Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Web Map Design Likes and Dislikes

August 31st, 2011

GOOD WEB MAP!

  • Speed
  • Non-obtrusive controls
  • Color cohesion with the rest of the page
  • Style contiguity with the rest of the page
  • Scale-dependent rendering of labels
  • Scale-dependent rendering of layers (sometimes)
  • Smart layer draw-order
  • Testing on multiple monitors and browsers

BAD WEB MAP!

  • Lack of adequate color contrast
  • Lots of text that can’t be hidden
  • Too much clicking to get information
  • Too much information
  • Too little information
  • Poor projection choice
  • Data is just plain wrong (it’s been known to happen!)

Quick Map

August 30th, 2011

When working on any GIS / mapping project there will probably be at least a small amount of back-and-forth between you and someone else on the team. Whether that someone else is your co-worker, client, boss, or intern, you need to make sure you use the right words in conjunction with those quickly-created maps that you send back and forth. And the right words would be…

This is a quick-map of … to show you …

This indicates to the recipient that you realize that the map is not up to snuff cartographically speaking, and that your only purpose in sharing it is to have a question answered or to make a quick point.

Reinvesting in your Business: What to Spend the Money On

August 24th, 2011

It is a great position to be in: you have made some profit in your business above and beyond what you need to survive. Congratulations! Now, would you like to go to Aruba or continue expanding your business? Hopefully you have made enough profit to do both, but in the event that your choice is to continue to expand – as it should be if this is the beginning of your business – here are some ideas on what to reinvest in.

To shore up your reinvestment willpower, remember that Alan Weiss of Summit Consulting Group and writer of the popular business blog ContrarianConsulting, says,

“My advice to solo practitioners and boutique firm owners in the professional services business is to never cease increasing your value and seeking out prospects, while solidifying current client relationships“in Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

ON FEAR: Do not be afraid to grow and expand your business by reinvesting profits. While it seems like everyone would naturally reinvest profits for future expansion, it is often not done because the business owner is afraid to spend their hard-earned money on activities that may or may not result in financial gain. However, the uncertainty of gain is a part of business itself and profitable enterprises have very little future if these types of maneuvers aren’t undertaken.

The issue then becomes, which one(s) to choose?

Improving Business Processes via Service Professionals

A lot of solo consultancies use accountants and attorneys, employing these people at the outset. The accountant can get the books started in a proper way, which is preferable to transitioning later from an ad-hoc system to something more efficient. An attorney can look over contracts that you are signing from your clients as well as help you develop your own contracts. The attorney is also used to protect your intellectual content on the internet and to provide you with valuable insight into procedures for successful business as well as referrals to local professionals who can assist you in other matters.

At some point you may also decide that it is time to start hiring sub-consultants to help you with your projects. There are entry-level freelancers who can take over routine tasks, allowing you to focus on the business or advanced work. There are peer-level consultants who you can swap work with when there’s too much to do or too little to do. There are subject-matter experts who you can hire to formally review your work or do a particularly high-level task that you don’t have experience with.

I’ve used sub-consultants in all three categories with great success. It is true that to do so you must give up some of your total revenue. However, it is very much worth it. A few years ago I had some tough analytics to work out and I decided that I needed a statistician PhD to go over everything and make sure it was sound. The few hours of time was worth the peace of mind that I was, indeed, delivering a quality analysis, and I learned several techniques in the process as well.

In the course of my 10-year old business I’ve hired on a contract basis a web developer, graphic designer, two entry-level GIS technicians, and many peer and expert level GIS and cartography professionals.

It is essential to reach out and get help on projects when needed. The aim is to always provide a superior level of service.

Improving Infrastructure

Computer hardware, especially memory and graphics cards, need to be top of the line in many organizations, GIS firms included. You may be stingy on your laptop purchase but go high-end with the desktop if you only need the laptop/netbook/tablet for Web work while on the road. You may need high-end laptops for client work on-site.

A larger firm may want to invest in a centralized server with which to share data and projects as well as disk space for backups. While I put this is the “infrastructure” section, these items can be virtual, of course, in the sense that the server, backups, and other items can be purchased as cloud services.

Whatever you need, this is something you can’t be stingy on. A company without the tools it needs to do its job is a company with a downward outlook.

Improving Software

This is a tough one. Many are turning to free and open source solutions. I have, in the past, used open source as an alternative to buying expensive add-ons for particular project tasks. If I were to be doing those project tasks on a daily basis, however, I would have purchased the expensive add-on as it would have made sense for efficiency purposes.

Developers can purchase hosting for wiki, source control, and task management software such as trac on various sites (e.g., wush).

When it comes to GIS and graphic design software, there still isn’t much way around purchasing high-end software when you do high-end work. However, subscription programs are now being offered for some software such as Adobe Illustrator that are perfect for consultants who only need that software a few times a year rather than every day.

Education

No one needs a recap on the rapid pace of business change these days. Continual education is your friend. Spending money on lectures, seminars, college courses, workshops, books, and trade journals are all things that should be considered in your profit reinvestment plan.

Karsten Vennemann over at Terra GIS, for example, teaches open source GIS classes in the Seattle area. Greg Babinski of the King County GIS Center teaches a URISA cartography class. These kinds of courses are generally a great return on investment because they are small and personal, with many opportunities to gain insights that you may not hear elsewhere.

When trying to narrow-down your educational focus, ask yourself what your core business is. My core business has always been geo-analytics (though as you know I am also a cartographer). To that end, purchases that I make in education are prioritized around my learning analytics. I have 6 books next to me, for example, that most people would consider enormously boring including Geostatistics for Environmental Scientists (Statistics in Practice) and Statistical Methods for Geography: A Student’s Guide but that are important references in my work.

Advertising

Advertising is a mixed bag. A business associate recently told me about how she did an in-kind exchange of services for a banner ad in a trade magazine. The ad was garnering many hits but not translating into sales. After tweaking the ad’s landing page so that it contained a personal message for those clicking through from the magazine and including “about us” verbiage, more of the clicks were turned into sales. Most of us wouldn’t have figured out that nuance to advertising success, and it took consultation with a marketing expert for her to finally succeed.

Advertising expenses, therefore, may need to include the hiring of a marketing firm to help you wade through the nuanced business of getting business. Depending on your particular niche, you may or may not need this.

The best form of advertising is usually word-of-mouth. How can we achieve the level of trust that is inherent in word-of-mouth referrals? Simple. By becoming an active member of your professional community, your home community, and other places where you can have actual relationships with people rather than a one-way hawking of wares. Often this can be achieved with no financial investment at all, though financial support (such as sponsoring a conference rather than just attending, for example) is a great way to give back.

Hiring

You can hire someone to sort all this out for you.  Remember, fringe benefits can run 30-50% of a full-timer salary. A contractor can often be better because you are matching skills to tasks. Don’t over-hire. Tread carefully when hiring a “double-you” who doesn’t have anything different or extra to bring to the firm. If you hire a “double you” and then double your business you haven’t really gained anything.

PERSONAL STORY: I’ve been tempted so many times to hire an executive assistant. There’s an article on executive assistants in an old issue of Harvard Business Review that I went to town on, highlighting and underlining all the tasks they typically help out with. An executive assistant can take a lot of advanced work off your hands such as editing, billing, research, as well as things like travel arrangements, scheduling, and communications filtering. However, this comes at a high price and you must be confident that the benefits to your efficiency and thereby to your business income will outweigh it. I still haven’t hired an executive assistant but this may be to my detriment.

Travel

There are times when I feel like an in-person client visit is important. In these instances, I’ll usually book a flight, one night at a hotel, and a car rental. I’ve stayed at friend’s homes before, and that is wonderful too, excepting that you might be a bit less rested than needed for the client meeting! Call everyone you know in the vicinity to ask them if they can meet with you while you are there. By booking as many colleague and client meetings as you can comfortably fit, you maximize the return on the travel investment. Don’t wait for a client to request your on-site presence. Take the initiative to build a real relationship (live! In person!).

Travel for conferences and conference fees also fall into this category. I’m not what they call a “professional conference attendee” but it makes sense to pay visits to the conferences that best suit you. If you must save money, I’ve heard that some people buy special “exhibit hall only” tickets. This allows you to visit with friends and colleagues and meet new people without being a full-out attendee.

What ways do you reinvest in your business?

Books on My Radar this Week

August 23rd, 2011


This book has been well received by the GIS-learner community. It is a step-by-step manual type of book that takes you through the basics. If you want your hand to be held while exploring ArcGIS 10, this is probably the best book to get. No, I don’t have this book myself (let’s really hope I’ve got the basics down by now!) but if it’s anything like the one I used Way Back When, it won’t do you wrong.


This book has been named in many different forums lately. It’s a classic and was re-published by Esri Press last November. You’ll see it get mentioned from time to time on CartoTalk and here’s the newest mention that I’ve come across – LinkedIn discussion on the need for good cartography.

Don’t forget about my three books:

A review of this is supposed to come out in a Dutch magazine soon.

Colors For Maps and Type For Maps
A review of these may make it into the next GISCI newsletter.

A Mystery Book
I have an idea for the next ebook but unfortunately am not quite sure how to implement it at this time. I’d like it to be an interactive ebook with many very short video clips (10 seconds each, one per page, about 50-70 pages long). Hopefully something can be accomplished on that front soon.

Geo Geek Speak

August 14th, 2011

*Reprinted here, first published on GISuser.com

Expert Feature – Geo Geek Speak: Common Terms, Defined E-mail
Experts – Gretchen N. Peterson
Written by Gretchen Peterson
11 August 2011

Are you a GeoGeek or wanna-be GeoGeek? If so and you want to participate in GeoGeek discussions then this fabulous and updated list of new GeoSpeak terms will serve you well… enjoy! (@gletham)

The other day I read a tweet that used the term thin data. It wasn’t about mapping thin people, but rather about a map that had so little information to show (not in itself a problem) that the designer chose to spruce it up a bit with gradients (a problem). This map, The Mobile Mason-Dixon: Android in South, iOS in North, is a great example of how thin data can become a problem if the designer decides to add useless and potentially confusing flourishes to data.

Besides thin data there are a lot of other terms out there that are trotted out in our daily geo-geeking on the world wide web and this article aims to define a smattering of them.

To clarify, this isn’t about defining common abbreviations, though Learon Dalby (@learondalby) points us to a great list (courtesy of Mike Mahaffie) of acronyms. Incidentally, this list includes the gem: GIS Maturity Assessment. This is a term that you might think describes the level of maturity of your GIS coworkers, which is a lot more interesting to think about than the term’s real definition, which is the level of maturity of the GIS hardware and software in an organization.

RESPONSIVE DESIGN Refers to designing separate, but related, interfaces for different browser window sizes and different devices.

NOGIS Technology to make maps is now being used by web developers, not just geographers, and with this new usage environment has come a discarding of traditional approaches (e.g., static time dimension) and additions of new spheres of need (e.g., tiling). It should be noted that NoGIS is not the antithesis of GIS.

OPEN DATA Government data made available to anyone who wants to use it, along with the services, policies, integration protocols, and discover/share mechanisms that go along with it.

GEOGLOBALDOMINATION Used when someone is going to or has just met up with some other geoprofessionals, to refer to their get-together.

GEOGLITTER The exact definition of this is unknown, but it is often used to connote happiness in a GIS context. The term brings vibrancy to the field, so to speak. My own example of a literal interpretation of geoglitter is shown below:
geoglitter by petersongis

GeoGlitter

FOSS4G This stands for Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial. It is a conference to be held Sept. 12-16, 2011 in Denver, CO.

CRISIS MAPPING Mapping natural and man-made disasters on a platform that allows input from a lot of non-professionals, either experiencing the disaster first hand (e.g., locations of recent London riot incidents) or remotely by helping to produce infrastructure basemaps to aid in relief efforts (e.g., Haiti road mapping).

COMMUNITY MAPPING This refers to the Esri effort to build basemaps using local government data via templates. The data are considered more authoritative but only accessible with Esri technology.

VOLUNTEERED GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION/VGI Similar to crisis mapping in that it involves groups of volunteers putting together geographic information, usually in response to an event.

GEOECONOMY A new term used to denote the profitability that currently exists in the large demand for geospatial goods and services.

PALEOGEO Old-school, non-collaborative, mapping in static time.

OPEN STANDARDS Standards for geospatial content and services as organized by the OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium).

GEOBEER In reference to the fact that many geo colleagues seem to also be home-brew aficionados.
WHERECAMP Usually held after the Where 2.0 conference, this is a gathering of people to discuss geospatial technologies, trends, cartography, map art, and so on. It is an unconference in that the attendees decide, on the day of the event, what to learn and discuss. The next one is in Phoenix on October 1, 2011.

GEOJORTS One can only imagine.

GEOBUZZWORDS See all of the above words, for example.

*Thanks to Chris McClain and Tina Cary for their helpful input.

About The Author
Gretchen N. Peterson writes on the subjects of GIS analysis, cartography and ethics. Ms. Peterson is the owner of the geospatial analysis firm PetersonGIS. You can follow her on Twitter @PetersonGIS

COMMUNITY INPUT

Do you have any new, cool, web2.0 GeoGeek terms to add to this list? Tweet a suggestion to @pertersonGIS and @gletham

Innovation is an Action-item

August 11th, 2011

Innovation, and particularly Innovation Management, is a common buzzword these days. A recent article on the subject asserted that innovation is something that can’t be put into formal processes. While it makes sense that you can’t say, “we need 50% more innovation by the next quarter” it does not follow that it isn’t part of goal-setting exercises.

Goals aren’t usually innovative but the means to achieve them certainly have lots of room for novel processes. For example, the first people who thought about using twitter to get the word out about their product or service would have done so as an action-item set to achieve a goal such as “increase awareness of product by 10%” or “sell 100 more widgets this month.”

When I started blogging and tweeting I thought about what my main messages would be. I wanted to get the word out about my books, primarily, but to achieve that goal I figured I had better follow a lot of the advice I had written about in the book. A big part of GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design centers on creative approaches to map-making, so I figured I had better have some creative things to say and show. One of those attempts to show creativity was the geoglitter map I made a few days ago. So, while that was an innovation that certainly wasn’t put into a management plan for my business, it helped to meet the goal of illustrating creative map ideas that fits in with the goal of promoting the ideas set forth in the book.

To be honest, I am extremely happy that creativity was a big part of the book and that I now have to “prove” that I can be innovative within the context of GIS and cartography. Being innovative and creative makes for a happy work day. I hope it is part of yours.

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration