Corfu Greece


Ionian University Workshop 2016


In English and Greek




Today mapping is a way of thinking about virtually any subject as a way to see and understand complexity, at virtually any scale, from genetic to social and environmental systems. Mapping is now about sensing and then collecting large data sets with the intention of changing the systems observed, which we are used to think of as people and their behavior, communities, nature, etc.


Mapping is therefore a “transgressive act.” Mapping competes with other ways of how we understand things, and modifies how we live, through things like smart cities, marketing and consumption, surveillance and warfare, resource exploitation, genetic information, etc. These changes place us in a transition where we do not understand how this new environment works and how we fit into it.


II. Basic issue


We no longer believe that maps are value free: we see them as tools to be applied to something. How can we as viewers (and users) become more critical about the use of maps and mapping as a practice, and as visual makers how can we see maps as being a creative and critical area of making, especially in interaction design and visualization?


The workshop and lecture will introduce three interrelated ways of thinking about maps and visualization, from a critical and creative perspective.


1. What is the maps theme (kind of map) and subject (name of the map).


2. How does a map function? Mapping as a way of showing a taxonomy or relationship of knowledge and also the ways that the knowledge is constructed: sensing, aggregating data, interpreting data as visual and other information, how the information is used to act on people and environments, etc.


3. Who: the bias of the author and their motivations, who the map is intended for (the audience, community, and individual, etc.) and what is the relationship between the first two to the subject of the map especially if used to “change things” as design or other intervention.




Attendees will be introduced to this working criteria in a lecture. Examples will draw from a range of maps including those from non-western cultures. Mapping will also be discussed as broader in scope through examples of genomic, demographic, and other forms of mapping people and other subjects. Mapping will be understood as a practice and a way of thinking about a range of connected subjects from the micro to the macro, rather than as only geographical.


The end of the lecture will include a matrix comparing the differences and similarities between the maps (based on above) and introduce a working vocabulary for the participants.




The three questions can be used as interrelated criteria to help in creating a map, and exploring a scenario of its use.




Attendees will then form up into groups, and apply the criteria generated for quick proposals for unique speculative maps based on either digital interaction or a traditional print based map.


Attendees will also create a simple scenario, describing how their proposal would influence the experiences of others/users in the environment; specific activities, environments, objects, interactions.


A list of examples will be given as a starting point, that help attendees use the criteria in generating out different outcomes for their map (see example below- theme (category 1) of “sound,” plus function (category 2) “dividing up space as social or private.”


If attendees are a mix of visual artists/designers etc. and others who see themselves more as “users” of maps, the workshop can also introduce a way of critically reading existing maps based on the criteria above.


1 hour presentation and discussion.





"All cultures have always believed that the map they valorize is real and true and objective and transparent," "All maps are always subjective.... Even today’s online geospatial applications on all your mobile devices and tablets, be they produced by Google or Apple or whoever, are still to some extent subjective maps."


Jerry Brotton, Queen Mary University of London.



Thematic maps are usually data heavy, emphasizing a particular subject or characteristic. They are data interpretations (GIS and etc see Google Earth), with natural features and place names as a way to orient the viewer to the map. They began to emerge in the 17th century. Mapping is also defined now as something that is applied to a wide range of things, not just geography.


• Isoline contour.


• Pollution small multiple.


• John snow cholera map London 18c.


• Maps of the body:


• brain maps- fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging)—


• site and service design maps (notice that the service design “map” is now called an “ecology”)—


• service design maps.


Maps present a taxonomy, or a systematic ordering and classification of things. Examples:


• immigration restrictions (conceptual)+ mobile coverage based on data sources connected to phones + financial centers (again more conceptual).


A map is propositional: it proposes ideas or implicit action on people and environments inadvertently or openly.


Here are six quick historical examples of how maps get constructed and simple issues that will come up throughout the workshop.


• Ptolemy 15th century reconstruction from Byzantium: an attempt at an empirical process, calculating distance by measuring the angle of shadow in two locations at the same time.


• Al-Idrisi (Sicily) a 12th century combination of diverse sources for information (a mash up) from many cultures: south is at the top (Mecca)- as a prime cultural value (south as Mecca represents a different ordering based on taxonomy).


• Hereford map (England- 1300) structured in part on religious belief: what is at center and what is placed at margin, Jerusalem is at center, paradise at center top, England Ireland 23+ 24 at periphery, antipodes at 12. This represents another way of creating a taxonomy: what is central and what is borderland.


• Portugal and Ribeiro—(1500’s) Ribeiro placed the Spice Islands (under dispute at the time) in Portugal’s territory. The map also has the look and feeling of a scientific, mathematical map of the time—(see portalan markings, which again emphasize an empirical approach, but the disputed territories location has been knowingly altered: i.e. maps can be made to lie openly etc.).


• Cassini map- France: 18th century, created privately, nationalized after the French Revolution. Precision, in part makes it easier to control a populous, assess taxes, etc.


• Google Earth, which appears to be the actual globe in real time (so it suggests a veridical fact), yet information is based on data rather than an optical image: things are left out and the motivation for Google is the income from search and advertising… therefore…


So we have two things coming together in maps, their “visual rhetoric” and their function.


• A classic example would be the Mercator projection. “Rhetorically” northern regions appear bigger than they actually are in surface area. Used by navigators they are mathematically accurate for mapping a course of a ship or airplane. While mapmakers and specialists understand this, general users do not. They see the northern countries and regions as large as equatorial countries in terms of size.


• Another aspect of map-making is of how “center and margin” are depicted, again the simplest example would be in choosing the “prime meridian,” literally where one counts out longitude; or what part of the world is placed as the focal point of the map, so again, while a prime meridian is required to compute and communicate longitude, it inadvertently creates a conceptual reading of center and margin, much like the Hereford map example.


This tacit level of information is important, since maps are used by virtually everyone now and not just those that have access and special training (what also is interesting is in how dynamic maps can help solve in part these biases, such as Google Earth- literally the center is determined in part by where the user is, and a transition is made between a 3-d globe and a flat representation as one zooms in).


New visual rhetoric: includes mash ups of other influences


• Google Earth was inspired by the US designers Charles and Ray Eames and their short film “Powers of Ten,” from 1977 as a way of showing the concept of magnitude. So the experience of using Google Earth has less to do with the history of cartography in some ways and more about cinematography point of view, and visual editing. • Similar ideas are also part of medical imaging, which sometimes makes the body appear as more of an image than real a body that we inhabit, feel pain as lived experience, etc.


That changes the way that the knowledge is perceived and constructed.


Interpretation carries a particular “spin” to data. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the user understands the particular bias and constraints on the map. They see it as something that is made rather than a direct fact.


However maps are considered as direct fact, by many people. Maps can also be design compromises, since maps may have to contain a huge range of information, especially when


a) users contribute information to digital maps


b) visual and rhetorical impact may be the “taken away” by the user rather than interpretation and comprehension of the data represented.


So there are many points of miscommunication and potential manipulation.


A cartographer is a designer- and with all design, context and user is important to consider when making design choices. Most contemporary cartographers are aware of these critical ideas that started to be talked about in the 1980’s.


Digital contributors, however, may not have that critical level of knowledge when they contribute to map platforms, or see in a broader sense the other ways that “mapping” can be used manipulatively to convince them about ideas represented in complex information (there are also interesting efforts to come to common understandings of user contributions, for example the Wikipedia WikiProject Maps, where common processes and terms are established).


So the position of “author” and “user” is even more problematic now.


Finally this section is about the bias of the author and their motivations and who the map is intended for the audience, community, and individual, etc., and—


What is the relationship between the first two to the map especially if used to “change things” as design or other intervention, especially in urban planning, interpreting social economic and political data, etc.


Here is a story that helps illustrate this:


For many people there is a strong bias that data is “out there” online and is complete and a natural part of digital information. Data is a form of production- it comes from somewhere, and requires capital and the motivation to collect it and resource it. At the same time, what is not available is important. Also, how a map is placed inside of a larger story can make the map seem complete and seamless. The Southwest Border Initiative in the United States was eventually discontinued by Obama. It was to be a 30 billion (USD) project to secure the borders of the US, contracted to Boeing (which is a large US defense contractor).


In a project I was working on regarding this and border issues, I found as I researched that there were no maps or comprehensive plans available to the public about the fence construction in 2008.


So hold in mind author and audience and motivations as we look at these images:


• In public media, video and photos of officials gave briefings at select sections of the fence functioned more or less as stage sets.


• Many research sources were in disagreement about the actual size and extent of the fence in its current state: news services created maps to show the construction of the fence, and were often vague and contradictory.


• Contractors created their own maps to sell their commercial products at conventions. Motivation and audience are commercial sales and specialists at trade conventions, and the defense industry (image of contractor brochure).


• Human rights groups created their own maps to help people survive the boarder crossing:


• distance in a day, and


• mobile phone coverage and sources of water (provided by Humane Borders) in Tucson.


• For what I was working on, information on the actual physical fence was only available through researching and contacting local agencies and news reporters to gain access to Environmental Impact Statements (which have to be developed by law in the United States for any project of this nature), and by actually going there and observing.


Environmental Impact Statements (government oversite) were in the public domain, with an emphasis on preserving the natural environment. They are intended for preservation advocates, unintended for cultural or political audiences.


The workshop


How could you design a map thinking through a particular need, with a particular audience, with the intention of changing the perception or empowering that audience? How can we rethink maps to do that in simple ways? Here are examples—in general this has to do with shifting things to a much more user-centered, community centered basis, rather than adding to apps only retrofitted to data sources and configurations like Googlemaps.


And here are basic questions that we need to use to come up with a common language between the groups as we develop outcomes in the workshop:


What is the map’s theme (kind of map) and subject (name of the map)?


How does the map function?


Who is the author and who is the audience (or users, or participants)



The question: how do these three factors reinforce each other in specific maps, especially if they are used to “change things” especially in urban planning, social mapping, economic and political data, etc.


Or- how do they change the awareness of the user in the space, making them more aware of things that would otherwise not be paid attention to.


Examples of user centered and contextual plus theme:


• Baka in Cameroon and their restriction from their land because of logging. This is user centered and contextual: they are using GPS to create maps- that monitor the logging and so they can advocate for their territory and remain self sufficient.


• Artist Alan Sonfist: Earth Paintings: each “painting” is a sample from a particular location acting as a representation of that landscape. This is part of a series on California.


• Eye Voice (Ojo Voz) in Oaxaca, Mexico: as user centered and contextual: farmers are mapping and creating an archive of landraces of corn which they have always cultivated- keeping genetic variation going in the species. Monsanto wants to market to them a gene-tailored seed that lacks genetic variation. Scientists are concerned that bio-diversity in the species will be eliminated. Oaxacan farmers want to continue a their traditional practices as well.


• “Sounds of Hunt Library”: as user centered and contextual: this is way finding or environmental signage in a non-traditional library space- in this new building no one knows what social behaviors are expected, so sampled sound level over time is part of the mapping system: it shows quiet places versus more social spaces based on people’s behavior over time.


• One of my students design interventions for mass transit: a map as user centered and contextual: mass transit maps about time versus space. People need to know how efficient the bus route is, rather than the geographical distance.




Let’s take Anna’s maps (the transit map).


The mass transit map is based on how long it takes to get to a destination.


The “who” aspect: there are two communities that use mass transit- the problems are different but shared between them; one community must use mass transit, having limited access to cars, the other community is motivated by civic and social pressures regarding carbon footprint, and decreasing traffic congestion in the city. There is also an idea here that both of these socio-economic groups might have to interact with each over time on the commute, so the bus becomes something like a public square.


The “what” aspect is created through a map based on time


and “how’— the function is based on a quick visual language that is created for physical and digital touch points- for example: bus kiosk and digital phone app.


Divide into teams of three. Brainstorm a list of communities, neighborhoods etc. that you know of anecdotally. If possible do Internet research quickly on the users/community. How can visually mapping their space enhance or solve a problem or show some aspect of their space that a traditional map would not show? Assess what particular issues, or possibilities could be tapped into to expose a different interpretation of the space.


Being specific is important-


generate as many sketches of maps as needed and alternatives looking at how it would change the experience of the users/community. What kind of visual form would convey that idea (examples following).


It would be great to come up with more than one idea- can teams come up with more than one kind of map- different subject in the same space, different visual form, etc.


Create an informal presentation staying close to the three categories as a way to have something in common with the other groups-


Present at the end of the workshop your efforts plus a simple scenario of what the user’s experience is in using the map. How would the map potentially change over time? Does the information change based on time of day? Season? etc.—


Examples from Denis Wood, including the sketchy and graphic quality from “Everything Sings.”