GIS is Easy, Visualization is Hard

Yesterday I said this:

When you get to the core of GIS, it is database management. Managing spatial data and performing analysis is what most GIS people do. But when it comes time to present that information, GIS people generally struggle with it. If you are like me, you can tell what maps are made with Esri’s ArcMap pretty easy. They just have those elements that nobody changes. That’s because it is hard to pick the right colors, get labeling just right and convey to the reader what the map is all about. Most good cartographers take years perfecting their maps which most of us don’t have that kind of time1.

There has been a ton of effort in making it easier to product good looking visualizations without having to know what you are doing. Just look at CartoDB and Mapbox and you can see some nice out of the box visualization. We are getting there but too often we fumble our message on poor mapping. Even in the 3D world getting the lighting just right on your features (dense buildings for example) can make or break how your data is viewed. Too often we work so hard on the analytical data side of things just to fall down the stairs while we rush to get the product out the door. Do not be a Pete Campbell.

  1. now let me be clear, I could never produce at map like Tom does even if you gave me forever to do it in.