GIS Tips – Think about how you are going to present it

A map’s a map right? You get the data and you make everyone happy with a nice map….not always.

Chatting the other day to a colleague and they don’t like using 3D, the justification was that there isn’t any reason to, which (as you’ve already guessed) got me a little wound up. So, I thought I’d have a look around on the web and had a real moment of “why did they do it that way?”

At this point, I wish to point out that my way isn’t (always) the right way, there are many considerations to be made when finding the right media for your geospatial representation, mostly it comes down to what the client/customer is paying for but as GIS professionals we should be steering the end user from some of the monstrosities around and making the results easier to understand

Don’t just colour in the pictures (all the time)

I like to think that rather than a scientist, I am an artist. One day I hope to see my work on someone’s wall or for someone to ask me to create them a bespoke piece like one of my previous works – ¬†and to a small extent we Geomagicians ARE artists, we may not always produce works of art but we have choice over our presentation medium and we can pick the right colour crayons.

Much like the sculptor, the oil painter or modern artist, we can choose, over we use 2D paper maps, 3D videos, web maps or something a little more interesting (3D printing anyone?!) and our choice of medium should be driven by providing the end user with the best way of understanding the mass of information collected.

I’m sure that I’m more Escher than Dali

Let’s run through a few ideas –

You’re asked to produce a map of a site layout for a new building. It’s for a presentation which will be seen by a variety of people across a project…..

Yes, a topographic map would look great. Assuming that everyone is map savvy, they can all see where everything is going…..BUT….what if you produced the layout as a little 3D video clip, where it rotated around the building being put in? Even if there isn’t much detail in it, it would provide EVERYONE, even the non map savvy to understand the context and relationship the features will have on the ground.

You’re asked to create an environmental map to show the issues on a particular site, what you didn’t realise was that there were 15 overlapping layers. This is going in a technical report and only has room for 1 page…..

How much hatching is there in the world? You could again, provide an intricate layered topographic map OR use an interactive PDF – why not use the “geoPDF” format and allow the end user to switch their layers on and off? Although cartographically you would still need to contemplate how the layers will display, you are not restricted to ensuring they are all visible on print.

Your boss wants to show on a presentation, the urban growth for a small village over the last 10 years…..

If you’re thinking that a nice Ordnance Survey based map with the buildings for each year in different colours, you might not get that promotion – why not either a) create a time slider map (available in QGIS & ArcGIS) or b) create a little video showing the change over time??

This is what I created when I was asked to show the UK wind turbine rounds (turn your speakers up):

You are asked to show how a shipwreck lies on the seabed as the bathymetry doesn’t match the photo in the book.

Why not extract the image from the book and georeference it over the top of the bathymetry? Then animate it as a 3D video so that the user(s) can see it from all angles? That’s what I did….this is one of the early images, the detailed images are licensed.

So why bother?

I’m not saying that you should give up paper maps and PDFs, what I’m questioning is our laziness as data visualisers. Sometimes we take the easy option rather than remember that we are the story makers or the answer providers….and what Jack Dangermond is missing is that we are responsible for TRANSLATING the story and information too.

Next time you get a request for a map through, instead of saying “yes” and churning out another identical map to the other 30,00+ you already have, take a minute to think about whether the end user is going to understand the results. Don’t assume that you know the end user, instead show the receptionist the map and ask if she/he can explain it or maybe show your partner….don’t assume that you can think like a non map savvy user!

For every unhappy or confused client, you will lose 10 more through word of mouth and bad press……for every happy client you will not only gain a great sense of happiness, but potentially another 3 clients.

Nick D

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