International Cartographic Association in Dresden

International_Cartographic_Association.pngLast week I immersed myself deep in the culture and community of map design. The biennial gathering is the major cartography conference, International Cartographic Association world, held this year in historic Dresden, Germany. It was my first time with little awareness or expectation of the community, one that throughout the week I both enjoyed but also some consternation.


The week kicked off with a joint workshop of the Commissions on Map Design and Neocartography hosted by the illustrious Steve Chilton and Ken Field . Throughout the day many of us shared our thoughts and suggestions for the concepts digital, personal, interactive realtime cartography. I will write up my talk separately, but the many other attendees covered insightful areas of work and ideas. Julia Mia Stirnemann, a designer by background, showed the importance of projection in storytelling and perspective demonstrating her WorldMapBuilderBeate Weninger demonstrated the clear case and design work for better colors in digital cartography – particularly gradient color ramps that affect color vision deficiencies and even situational color blindness caused by ambient environment, lighting, screen displays, and other non-controllable interferences with your maps.

Throughout the conference there were plentiful gems of research and ideas. One of the best talks was by Ian Muehlenhaus on the methodology and rhetoric of the dark side of cartography, persuasive maps.

There were other cross-overs from GIS to cartography in particular dealing with the growing amount of crowd-sourced data that may need new uncertainty analysis and types of uncertainty visualization. Similarly there was an entire session on Temporal animation.

Neogeography was well represented, from a smellmap to [community gathered tribal maps] and more artistic portrayals such as [The Visitors].

I highly suggest perusing the Conference schedule. There are good papers, many with the PDF papers included. You may find inspiration or references to include in your own work.


The ICA is over 50 years old, and reflects a wide view of the historic and emerging roles and techniques of cartography. The ICA operates through a number of volunteer identified and created commissions which are formed on the basis of identifying a particular aspect of cartography that merits discussion, research, publication, and evaluation. These commissions alone indicate the range of cartography: from the general Map Design and GeoVisualization to the very specific Globes and even Planetary Cartography.

Throughout the week conference sessions are organized around themes within these commissions. The structure works to encourage the community to adapt to emerging trends and areas of interest that can subsequently foster micro-communities or hypothetically reach out to external groups.

if your community is shrinking while your domain is booming then you might need to broaden your perspective’” Andrew Turner (@ajturner) August 27, 2013

In my experience typical of any long-running and well established community, there exists a self-fulfilling echo chamber. During one meeting a remark was made that everyone is making maps, yet the ICA and cartography journals are shrinking. The knee-jerk response was that it the industry is not supportive of cartography – meaning there are fewer ‘cartography professorships’ and research publications. These reactions miss the point that it is the broader, and differential, groups that are adopting cartography as a practice within their domains and would benefit from the active and continuous engagement from communities like the ICA within these external communities.

Brian Timoney has noted the same effect in GIS.

Future ICA

The ICA Conference was vibrant, and had a clearly emerging group of newer cartographers and even digital technical aspects that indicate a good future for the association – or at least that community. I was truly impressed by the class of International Cartography Master’s students whom spend three semesters stationed at different technical universities learning the many historic and modern capabilities of cartography which culminate in a semester focused capstone project. The students I met were intelligent, capable, and excited to talk and share ideas.

Many of the ICA groups attend other geographic conferences such as NACIS, or FOSS4G and State of the Map – but I hope that more also reach to the developer and web communities to share their expertise, insights, and collaborate.