The “Personal” Touch

I think it is safe to say that pretty much anyone in the industry knows that geoSCOUT is a very capable general-purpose mapping tool.  What I think that most people don’t realize is just how powerful the geoSCOUT mapping engine really is.  Among other things, geoSCOUT can let our users express the fruit of their labour as a concise and powerful infographic.  But this capability is not an automated function, and as the three articles below illustrate, getting the best is never automatic.  It requires a “personal” touch.

Three Views

In the course of the past month I have come across 3 different articles that discuss the communication of ideas through maps.  The strange part was that they all touched on the question of “what makes a good map?”.

First was the article  “Make Maps People Want to Look At”, is from ESRI’s ArcUser Winter 2012 issue.  The author covers off 5 primary design principles for cartography which can be applied by anyone when creating a map for any purpose.

The next article that I encountered was one on Slate.com.  “The Greatest Paper Map of the United States You’ll Ever See” is about the latest winner of the annual competition of the Cartography and Geographic Information Society.  The 38th annual Best of Show award went to a map created by one man and a computer over the course of over 6000 hours.  Amost all of the time was spent on painstaking attention to detail in the placement of labels, font choices and sizes, line colours and thicknesses, and literally thousands of other details.  The important take-away from this was that the only way to create an excellent map is to take the time to ensure that everything on the map is best placed to communicate the information that needs to be passed on to the viewer.  This is, in some ways, the most critical thing that I want to pass on.  Yes, geoSCOUT (and other applications that our competitors have) give you automated posting tools that make it very easy to place all sorts of information on a map.  But how many packages give you the ability to manually tweak the map presentation to ensure that the information is located in the best possible position on your map?  I know that geoSCOUT does.

The third article,“Design Principles for Visual Communication” in the April 2011 issue of Communications of the ACM.  The authors discusss their research into the creation of algorithms meant to enable the automated creation of effective visualizations.  As part of their research, the authors discuss the work they have done to identify the design principles that go into creating an effective visualization, “by analysing the best hand-designed visualizations within a particular information domain.” One of the information domains discussed is that of “cartographic visualization” (maps), although they focus on directional types of mapping there are some interesting gems that are exposed.  For example, in the case of a route map, the relative lengths of any road segment are far less important than the requirement that all turns are accurately represented.  And in the case of maps in general, and tourist maps in particular, the most effective maps are those which “include only those elements that are semantically meaningful (such as the home of a well-known writer), visually distinctive (such as an oddly shaped or colored building), or placed in a structurally important location (such as a building at a prominent intersection).” There is further discussion on other techniques which cartographers employ in the creation of “good” maps.

Artificial Intelligence Isn’t

geoSCOUT was designed from the very beginning as a tool that could help geoscientists illustrate what they thought was going on in their play.  To do that we essentially designed geoSCOUT to be a CAD package for geoscience.  That meant that we needed to make sure that there was a way to absolutely place any element on the map sheet, and to make sure that the geoscientist had full control of that placement so that it was where it needed to be without blocking any other important element.  And geoSCOUT needs to be able to print whatever you have decided to post to the map (assuming that your printer or plotter has enough memory to deal with the resultant print job).

While geoSCOUT does have the ability to automatically post data (and with more postable data, and more sophisticated posting algorithms than the competition), that does not mean that geoSCOUT knows the best place to post all of that data.  That’s why we give you the ability to move anything that we post, and also give you the ability to do your own free-hand drawing within geoSCOUT.

geoSCOUT Tricks

For example, did you know that you can post an image file in a map?  Sure you did.  But did you think about what else you can do?  How about using geoSCOUT to create your own pictures?  Two minutes and a new, handmade image for an avatar.

geoSCOUT tricks...

Click me to see some geoSCOUT "art"

A few years ago we started hosting a little party in July.  Maybe you’ve heard of it – the Spaghetti Western?  When we got to the site for the first version of the party (back in 2006) we realized that we did not have the banners printed for the party.  “No problem”, we thought, after all the site was a block away from the office and we had a brand new plotter that was capable of printing the banners out.  Only one problem – the image was a PDF and Acrobat kept crashing when we tried to print the file!  geoSCOUT to the rescue!  We grabbed a .JPG of the pdf and dropped it into a geoSCOUT project.  Then we turned all the layers of except for the image, resized the screen to fill it with just the banner image and sent that off to the plotter.  Problem solved!

Now, what about geoSCOUT as an infographic tool? Essentially, infographics means “graphic representations of information, data or knowledge”.  So how can we take this fairly pedestrian description and turn it into something flashy in geoSCOUT?

geoSCOUT Treats

What if I could give you a map that shows drilling trends for Western Canada over a 20 year span?  How about a map with information on Land Sale trends over that period?  How about a map with Production for those wells over the same period?  How about a map with a drilling breakdown by province?  How about a map with a drilling breakdown by productive horizon?  How about a map with a breakdown by current well status?  All of these are fairly basic tasks for geoSCOUT or, to be honest, for several other products.

But, what if I could give you all of the above on a single map sheet?  Now, that would be an infographic, and that is something that I (and you) can do with geoSCOUT and a little creativity.  Oh, and a few hours of work.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what do you think this bad boy weighs in at?

If you would like a PDF copy of this, suitable for printing to a 36 x 56 plotter (or to a Tabloid sheet, although with a commensurate loss of detail) drop a line to our Sales department.  The file is about 50MB, so include contact information and they’ll figure out the best way to get the file to you.

Knowledge is Power

If you would like to learn how to do this yourself, consider some geoSCOUT training.  This course will give you the basic grounding on how to montage a variety of elements into your geoSCOUT maps.

I’m interested in what you do with geoSCOUT.  Send me a screen cap of your most interesting work.  If I get enough screen caps, I’ll do a follow-up post.

About Sean Udell

Sean does not like to write about himself in the 3rd-person. He’s been with geoLOGIC longer than almost everyone else in the company, and some of the new hires weren’t even a gleam in their parent’s eyes when he started.
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