What happened to the Map Critique Station?

By Aileen Buckley, Mapping Center Lead

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Please note that this is a re-post of this blog entry.

In the past, you may have noticed or visited the Map Critique Station at the Esri User Conference (UC). This year, we’re taking a different approach to helping you improve your maps. Instead of the Map Critique Station, we’re providing a complete set of map evaluation resources that you can access before, during, and after the UC.

We want to give you the ability to improve your own maps through a better appreciation of what works and what doesn’t, rather than relying on external resources like Esri’s cartographers. Our goal is to teach about this very important part of map making and allow you to repeat the evaluation process with any map you make or your colleagues make.

Before UC

We’re developing a map evaluation checklist that will be posted on Esri’s Mapping Center on the ArcGIS Resources page. This document will give you a set of best practices to consider as you develop your maps.

At UC

We’re hosting three offerings of a 75-minute technical workshop session entitled “Value Your Maps: A Checklist to Map Evaluation.” This workshop, hosted by Esri’s Ken Field (Editor of The Cartographic Journal) and Allen Carroll (former Chief Cartographer for the National Geographic Society), will teach you how to objectively evaluate your own maps using the map evaluation checklist. It will be offered at the following times:

  • Tuesday, July 12, 1:30 PM – 2:45 PM, Room 7 A/B
  • Thursday, July 14, 1:30 PM – 2:45 PM, Room 7 A/B
  • Friday, July 15, 9:00 AM – 10:15 AM, Room 8

If you can’t make it to one of these sessions, you’ll be able to pick-up the checklist at either the ArcMap island in the Esri Showcase or the Map Gallery kiosk.

After UC

We’re working on a series of map making and evaluation articles that will be featured in ArcUser. Articles such as “Making Meaningful Maps” and “Choosing an Appropriate Map Projection” will include examples that illustrate many of the same challenges you probably face with your own maps.

We hope these resources together will provide you with the information and techniques you need to make your maps great. The ability to reflect on and evaluate your own maps is an important skill for great cartographic design and should help you better communicate your intended messages through your maps.

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9 Comments

  1. mdenil says:

    While the expansion of cartography focused sessions is quite welcome, the abandonment of the Map Critique Station is an unfortunate decision.

    As one of the few non-Esri staff that regularly manned the Map Critique Station at past UCs, I enjoyed a unique perspective on the value of the station. In past years I would take time from my very busy week to sit down one to one with a variety of individuals visiting the Map Critique Station to discuss their maps in specific detail. It is only in situations like that: consultations focused on particular products and challenges, that one can really grapple with and help solve the very particular problems map makers face every day (and maybe have never faced before).

    General sessions may be useful in many situations, and I have certainly noted some of this year’s new offerings on my agenda, but no number or quality of general sessions can replace the value of direct individual Critique. I am tempted to say that it is a real disservice to abandon the Map Critique Station: it was one of the most successful and effective cartographic initiatives at past Esri UCs.

    I had looked forward to again volunteering my time and expertise at the Critique station, and am disappointed at this news.

    That aside, I want to invite everyone interested in cartography to the Cartography Special Interest Group meeting at the San Diego UC. Thursday, July 14 at 11:45 in Room 28A. See you there!

    Mark Denil
    National Ice Center

  2. abuckley says:

    Actually, there are quite a number of opprotunities to work with people one-on-one at the User Conference. The Technical Support Islands offer users a chance to meet with someone for help with solutions to their specific problems. Here is the description from the Esri Web site about the tech islands at this year’s UC:

    “Stop by Tehcnical Support Island in the Esri Showcase to meet one-on-one with Esri staff. Our experts provide answers to your specific questions, advice on finding solutions to your unique challenges, and tips on making the most of the ArcGIS system. Walk-ins are welcome, or you can stop by to schedule an appointment to suit your conference schedule.”

    http://www.esri.com/events/user-conference/agenda/technical-support.html

    And the advantage of this approach is that you can work with Esri staff using the software rather than just a print out of your results.

  3. jzlange says:

    I entirely agree that one to one discussion is extremely valuable BUT it is not efficient and we really want to focus on engaging more people with the general principles of map critique. For those that know about the MCS and use it regularly it is undoubtedly valuable but we feel there are far more people who would benefit but who prefer the format of a technical session.

    With three UC offerings of “Value your maps’, if we can get ~500 people to learn a little by attending the sessions, reading the forthcoming articles, using the checklist then we are serving the community to enable and empower them to become better map-makers. We would be reaching far more people than the MCS and we would be encouraging them to take design principles back to their place of work or study. Rather than having to seek out a cartographer (and many only come into contact with trained cartographers at UC) we would be doing cartography a service by promoting knowledge transfer….giving a little of what makes us cartographers to those that make maps in order that general mapping improves and thrives. That, ultimately, serves cartography as well as better serving our users.

    Finally, we don’t wish to propagate the view that there are cartographers and there are non-cartographers and the former have some magic ability that the latter can never aspire to. Not everyone is trained in cartography and there’s no reason every GIS user should be…but most have to make maps and if we can help we should. Not everyone has the time to use the MCS and taking in a technical session fits more easily into people’s schedules in what is a hectic week of events. As Aileen noted above, there are other opportunities for users to seek one-on-one help and I (and others) will be around most of the week and will be more than happy to help users in this capacity.

    I hope that helps explain the approach we’re taking to reach and educate more users to appreciate cartography and be able to deploy critique effectively themselves.

  4. kenfield says:

    I entirely agree that one to one discussion is extremely valuable BUT it is not efficient and we really want to focus on engaging more people with the general principles of map critique. For those that know about the MCS and use it regularly it is undoubtedly valuable but we feel there are far more people who would benefit but who prefer the format of a technical session.

    With three UC offerings of “Value your maps’, if we can get ~500 people to learn a little by attending the sessions, reading the forthcoming articles, using the checklist then we are serving the community to enable and empower them to become better map-makers. We would be reaching far more people than the MCS and we would be encouraging them to take design principles back to their place of work or study. Rather than having to seek out a cartographer (and many only come into contact with trained cartographers at UC) we would be doing cartography a service by promoting knowledge transfer….giving a little of what makes us cartographers to those that make maps in order that general mapping improves and thrives. That, ultimately, serves cartography as well as better serving our users.

    Finally, we don’t wish to propagate the view that there are cartographers and there are non-cartographers and the former have some magic ability that the latter can never aspire to. Not everyone is trained in cartography and there’s no reason every GIS user should be…but most have to make maps and if we can help we should. Not everyone has the time to use the MCS and taking in a technical session fits more easily into people’s schedules in what is a hectic week of events. As Aileen noted above, there are other opportunities for users to seek one-on-one help and I (and others) will be around most of the week and will be more than happy to help users in this capacity.

    I hope that helps explain the approach we’re taking to reach and educate more users to appreciate cartography and be able to deploy critique effectively themselves.

  5. cfrye says:

    In response to mdenil, there were two reasons for not continuing with the Map Critique Station: cost and there are better ways to get a return on the investment by Esri staff and others like mdenil who contributed time. Cost is simple, like everyone else, Esri is working to keep extra costs to a minimum, and without getting into specific numbers, the cost was significant for set up and overhead of the Map Critique Station.

    So the return on investment, or value, aspect is something we considered relative to cost. Having so many Esri staff dedicated to a relatively low number of people with maps to be critiqued was an issue. Further, the model of critiquing one map at a time is labor intensive and frankly it’s a shame if we don’t try harder to transfer some of what we know cartographers are thinking when critiquing maps to every day map makers—allowing them to avoid common errors in the first place. We do not believe this was being done consistently with the critiques that were given in the Map Critique Station.

    The technical sessions that were added to address no longer doing the Map Critique Station will make a strong positive difference for many more people than what the Map Critique Station had done in the past. We feel this way because this approach is to teach, particularly, non-cartographically educated mapmakers the most common checks and practices that cartographers use and how to use them thoughtfully. Attendees will learn things they can apply to every map they will make in the tradition of, ‘Teach a man to fish…’. We further want to free people from the crutch of needing basic critiques by helping them to think productively about making better maps—that can be critiqued at a higher level for their value and ability to realize that value.

  6. mdenil says:

    Well, this is quite a fusillade of broadsides from the Mapping Center team. It is, collectively, quite informative of the thinking and intentions behind the decision to do away with the Map Critique Station (MCS), but rather strengthens my case than otherwise.

    Let us examine some of the arguments retailed above, more or less in the order presented.

    In regard to the possibility of visiting the Support Island, it is certainly good to know that this is a possibility, and that Esri has made sure staff with specifically cartographic skills will be on duty (have they?), but when are these staff there? I don’t think there has been any specific arrangement, and certainly none has been advertised. In fact, the announcement above (and others seen to date) specifically state that the MCS is GONE. Clearly, this is not considered a replacement by Esri. For that matter, why not just say that an attendee can ‘ask anyone with a red badge’ for cartographic advise?

    The further remark about “the advantage of … using the software rather than just a print out of your results” rather confuses matter, does it not? The “print out of … results” sits at the center of the concern: that print out is the TOPIC of the discussion. Furthermore, computers with Arc software were an integral part of the MCS; but perhaps the writer did not know that?

    Mr Field writes about efficiency, but his conception of efficiency seems based solely on “numbers served” rather than any qualitative measure. Critique IS Knowledge Transfer: the most efficient and effective and pertinent form in existence.

    Certainly, Plato (through the mouth of Socrates) advanced the notion that a person receiving instruction becomes, by that instruction, an expert; that is, a student hearing a lecture is a perfect receptor for instruction and a teacher is a complete and comprehensive transmitter of knowledge and skill. Plato’s Gorgias alone has many examples of this argument being forwarded. This notion, however, is not well founded, and it is generally accepted that Plato only gets away with it because he writes both side of the Socratic dialog. That is not the case here.

    There is also, in Mr Field’s third paragraph, an admirable anti-elitist position proposed, to wit: “we don’t wish to propagate the view that there are cartographers and there are non-cartographers…”. Unfortunately, that position rather flys in the face of every other argument offered by anyone in this tread, and even the statement in his next sentence. The second part of the sentence quoted: “… and the former have some magic ability that the latter can never aspire to.” is clearly a straw man set up by Mr Field so he can easily knock it down. No one is claiming anything of the sort. In point of fact, the whole rationale behind any of the matters under discussion, both MCS and general sessions, is that effective and valuable assistance can be given. I certainly am not arguing against general lectures; I am arguing FOR Critique.

    Mr Frye zeros in on cost / value / return on investment. We could also include, I am sure, effort. No one disputes that Critique requires effort and some cost; conversely, a session / lecture on map basics requires only the time to assemble a talk and slide show, and the time to deliver it. Again, we have got to make use of a realistic qualitative measure for value, something beyond ‘millions served’, AND we have got to take into account the actual situations handled by the MCS verses situations addressable by the lectures with which it is being replaced. In the end, in a real cost / benefit analysis, one cannot be scared off simply by a stitch of work.

    Who patronized the MCS? I certainly wasn’t on duty there throughout the UC; I had other things to do. I did, however, meet with a number of people who had brought a variety of map products and faced a variety of challenges. I also, while on duty and not immediately engaged with a visitor to the MCS, observed and overheard other people who had come to engage in consultation, and discussed the clientele with other staff on MCS duty. I believe my experience to reflect the typical run of MCS patron.

    In the overwhelming majority of cases, the patrons of the MCS were NOT beginners, NOT nephrites, NOT people who would be helped by a “check-list” or an exhortation to “Value Your Maps”. The majority were either competent and experienced map makers (with or with-out “cartographic training”) facing complex and in some cases daunting challenges, or people who knew the ‘rules’ but were unable to see how to effectively apply them in situations where the rules and their requirements seemed contradictory or at cross purposes. There was NEVER a problem I saw, observed, or heard about at the MCS that would have been solved by anyone, be it my good and esteemed friend Allen Carroll or God Almighty himself, lecturing and handing out a check-list.

    This point is, I think, critical in considering this issue. Mr Frye, it seems to me, has a somewhat patronizing and very narrow view of what is possible, desirable, and achievable in the fostering and promotion of good cartographic practice. His references to assistance being exclusively an exercise in helping “particularly, non-cartographically educated map makers ” to “avoid common errors in the first place” and teaching to us all “things [we] can apply to every map” is to simply misunderstand the range of the need.

    That Mr. Frye can refer to wanting “to free people from the crutch of needing basic critiques” if, further, to demonstrate a profound misunderstanding the nature both of teaching itself and of Critique in particular.

    Most people would not consider me a beginner cartographer. I have been making maps professionally for almost two decades and have the audacity to consider myself rather good at it. I recognize the inestimable value of skillful and thoughtful Critique to map makers at every level of skill and experience. Properly done, it is NOT a crutch. To the contrary, as provided over previous UCs by the MCS, it is the best, most constantly valuable, and directly effective means of extending the advantage of the collective knowledge and skill of the cartographic community and applying it exactly and precisely where it will do the most good.

    It is to hoped that this year’s disservice of canceling the MCS will be rectified in future UCs.

    Mark Denil

  7. abuckley says:

    Yes, Esri has made sure that the Technical Support Islands have staff with specifically cartographic skills on duty. And there are folks with this type of background there at all times because they are part of the development and support staff. It would probably be helpful for you to realize that our staff includes not only programmers, as you probably suspect, but also professionally and academically trained cartographers who have degrees at the Masters and PhD levels in geography with an emphasis in cartography from some extremely reputable institutions. And we have people on staff who have decades of mapping experience from some of the most respected map publishers in the world. Plesae feel free to ask at the ArcMap Island, in particular, for help with specific mapping questions.

  8. abuckley says:

    One other thing I think it would be useful to note is that I believe the checklist, the articles we are writing, and the tech sessions we will be presenting are not targeted only to beginners (or nephrites, which I had to look up and which is a variety of jade :-) ), but rather to anyone making maps who wants to ensure that they are doing the best they can. At least that is how we are compiling these resources.

  9. mdenil says:

    It was certainly encouraging to hear Jack Dangermond announce from the podium at the closing plenary of the 2011 Esri User Conference that the Map Critique Station would be coming back in 2012.

    He made the announcement in response to my question and discussion about how significant and fundamentally important user support needs are simply not addressable by technical workshops and checklists, no matter how well constructed or intentioned.

    As I pointed out to Jack, the map makers that used and benefited from the Map Critique Station were themselves capable, professional map makers facing significant, particular and complex challenges that were simply not addressable by means other than critique.

    Certainly, let us hope that other cartographic initiatives continue as well, but I am sure we can all be pleased about the return of the MCS. I want to thank Jack Dangermond again for acknowledging this publicly and I recommend that 2012 UC attendees take advantage of this restored resource.

    -Mark Denil