David Ramos, American University

Mapmaking lets designers present spatial data and tell stories about place. This workshop looks at ways of working with maps and spatial data, emphasizing accessible, affordable approaches that can nevertheless yield products of the highest visual quality. It offers a survey of software tools for producing print and interactive maps, discusses the uses of open data, and covers pen-and-paper exercises that turn mapmaking into an activity open to anyone.

The choice of mapping software for 2017 is a more difficult question than it was ten years ago. The leading commercial GIS tools are, as before, unarguably expensive and, perhaps, cumbersome for design work and web mapping. Over the past two or three years, alternative tools have flourished, but lost ease of use even as they gained features. This workshop examines mapping tools that might work well in a higher education setting, emphasizing low-cost and open source options, and seeking out programs that are user-friendly yet able to produce highly customized output.

Thanks to open data advocates and mapmaking volunteers, an avalanche of freely available spatial data has become available, from government sources, private providers, and projects like OpenStreetMap. This workshop compares major data sources and offers advice on how to acquire data for projects elsewhere.

The workshop lets participants make maps with open datasets, exploring freely available tools for print and online cartography.

The last part of the session looks at Field Papers, a set of tools for recording information in the field using pen and paper, then bringing those data back onto the computer for editing and distribution. This way of working lets anyone help to create a map, with a minimum of technological barriers.


David Ramos is a  designer, developer, and design educator based in Washington, D.C. He is a faculty member in the graphic design program at American University, offering classes that integrate culture, code, and form. His professional practice encompasses user experience design, web application development, cartography and data visualization, publications, and posters. Clients include environmentalists, journalists, and entrepreneurs. David also helps run Knowledge Commons DC, a free school that has offered more than 600 classes around D.C. in partnership with public library systems, arts organizations, museums, and local businesses.