Bridging the Gap Between Geographic Information systems
and Graphic Design

27/06/2024



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Introduction

In today’s data-driven world, the fusion of geographic information systems (GIS) and graphic design is creating powerful visual tools that enhance our understanding of spatial data. This is not only transforming the way we visualize geographic information but also how we interact with and interpret complex datasets. This blog explores how graphic design can be applied to geographic information to create visually engaging and informative maps and data visualizations.

Example of a standard data set turned into an infographic

Where Graphic Design and Geographic Information Systems Meet

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are essential for capturing, storing, analyzing, and managing spatial data such as coordinates and elevation relative to sea level. Traditionally, GIS professionals focused on the technical accuracy of maps and spatial data representations. However, the increasing need for clear and compelling visualizations has highlighted the importance of graphic design in this field.

Graphic design brings an aesthetic dimension to GIS, enhancing the clarity and impact of geographic information. By applying design principles, GIS professionals can create maps and visualizations that are not only accurate but also engaging and easy to understand.

Key Design Principles in GIS

  1. Color Theory: Effective use of color is crucial in map design. Color can highlight differences, indicate density, and represent various data layers. Understanding color theory helps in choosing palettes that improve readability and convey the right message.
  2. Typography: The choice of fonts and text placement significantly affects the readability of maps. Clear, legible typography ensures that map labels and annotations are easily understood, enhancing the overall user experience.
  3. Symbology: Symbols are used to represent different types of geographic features. Well-designed symbols that are intuitive and consistent can greatly improve the user’s ability to interpret the map quickly.
  4. Layout and Composition: A well-structured layout guides the viewer’s eye through the map logically. Balancing elements like legends, scales, and north arrows ensures that all necessary information is accessible without overwhelming the viewer.
  5. Infographics: Integrating infographics with maps can provide additional context and highlight key data points. Infographics can add a layer of depth to maps that can completely restructure how the map is interpreted.

A History of Graphic Design & GIS

Designing topographically sensitive assets has lots of potential when it comes to stylizing and conveying a specific message. The integration between a data set and graphic design is actually quite old. If you try and find old examples of graphic design before the late 1800’s, an extremely common thing is a map. Today we are lucky enough that theres an infinite amount of ways to collect geographical data. Drones, Satellites, vehicles like the google car driving everywhere to map out our ever-changing cities and towns. Combining data and design has gotten much more stride since the turn of the century, and advancements/developments are made with both new and old technology. This didn’t stop sailors, vikings, and several groups of people who interacted with the sea and land from finding their way around, and keeping track of it in one way or another. Having this ability to look back on what has already been done, and building off of it or searching for a new perspective has had a profound affect on the development of data visualization and data processing. A very interesting example is that there was a missing flight at one point, the malaysia flight 370, at one point it was in a very remote area that had no signals besides radio waves. Generally one can imagine that with radio waves, you receive them and your device picking up the waves translate them for you some how (imagine sound coming out from a radio or morse code), during the search for flight 370 the opposite was discovered to be possible, due to interruptions to the radio waves it was possible to determine a very tight time estimate for when the flight might have malfunctioned, with an even broader geographical estimate for its crashing zone. It might not seem like much on the surface, however this went from basically 0 information to a general idea because someone thought of trying this out. Where graphic design fits into all of this is the visualization of the data. Data visualization is a niche aspect of graphic design but is responsible for lots of modern day developments where data and pattern recognition play a big part.

ancient use of a geographic information systems. Hecataeus made this map with the idea that he knew the entirety of the world.

Hecataeus’ map of the entire world, very inaccurate but showing very early examples of the combination of geographic information systems and graphic design.

Applications of GIS and Graphic Design

  1. Urban Planning: Combining GIS data with graphic design helps urban planners create detailed and visually appealing plans for city development, zoning, and infrastructure projects.
  2. Environmental Monitoring: Effective visualizations of environmental data, such as pollution levels or deforestation rates, can raise awareness and support policy-making.
  3. Disaster Management: In crisis situations, clear and informative maps are crucial. Graphic design enhances the readability of maps used in disaster response and management, aiding in quick decision-making.
  4. Tourism: Tourist maps that combine GIS data with appealing design elements can enhance the visitor experience by providing easy-to-understand information about attractions, routes, and facilities.
  5. Education: Educational materials that use GIS data and graphic design can make learning about geography, history, and science more engaging for students.

Innovation with GIS

Something we as humans don’t always enjoy thinking about is the ocean and its infinite possibilities. With how expansive graphic design and information systems are from a conceptual standpoint due to modern technology, it’s fair to say that we can find things that have yet to be considered even this late in the game. Imagine if Sacagawea had a bird that could tell her exactly what the mountains and upcoming territory held in store for Lewis and Clark. If this same bird could optimize there routing from point A to B. That is what is already possible with the technology available today, even under water. With recent tragic events pertaining to the titan submarine, we were eventually able to get a rough idea of their path of travel without ever even seeing where they came from, and even run simulations of when the disaster happened.  All of this is fueled by GIS implementations as they exists in the modern day.

Conclusion

The integration of geographic information systems and graphic design is revolutionizing the way we visualize and interpret spatial data. By applying design principles to GIS, we can create maps and visualizations that are accurate, engaging and accessible. This interdisciplinary approach enhances our ability to understand complex geographic information and make informed decisions.

@ J.O. Agency

Your messaging is too precious to go unchecked — hiring a Graphic Designer can be incredibly beneficial as you communicate with your audience over the long term. Our team of marketing professionals includes designers with years of experience. We’ll help you send just the right message. Reach out to us at hello@joagency.com or 817-335-0100 to start the conversation today.

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