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The Art of Map Making – How Great Maps Tell Compelling Stories


I recently read a blog post by Bern Szukalski, There’s Something about a Map, on the ESRI blog, Bern states, “There’s something about a good map. It’s hard for me to describe exactly what that something is, but like many of us involved with GIS and geographic information, I’ve always been drawn to and fascinated by maps.” Bern shares a link to a map of Washington DC in 1851, it’s a pretty fascinating map to look at, and tells a great story of how the city has evolved. Looking at the DC map, and the examples in Bern’s post, I agree, there is something to a map. Getting to that something is challenging, but part of it for me, is the ability to tell a story.

Bern’s post reminded me of how much GIS technology is used across government, and how map making has evolved over the years. Although map making has evolved, a constant is that a good map tells a compelling story. Bern states in his post, “Though GIS has changed and evolved vastly over the years in almost unimaginable directions, and converged with other factors like the Web, social media, mobile devices, and the cloud, the map has always been, and remains today, the primary substrate for our work. It’s the canvas upon which our GIS art and craft is painted, and shared with others.”

Regardless of what medium a map is consumed, the map should be able to provide insights and information to the consumer. Bern stated in his post, “In many respects GIS maps are our works of art. They capture our knowledge, our tradecraft, and our skills. They enable us and others to gain understanding from disparate data, and understand their relationships.”

There are countless examples of incredible uses of GIS technology. Everything from charting at-risk communities, presidential elections, hurricanes, and various kinds of public information. Map making in this kind of capacity facilitates improved decision making, and increased ability to understand complex data and relationships. I read the Esri Insider blog often, there is always a lot of great articles. A few other recent posts for you to check I’ve shared below.


Thinking Outside the Map
Linear vs. Non-Linear Storytelling: The Map Tour Template
Multi-dimensional Mapping: The Civil War Story Map
Geomedicine: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Can Geodesign Help Us Adapt to Climate Change?

When Esri was founded in 1969, it realized even then that geographic information system (GIS) technology could make a difference in society. GIS helps people to solve problems at local, regional, national, and global scales. Access maps and apps at ArcGIS.com. Check out the Communications & Citizen Engagement Sub-Community of which they are a council member.

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Profile Photo Chris Cairns

I think we’re only beginning to see the innovative and useful ways to use maps this day in age. I’d like to see a post 5-8 different innovative uses of maps / GIS in the public sector.

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Profile Photo Jay Johnson

Infographic expert Edward Tufte used good topography and cartography practices to lay the basis for his principles of visual displays of information.

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Profile Photo Patrick Fiorenza

My colleague over here at GovLoop, Jeff Ribeira recently went to a training led by Tufte. Jeff’s been coaching me on some of Tufte’s philosophy for bringing data to life, we got a collection of his books as well, really cool stuff!

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