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Think Out Loud

On The Job: Cartography

Pete Springer/OPB

Dave Imus just might be the most famous cartographer you’ve never heard of. He’s the most recent recipient of his field’s highest honor for mapmaking. The Cartography and Geographic Information Society awarded Imus the Best in Show award for his 2010 map, The Essential Geography of the United States of America. What makes one map stand out from all the rest? Dave Imus has a short answer: beauty. Beauty, he says, is achieved by clarity, which is achieved at least in part by contrast. The way his maps are designed lead the eye to be able to comprehend what it’s seeing, avoiding the “eye jangling,” as he puts it, that can happen when trying to figure out what you’re looking at on say, a lot of maps sold by Rand McNally or National Geographic.

He says most people think of maps as navigational tools. But he thinks maps are so much more than that — they’re about understanding. The challenge and the reward of his job, he says, is taking an incomprehensible amount of information and making it comprehensible. You can judge how successful he was for yourself by clicking on the map on the front page of the Imus Geographics website.

What was the most recent map you bought and why did you choose it? How do you use maps? Are they important to you?

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