Map Making: “Can I have a map?”

“Can I have a map?”

How often do you get someone ask, “Can I have a map”? I have nothing against making maps; in fact I like it so much that I have made a career out of it. Not just any map either, I’ve made maps for the nuclear, environmental, government, renewable energy, offshore and survey industries, to name a few. I’ve even made maps for a Prime Minister. (You’re welcome Mr Blair). 

My issue is when you are just asked for a map. This is not only time-consuming for you, the creator, but also for the poor client whom you are charging four or five times over for updates to a map that should have been right the first time. This isn’t the clients’ fault; the client didn’t realise that there are multiple templates for the work or that positioning the label they wanted would take half an hour due to it causing a script in the GIS to crash. No, it is safe to assume that the client doesn’t know anything about GIS; otherwise they would be doing it themselves. OR (eeek!) you could have the ultimate in intimidation that is the GIS Manager – someone who used GIS up until 10 years ago and has forgotten how long things REALLY take *shudder*.

There are two was to charge people for making maps, either a fixed rate or the consultants favourite, by the hour. No matter which one you choose, it will be wrong. Charge by the hour and you spend six hours on five different versions of the map which looked fine the first time, OR you take the hit but as you make all those changes, that time you had earmarked has gone and you have to apologise to other clients who were never part of the issue. Lose, lose.



Manage Expectations

The most difficult time I had with this issue was working for local government here in the UK. One day I would be asked for a “PPL map”, the next I would be asked to map all the doctors’ surgeries near to elderly communities, then the next I would be asked for a map of otter holts. Every map was diverse and each required a different format, logo, information, size, paper density, north arrow … .you get the idea. No matter what, each map was unique, and with little experience with making public facing maps I was taking my work home with me just to get all the work done near to deadline. 

So, I created the “GIS Request Form” and I have used this in many different guises at every workplace I’ve worked and never looked back. Simply put, it is a list of basic requirements for making a map. This has sometimes been a list of 20 items but at present is a list of seven or eight that form the creation. If I know that the client is managing onshore assets, it is safe to assume they will require British National Grid; once things go coastal it is a completely different set of goalposts.

The basics I will always ask for are:

  • Project name
  • Time allocated for the job
  • Presentation size (is it for a report and to be inset or A3 folded?!)
  • Orientation of the map
  • Allow for ring-binding?
  • Description of the work (useful for context)

Other information I ask of new clients may be:

  • The project level of accuracy
  • The stated project coordinate system
  • Preferred data provision format
  • Is this based on a previous map? If so, can a sample be provided?
  • Is the map for internal or external use? 

By having all this information at hand, you can manage the expectation a lot better and therefore save A LOT of time. For one client, I can remember being told to run off about 25 maps for a client, and I did it in the company standard A3 landscape, only for the director to come back and tell me that the client had changed their mind and the figures had to be put into the text of the report. How do you tell a client that you are going to charge them for another 30 to 40 hours of work?! At least, if you have it in print from the start you have a safety net!

Below is an example of the current (quick) request form. Yes, it is in the form of an email. Why? Because I ask my clients to have the message on their desktops; then if they need a map, all they have to do is fill in the details and click “send”. 



First Map Perfection

Okay, so I still have to make re-iterations of the map, but now I usually only make one … yes ONE. It is a personal goal of mine to ensure that a client only has to have one iteration of the map. In fact, I always tell the client that the first map is a draft and won’t be perfect as no-one has EVER made a perfect map first time (disclaimer: maybe they have, but I doubt it).

I hope this helps to smooth the workflow. Feel free to comment and add your stories of client map expectations or when it has gotten to a crazy number of iterations!!


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