2. Cartography as Communication
One of the most useful approaches to the study of cartography is to view
maps as a form of visual communication--a special-purpose language for
describing spatial relationships. Although it is perhaps unwise to draw
a direct analogy between cartography and language, concepts such as "grammar"
and "syntax" help to explain, at least metaphorically, the sorts of decisions
cartographers make as they compose maps. Cartographers seek to make use
of visual resources such as color, shape and pattern to communicate information
about spatial relationships. The analogy with language also helps explain
why training in principles of effective cartography is so important--it
allows us to communicate more effectively. Without a knowledge of some
of these basic principles, the beginning cartographer is likely to be misunderstood
or cause confusion.
2.1 Cartography is closely related to graphical
Cartography is related to, but different from other forms of visual
communication. Cartographers must pay special attention to coordinate systems,
map projections, and issues of scale and direction that are in most cases
of relatively little concern to other graphic designers or artists. But,
because cartography is a type of graphical communication, some insights
to the demands of cartography can be gleaned from the literature of graphical
communication and statistical graphics. Often cartographers are faced with
some of the same challenges faced by graphical designers and can learn
much from their insights. As you begin to study cartographic design, you
may find it useful to consult some of the standard works on graphical communication.
You will find the following books particularly interesting, and maps are
often the focus of discussion.
2.2 Maps are symbolic abstractions--"generalizations"
or "representations"--of reality
Cleveland, William S. 1985. The Elements of Graphing Data. Monterey,
Schmid, Calvin F. 1983. Statistical Graphics: Design Principles and
Practices. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Schmid, Calvin F. and Schmid, Stanton E. 1979. Handbook of Graphic Presentation,
2nd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Tufte, Edward R. 1983. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.
Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.
Tufte, Edward R. 1990. Envisioning Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics
By stressing cartography as a form of communication, it is easier to
make the point that maps are really symbolic abstractions--or representations--of
real world phenomena. In most cases, this means that the world represented
on a map has been greatly simplified, or generalized, with symbols being
used like words to stand for real things. Some of the most important decisions
cartographers make in the process of cartographic design revolve around:
1) how much to simplify the situation being depicted; and 2) how to symbolize
the relationships being represented.
For further discussion of these issues, you may wish to consult:
Guelke, Leonard, Ed. 1977. The Nature of Cartographic Communication.
Cartographica Monograph No. 19.
Robinson, Arthur H. and Petchenik, Barbara B. 1976. The Nature of Maps:
Essays toward Understanding Maps and Mapping. Chicago: University of
Taylor, D.R.F., Ed. 1983. Progress in Contemporary Cartography. Volume
2: Graphic Communication and Design in Contemporary Cartography. New
York: John Wiley.
on to What is a Good Map?
to Table of Contents