Okay to design small but always think big

Apologies, the tips for cartographic design with Adobe are coming but I am still busy finishing a map project. In the meantime I have decided to share this short thought as a post:

General purpose web or device mapping may be a gateway to the masses but more often than not, when we make maps, the audience is relatively small, even bespoke or niche. There is no harm in designing small, it focuses on the user or target audience and delivers the best results.

However, you never know what or who you might inspire or be contributing towards. So perhaps there is an argument for always thinking big.

So last week my ‘adopted’ 15-year-old was given English homework to write about something they had a strong opinion for that others may oppose. I assume to aid their ability to debate and put forward reasoned arguments. I suggested the EU referendum but he chose the safer subject of books and reading.

After helping him to articulate his own feelings, I encouraged him to look online at what others have said for and against books as a medium for storytelling. My favourite being a quote apparently from Mark Twain, ‘The man who does not read (good books) has no advantage over the man who cannot read.’

We also discussed and compared books versus film adaptations and video games. And we surmised you can learn from them all. I wonder if Twain would have agreed.

Then this morning I was watching BBC Click. Stanford University are researching the use of virtual reality (VR) to educate people as a form of self-improvement. For example to experience sexual harassment as a woman, or to become a minority and experience violent discrimination. Bringing home to people the reality, effect and experience of their own biases and attitudes, to change the way you see yourself and others. It reminded me of the powerful interactive story telling of the New York Times and others.

This combined with the news of the Soyuz landing made me consider how important such stories can be. Education depends upon them. The media frenzy may inspire a generation of children to be interested in space and science; but when there is such an enormous geographic element to the story with so much data (not just for example Mars but also in how the Soyuz left the International Space Station (ISS) and landed safely back on Earth – its journey), then it is imperative that this data/story/information be delivered in a way that captures as many imaginations as possible and perhaps multiple mediums are required to do so.

In short, there is a strong link to the cartographic ideals of good storytelling and/or good communication of information. And that this may take on many forms, even ones that may not have been in the original plan or intentions of the author, data creator or cartographer.

So while I 100% support paper-based communication and the ongoing development of web-GIS, we need to embrace new technology as an overwhelmingly pervasive medium to communicate better to different audiences. Today that might be web, video games, VR, apps and devices; perhaps even serving people information better through APIs; but we also need to design for tomorrow.

In summary, I guess the thought I’m sharing is that cartographic design is rapidly evolving. It is no longer sufficient to just make a map. We must understand the value of the data and the importance of what could be achieved if everybody can access, visualise and understand that information. From inspiring children and entrepreneurs, to stamping out prejudices and the ugly behaviour seen at Euro 2016; our future as a cohesive society may well depend upon it and us as cartographers can play our part, even if it is only a small one.


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