That looks like a GIS map

I was talking about web cartography with a client today and he was saying how he can tell any map made with GIS in a couple seconds. While he did admit that he has been fooled quite a bit, he was still disappointed that there really hasn’t been mainstream improvements to quality of maps. I think he’s a little blinded by the average ArcMap document produced as most of them look alike because many GIS professionals seem to just be happy with the default symbology (or just don’t know how to take advantage of Cartographic Representations). Now this is somewhat unfair to ESRI as most desktop GIS clients seem to fall into these faults.

OK, but why is this a problem? Tonight, while watching ASU fall apart against Fresno State in College Baseball, a couple of us came up with some ideas:

  • We all graduated 1995 and earlier and we all had many cartography classes in college. Do today’s GIS students not get traditional cartographic education?
  • The ease of desktop GIS clients has made “hacking” cartography elements unnecessary. The default symbology is good enough and there is no need to spend time tweaking lines, points, or polygons.
  • Users of the maps (be it clients, project managers, creators) don’t value cartography. The savings of quickly producing a map outweighs excellent cartography.
  • The phrase, “Good enough for government work” is used way too frequently in GIS shops.

What do you think? We all see amazing cartography and some of it is very easy to produce. Why can’t we be blowing people’s minds anymore? There are tons of great books out there to help.

Just being better than a Disney map shouldn’t be enough