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NACIS XXV Conference Report

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The following report on the North American Cartographic Information Society’s annual conference was kindly provided by J. B. Krygier:

NACIS was well attended this year, its 25th, with over 170 attendees. More than 50 were first-time attendees, many from small, private map design firms. While NACIS retains its traditional academic and government members (particularly those who design and make maps), the number of small-firm cartographers, who make really cool maps, has brought a whole new face to the organization. NACIS has reached a nice balance between the academic and the practical, and is a very friendly and comfortable conference with many chances for socializing with a diversity of map-crazed people. Behind the scenes and on the program was the steady buzz of gossip and excitement about open-source mapping and GIS software - particularly on the WWW - and the impact of this on the future of maps and map design.

The “main” NACIS conference kick-off this year was the annual Map-Off, held Wednesday eve. Five map designers are given a few weeks to design and produce a map that is subjected to a critique by a panel and the conference audience. This is a tremendous challenge, fit for only the bravest of cartographers, given the limited time to create the map and the 150 or so critics in the audience.

Map design and production dominated the sessions this year at NACIS. Topics included “On the Fly Map Generalization,” incorporating old cartographic methods in ArcGIS, maps for the “Great American Sports Atlas,” dasymetric mapping, relief image and map production automation, four papers on historical atlas map design and production, and a several presentations on terrain modeling and shading. Among the more interesting presentations was a review of the greatly enhanced design capacity of ArcGIS 9.2. In a nutshell, they are trying to make it so you don't have to export to Illustrator to finish the map design! Other presentations on maps in poetry, politics, and medical mapping, as well as a roundtable session devoted to freelance cartography fleshed out the conference.

Two panel discussions focused on map design: “What Goes On Before You Make The Map” had well-known private and public sector map designers Stuart Allan, Alex Tait, Dennis McClendon (president of NACIS), and Tom Patterson talk about the way they conceive of and execute a map design project: great advice and insight from some map design pros. “The Future of Map Design” had three critics - Peter Keller, Stuart Allan, and George McCleary - critique two new map design books: “Designing Better Maps: A Guide for GIS Users” by Cindy Brewer, and “Making Maps: A Visual Guide to Map Design for GIS” by John Krygier and Denis Wood. The panel members saw the books as complementary, while being very different (Brewer’s book more conventional and immediately applicable to current GIS software, Krygier/Wood’s book more unconventional and populist). What was interesting is the fact that both books are aimed at the increasing number of non-specialists who make maps. In essence, map making is becoming more democratic – and so is map design, and this is a good thing.

The conference ended with a presentation by David Rumsey, the well-known map collector who is using the latest WWW mapping technologies to open his collection of maps to the public, allowing the innovative analysis of old maps using new technologies. As is usual with a Rumsey presentation, many gasps, ooos, and aaahs escaped from the audience as we were presented with new open-source WWW applications from ESRI and Google that integrated new data with
old maps. Rumsey finished the presentation with a call for free access to maps and geographic data, briefly discussed the creative commons, and urged audience members to embrace a future with open-access mapping and GIS software.

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