ICC2015

The 27th International Cartographic Conference took place in Rio de Janeiro from 24th to 28th August and I was lucky enough to attend. Here is a summary of my week.

As the Ordnance Survey representative at these events, on arrival at my hotel I was very relieved to learn that our exhibition materials had arrived. I had sought confirmation from the hotel before the trip but had no response so seeing a big wooden crate with my name on it at the hotel was somewhat satisfying. The cartographic exhibitions are set up by individual exhibitors the day before the conference, so again relieved when my monstrous crate just about fit into the back of a taxi and then on arrival at the conference centre, having carried it up to the second floor, the main problem to solve that day was how to open it! With the friendly help of the exhibition organisers and two local workmen with their power tools, we were eventually able to remove screws and nails to retrieve the maps.
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In previous exhibitions there has been too much similarity between the maps. While nations are still exhibiting their best topographic maps, the increased tendency to showcase something a bit different is something I welcome. It was nice being placed next to Slovakia in the exhibition who were showcasing some very different maps to our own.

We exhibited our map from the Glasgow Commonwealth Games which was of great interest to the Brazilians with the Olympic Games coming to Rio next year; our map of the V3K skyrun which many people seemed to admire from both their enthusiasm for hill running and having a map of that, as well as the quality of OS topographic mapping mixed with hillshading; a collaborative map we worked on with Marwell Wildlife called Go Rhino!, our ‘minimap’ series of cycle maps which I left folded copies of for people to look at and they all went, so I’m guessing people liked those; an example of some of our event mapping for OS events on Eventbrite; and last but not least our floor map which was easily the most talked about item in the exhibition all week and I believe went to America with Ken Field of ESRI after the conference. Guess we need something more exciting than detailed topography on a floor to wow the judges though, so CartoDesign team at OS already have their thinking caps on for Washington 2017!
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I am still involved in automatic label placement at work and am currently writing a reference piece on lettering and labelling, so I very much noticed the different labelling methods and examples across all the maps and there were some very good illustrations of how to position, space and curve text as well as numerous examples of hierarchy.

As I mentioned earlier, the cartographic exhibition from Slovakia was of particular interest. It largely consisted of a range of thematic maps, all small-scale maps of the country for specific uses including where to hunt and fish, a map for visiting bikers (motorcyclists) and another of winery and agritourism. Whilst I wasn’t bowled over by the underlying cartography of the base maps, many of us have this idea of producing very bespoke maps for different types of user, or in this case specifically a specific type of tourist or visitor, and yet very few organisations actually produce them. So I applaud Slovakia for this and the very graphic and powerful overlay with the strong drop shadow was a nice difference to the subtleties of our own maps and was a feature of several other maps in the exhibition.
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A small selection of the other maps that grabbed my attention can be seen below, apologies as usual my smartphone is not great at capturing them, I might buy a new one soon!

And finally the one I voted for as the best paper map was this map of ship wrecks in the North Sea from the Netherlands:
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The official winners can be seen on the ICA website. Although as always I felt that the children stole the show in the Barbara Petchenik competition. Award winners can be seen on the ICA website but my personal favourites are here. As always the entries from Indonesia were particularly eye-catching.
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In the paper presentations I made many specific notes relevant to current and potential projects at work but the three main things that interested me were:

1) Urban landmarks
I saw yet more evidence, based on studying human behaviour in urban areas, to suggest that navigational and landmark features have evolved based upon society. While there is still valid use of OS showing churches as navigational aids due to their prominence in village and small town skylines, in larger urban areas places such as supermarkets and shopping malls have possibly become more important to geographic location awareness than traditional landmarks such as pubs. Also as our cities grow and become increasingly urban, the areas of natural environment such as parks are becoming increasingly key to navigation – as they are to urban life and community/social engagement. In the UK I notice an ever-changing high street so perhaps shops have also lost their navigational value. I would be very interested to see a study on a major city to see how traditional tourist attractions such as museums or iconic structures stack up as landmark features against the shopping malls, supermarkets and parks of the city. I wonder how this would vary by age group, and what types of maps this might affect.

2) Web mapping
Public perception may still be that web mapping is Google but for what is now old hat I actually believe this area of cartography is still in its adolescence.

Concentrating on the cartography, institutions are only just starting to crack the algorithms and data classification to give us proper label placement. Look at the text on a paper map and then look at Google Maps. Nearly all maps on web and mobile still use horizontal, point-based placement. Whilst this makes life easier for consistency of zoom stacks, there is no perspectival representation of the real world features to which the labels refer.

Furthermore, when it comes to web map services I believe most cartographic companies are still significantly behind the rest of the (web) design world. At OS we have a web and mobile team which employs a significant number of user experience experts all with a background in modern technologies. I firmly believe this was a great decision and the other mapping companies around the world really need to look at their own approaches.

3) Scientific, GIS and general geodata use
Visualisation of geodata is still king! While a lot of good work is being done on using geodata without the need to see any of it, for many the visualisation of geodata provides a valuable tool. There was and is perhaps no clearer illustration of the power of this than the presentation by the University of Pretoria on the use of geodata visualisations in court to help secure convictions in murder cases in South Africa. However the same presentation and several others during the week also highlighted the room for improvement in the visualisation of this data with training often required in order to successfully understand the visuals, many of which I felt could be shown in a far more obvious and powerful manner. Also of note, the application of cartographic techniques seems to be on the increase in the world of 3D.
 

As one of many involved in the European Location Framework project, it was very encouraging to see the approving reception from the delegates from other continents. On the subject of international collaboration, ICC also marked the opening of the United Nations’ ‘International Map Year’. Please visit mapyear.org to find out more and see how you can get involved.

I also presented for OS on ‘The relevance of a Cartographer in a data-centric marketplace‘. A paper I wrote on new developments in cartographic design, with my oral presentation concentrating on the geomarketing elements.

All of the papers from ICC can be viewed either in full or as an abstract on the conference webpages.

Posters are often undervalued medium of communication at conferences. It is worth remembering that ICC posters are actually condensed papers, so they require a lot of thought and research. I was particularly impressed with this poster researching the impact of Taras G. Shevchenko across Ukraine. To me it successfully showcased the scientific research whilst also telling a story by means of some well-designed maps.
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The conference was worthwhile as always and it was good to see some new faces in South America, although the location did present its problems too. The final word has to go to 国家测绘地理信息局, the Chinese National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation for providing the biggest and most comprehensive exhibition stand I have ever witnessed at a conference.
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