Monday, June 30, 2008

Over Reliance on Data Leading to Bad Cartography

A group of high-ranking policy and State Department-like officials are gathered around a table. Everyone has their own copy of a government map showing proposed plans in Europe. Everyone makes plans and moves assets according to the data shown on the map. Their ideas are good but there is one key flaw. The map shows two Germanys, one Czechoslovakia, and a pre-2006 Yugoslavia. A number of assets per country are thrown off because of the errors and future operations are a mess.

The above story is fictional but points out a real problem. New software advances in cartographic tools have allowed anyone to make a reasonable map. Companies and newspapers tend to give cartographic jobs to a graphic designer or editor who can make a pretty map but does not know if the cartographic shape files are accurate or not. Take for example the US News and World Report map of the food crisis that has a pre-2006 Serbia or the academically published map of happiness with numerous errors. While these maps may just be "your map is wrong!" quality, bad maps showing contested borders, nonexistent towns on a road map, anything below sea level being shown as underwater, or policy maps that do not show accurate zones of control can serious impact judgement calls and lead to disaster... or just make the map designer and publish look like fools.

So to anyone out there who publishes maps: cartographers may be a tad bit more pricey than the average graphic designer but cartographers are worth the extra cost. Map users want accuracy with readability in an attractive map. Sacrificing a cartographer for a few dollars will cause knowledgeable people to recommend against your map and choose another company.

1 comment:

Caitlin said...

So true - I was amazed how long it took Google to even put such basic metadata as the date of their aerials on their apps.