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Ortelius Aims to Unleash Both the Art and Science of Geography

08.24.09 Spatial Sustain Magazine/Vector1 Media editor, Matt Ball, posts this article tracing our journey to Ortelius:

A new cartographic design tool called Ortelius was launched last week by Mapdiva. This tool addresses a lack of mapmaking software for the Mac OS X environment, and aims to make map design easier to learn and implement. The two principals of Mapdiva are the lead developer Graham Cox of Australia, and Jill Saligoe-Simmel, a professional geographer who is the past executive director of the Indiana Geographic Information Council (IGIC), and represented the state of Indiana at the National States Geographic Information Council, and served on the board.

“I switched to a Mac a couple of years ago, and was really frustrated about the lack of mapping software that was available,” said Saligoe-Simmel. “I was also frustrated at IGIC at not being able to help people that didn’t have GIS skills use the Indiana Map . And finally, I was looking for more creativity in my mapping software, and wasn’t getting that out of the GIS programs that are available. I’ve really been focused on the technology and the policy, but I fell in love with geography for both the art and the science, and I’ve been missing the art.”

The software is designed for cartography with built in tools to make map design easier, with a shorter learning curve than graphics and illustration programs. The software simplifies the insertion of such elements as bridges, creates smooth curves, and automates the creation of  road junctions. The program also has a sophisticated labeling system that allows users to click on any feature and add a label using the attribute information of that feature. It can import JPG, PNG, GIF and TIFF files to build upon a base map, and can also output in these formats for publication or digital presentation.

“In my experience being a manager with GIS, I was seeing a lot of GIS people create maps for presentations in PowerPoint, because they just wanted to make a quick map, and make it look nice, but they didn’t want to create a database in order to do it,” continued Saligoe-Simmel. “I’ve talked to so many other professionals that have wanted to bring creativity back into their work. Now with the expansion of the technology, we’re ready to take on the cartography, the graphics, the art, and focus on how important presentation is for communication. And, that’s what we hope to accomplish with Ortelius, to provide a product that can let people unleash their creativity.”

Users have a broad choice of colors, fills and pen strokes to create their own map styles, with ColorBrewer palettes that are are designed for better map display. There are a large number of symbols included in the software, and easy tools to create your own. The software employs layers to keep map data organized and automatically creates layers from imported GIS map data.

Given the goal of making maps more accessible, there’s an emphasis on making the design process intuitive. The website contains a number of video tutorials to walk you through different aspects of the software, and there are plans to build on this educational resource base. There’s also the hope that this software might be incorporated into school curriculum to teach kids mapmaking skills.

“I’ve been involved in our geographic educator’s network in the state, and I understand the hurdles of trying to get geospatial technology into the classroom,” said Saligoe-Simmel. “I could never get my daughter who is in 7thgrade to sit down in front of GIS software to help her learn it, she just didn’t have the patience to get through the lengthy introduction to where you can start creating things. She’ll now sit down with Ortelius for hours making imaginary towns, and it’s rewarding to see that we have something that could take hold with middle and high school students.”

The standard edition of the software is available now for a single user license price of $79, and an education single user license price of $39. The company is in development on a professional edition with plans to include the ability to bring in GIS files in real-world coordinate space, as well as adding the ability to work with multiple layers and multiple projections. The professional edition will also include the ability to create choropleth maps.

“I hope that Ortelius can be a bridge,” asserted Saligoe-Simmel. “Professional GIS people are covered really well now with software, but when I have a graphic designer that comes to me and asks for a map, they don’t know what a Shapefile is, and there’s a steep learning curve. We hope to bring more people into the mapmaking fold.”