Thursday, April 9, 2009

Why Neogeographers aren't into Design

Update: Andrew Turner has suggested "neocartographer" would be a better term than neogeographer in this post, I think he's correct based on this source.

This post is a follow up to a comment on yesterday's post about color blindness by Paul C, who can't read the 49. Color blindness happens to be the most effective way to explain why map makers (neogeographers, GISers and old school cartographers) need to know about map design. Paul asks why neogeographers aren't engaging in design to which a recent conversation is relevant:

A Developers View: In asking a developer friend why developers weren't thinking about map design, he answered that just getting the map to plot is usually what the client is asking for. Applying good design takes more development time and, in a process where unforeseen problems have already taken up time, the client isn't interested in the extra time needed for good design. Which reminds me of a fable:

Fable: Two blokes are lost in the African bush and they've just seen a hungry cheetah. One bloke starts to put on his running shoes. Other bloke says
'that's no use, a cheetah can outrun you no problem'. First bloke retorts:
'yes, but I only have to outrun you'.

Design as USP: In a world where you are the first person to mashup a couple of interesting data sets in a website, you'll get all the web attention. As the GeoWeb develops we can expect to see mashups getting ever easier to produce which will mean multiple overlapping mapping services appearing. At which time good design will be one way to add a USP (unique selling point) to your service.

Paul also asks what can be done about it. Well, this blog is an attempt and if I had the funding I'd be attending where 2.0 and other US conferences where neogegoraphers hang out.

BTW, I'd be intersted to hear if anyone out there counts themselves as a neogeographer and is applying the design best practices I've described in this blog.


Frank Taylor said...

Rich, I'm definitely listening to your design ideas and not only applying some of them, but trying to help spread the word. Too bad you're not going to Where 2.0 this year...

Maarten said...

Hi Rich,
I do count myself as a neogeographer and I learned quite some things from your blog.
Although I didn't have much time to dedicate myself to the geoweb recently, you can find some of my neogeography examples (mainly Google Earth related) on

Rich Treves said...


Ah thanks for that. That's brightened up a rather slow work day for me. Yeah, without an active research project I can't get funding to get to where 2.0 so I'll be watching it virtually via twitter.

BTW, I am brewing up a tutorial about tours but I'm still not happy I know all its quirks before I advise people how to use it better. Discovered some more things today for example...

Rich Treves said...

Good to hear from you, I was particularly taken with your Nat Geog project, a really nice way of navigating and a lot of work locating the photos. Simple and effective.


ajturner said...

Accessibility is a very good, and difficult, question when applied to visualizations - especially cartographic visualizations. (though I think you're slightly misusing the term 'neogeographer').

There are some good techniques out there that can assist developers with color choices. The infamous ColorBrewer helps with just this problem.

AxisMap has a good article discussing the impact of color choices with Semi-transparent choropleths.

There are broader problems here than just color choices. How does a visual-impaired user navigate a map? Does it get verbally described, or reveal itself in a braille reader?

And if you really want to talk "neogeography", collaborate on a demonstrative application for best practices with a local accessibility organization that does routing based on safe pathways.

ajturner said...

...besides, map design wouldn't neogeography, it's neocartography!

Rich Treves said...

Hi Andrew,

Firstly on semantics, I did some background reading and I think you're right about neocartographer probably being a better term. This is probably a symptom of not getting to the conferences you do and picking up how people are using the terms (although in the strict sense of the word neocartograher is better anyway)

I totally agree that colorbrewer (which I've blogged about) and the axis maps artical deserve promoting.

You raise a good point about accessability, how far should we go to help the visually impared? A braille tablet for displaying maps would be possible but how would colors be translated to relief so it could be sensed by someone with no sight? My own view is that color blindness is:
- common
- very easy to work around
so map designers should be at least be addressing that issue. Helping those with more serious visual disabilities is a very deserving cause but requires a magnitude change in effort to produce a useful product.

BTW, enjoying your twitter feed. Keep it up!