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I Want Your Job: Cartographer

I Want Your Job: Cartographer
'It's a huge annual trawl of revision'

Interview by Alex McRae
Thursday, 18 September 2008SHARE PRINTEMAILTEXT SIZE NORMALLARGEEXTRA LARGE
MacDonald says: "You've got to be computer literate and logical, with excellent spatial awareness"

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Iain MacDonald, 37, is a cartographer at Collins Geo, the geographical division of HarperCollins publishers, which produces maps and atlases.

What do you actually do?

I'm an information editor, which means that I collect information to produce updated maps and atlases every year. Over a period of several months, I collect information on any new roads, tourist attractions, ferry routes, and any motorways or bypasses that have been built in the previous year, to make sure that the new atlas is up-to-date. It's a huge annual trawl of revision. I send out masses of questionnaires to councils in order to find out about new road schemes, or whether there's a new museum or football stadium opening in their area.

What's your working schedule like?

I'm in the office 35 hours a week, mostly from 8am until 4pm, although I finish at 1pm on Fridays. Because the atlases come out once a year, our work is pretty seasonal – from October until February, we start sending letters to local councils, and by February, we try to have all the details tied up so the atlases are ready to hit the shops. I spend a lot of time doing online research, going through press clippings, and chasing up requests for information with reminder phone calls and emails.

What's the best thing about it?

My favourite part of the job is being able to take information from a very dry database source, and present it in a way that people can access easily. It's great when the atlases come out – seeing your revisions is very satisfying. We also do other quirky little projects, which can be fun – for example, we once produced a ghost-hunter's atlas with information on where to find the best haunted houses.

What skills do you need to do the job well?

You've got to be computer literate and logical, with excellent spatial awareness. We use computer software to add and record revision points to maps, and all editorial changes to atlases are made using computer technology. There's still a lot of filing and paperwork, so you have to be organised and patient. You also need good personal and communication skills. We occasionally get members of the public contacting us to say things are wrong, when actually they're using an out-of-date atlas; or truckers who've taken a wrong turn shouting at us down their mobile phones. You have to be firm, persuasive and polite.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to become a cartographer?

You should be interested in geography and the environment around you. Try to get a degree in a related subject, such as geography, surveying and mapping sciences, or geographical information science. Some universities offer modules in cartography as part of a degree, so it's worth doing some research before choosing a course. Once you've graduated, you could write to map makers to see whether they need freelance work.

Are there any downsides?

It can be a bit tedious and repetitive, because a lot of the job involves data entry and research. It's also frustrating when people waste your time by not replying to phone calls and requests for information.

What's the salary and career path like?

I started on about £10,000 a year back in 1994, but nowadays, a typical starting salary might be around £16,000 to £17,000 a year. You could look for a job within a large government department such as the Ordnance Survey, the Ministry of Defence or the Department for Transport; in a local authority's planning department or for a university; or work for a map publisher.

For more information on training and careers as a cartographer, visit the British Cartographic Society at www.cartography. org.uk; or the Society of Cartographers at www.soc.org.uk.

วันพฤหัสบดีที่ 1 กรกฎาคม พ.ศ. 2553

THE FIVE PRINCIPLES OF MAP DESIGN
1.Concept before Compilation
Without a grasp of concept, the whole of the design process is negated. The parts embarrass the whole. Once concept is understood, no design or content feature will be included which does not fit it. Design the whole before the part. Design comes in two stages, concept and parameters, and detail in execution. Design once, devise, design again. User first, user last. What does the user want from this map? What can the user get from this map? Is that what they want? If a map were a building, it shouldn't fall over.

2. Hierarchy with Harmony
Important things must look important, and the most important thing should look the most important. "They also serve who only stand and wait." Lesser things have their place and should serve to complement the important. From the whole to the part, and all the parts, contributing to the whole. Associated items must have associated treatment. Harmony is to do with the whole map being happy with itself. Successful harmony leads to repose. Perfect harmony of elements leads to a neutral bloom. Harmony is subliminal.

3. Simplicity from Sacrifice
Great design tends towards simplicity (Bertin). Its not what you put in that makes a great map but what you take out. The map design stage is complete when you can take nothing else out. Running the film of an explosion backwards, all possibilities rush to one point. They become the right point. This is the designer's skill. Content may determine scale or scale may determine content, and each determines the level of generalization (sacrifice).

4.Maximum Information at Minimum Cost (after Ziff)
How much information can be gained from this map, at a glance. Functionality not utility. Design makes utility functional. All designs are a compromise, just as a new born baby is a compromise between its father and mother. The spark which makes a map special often only comes when the map is complete.

5.Engage the Emotion to Engage the Understanding
Design with emotion to engage the emotion. Only by feeling what the user feels can we see what the user sees. Good designers use Cartographic fictions, Cartographic impressions, Cartographic illusions to make a map. All of these have emotive contents. The image is the message. Good design is a result of the tension between the environment (the facts) and the designer. Only when the reader engages the emotion, the desire, will they be receptive to the map's message. Design uses aesthetics but the principles of aesthetics are not those of design. We are not just prettying maps up. The philosophy is simple, beauty (aesthetics) focuses the attention. Focusing the attention is the purpose of map design!
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