their design, counter-balancing the stern normative content (rules, regulations, good/poor, do this-not that’s) in Making Maps.
Making Maps covers the basics of maps and map design, although I do believe it to be more sophisticated than it may appear at first glance. I am pondering Making Maps II, or Making More Maps, and what exactly a more “advanced” cartographic design text might look like.