Maps for Good: An Interview with Founders Marty and Ross

Photo: Rick Ridgeway

Photo: Rick Ridgeway

1. So, Marty and Ross, last time we talked to you, you were organizing your expedition to research and create print and interactive maps of the future Patagonia National Park.  How did that trip go?

Ross: Our expedition was a big success. We spent three months exploring the park to collect all the content we needed, then eight months producing the maps back in the United States. There were long nights, cold fingers, bumps, and bruises, but it has all culminated in one unforgettable experience and two maps we’re proud to share.

2.  Tell us about a great adventure you had during the fieldwork for this project.

Marty: Soon after we first arrived, we took a four-day trip into the backcountry to map the then-new trail up Valle Avilés and through Valle Hermoso. Two things stick out from that trip. First, the landscape took our breath away over and over again. Anyone who has the chance to go there should do it. Second, I think we probably did upwards of 200 river crossings that trip. The water was ice cold, having been part of a glacier just minutes or hours ago, and usually knee-deep but sometimes up to the waist. It was bright blue but opaque with silt, so there was no way to know how deep the next step would take us. At first, we tried to minimize the number of times we crossed the river, weaving our way along maze-like routes we guessed would be dry, bushwhacking through the lenga forests on the steep banks of the valley. I think it took us about three hours to cover just one mile. Tired and all scratched up, we gave up avoiding the crossings and just walked in a straight line towards our goal, crossing every bit of river we encountered. It was liberating and wonderful, and we covered a lot of ground with our numb feet!

This turned out to be a good lesson for the rest of the expedition and especially as we start our business, Maps for Good. There will always be a hundred obstacles between you and any ambitious goal. Sometimes it can be paralyzing to see them all on the horizon, but if you try to avoid them, you’ll have a hard time getting anywhere. Though it requires a leap of faith (and perhaps a pair of warm dry socks in your pack), the best thing to do is just tackle the challenges head-on. Move confidently towards your goal and bravely cross each river as it comes.

Photo: Maps for Good

Photo: Maps for Good

3.  What proved to be some of the challenges of completing this project?

Marty: There’s only so much planning you can do when you’re going to a place you’ve never been before. I think we had imagined a very smooth start in which we would get everything set up quickly, make friends and contacts easily, and hit the ground running. In reality, we had a pretty rocky start. In hindsight, I’m glad it happened that way because we learned from it. What’s there to learn when everything goes smoothly? The real adventure starts when things stop going as planned.

The second major challenge came at the end of the project. Just a few days before we were going to go to press with the print map, a visiting Chilean friend told us that all maps that are to be distributed in Chile must first be approved by the Chilean government. We were a bit shocked, but understood that the process should only take about a week. No biggie, just a week’s delay. It ended up taking three months! As a result, we weren’t able to get the maps down to the park in time for the start of the season as we had hoped.

Photo: Maps for Good

Photo: Maps for Good

4.  How did you gather all the various types of information the maps required?

Ross: In the same way that a photographer makes a shot list, we made a list of all the geographic data we needed to produce the maps. After we had assembled all the publicly available data for the region, we set out to collect the rest in the field with a handheld GPS. We interviewed park rangers and park staff to learn local place names, poured over military maps for reference, and dug up some historical maps to find out how different parts of the park were used during ranching days. We were lucky to have the help and support of our fellow volunteer Bryan Lobel, who contributed a great deal to the data collection and editing effort.

One of the great joys of our fieldwork was taking photographs to integrate into the maps. We could have spent years photographing the park—the place is a photographer’s dream. We were lucky to meet Linde Waidhofer, a local photographer who has taken thousands of gorgeous photos of the Chacabuco Valley, and who generously let us incorporate some of her beautiful pictures in the maps.

The immersive panoramas that appear on the interactive map are each a compilation of forty photographs stitched together. We loved exploring the park and finding viewpoints we wanted to share. It’s a neat way of immersing map users into the landscape and connecting them with the place.

Photo: Maps for Good

Photo: Maps for Good

5.  What were some of the design principles you’ve kept in mind for these maps? 

Marty: We tied every design decision back to our original goal: how can we connect people with this place? A map is an abstract representation of a place, so it should be true to that place in every way possible. It should stimulate our imaginations and inspire exploration. It should be a medium for storing sensory memories of a place and sharing those memories with others. This is why we chose to incorporate elements of realism, such as shaded relief, land cover, and a textured forest, into the front side of the map. We wanted the cognitive transformation from map to landscape and vice versa to be as easy as possible.

From a practical standpoint, we wanted the print map to be as useful as possible. That’s why we included maps at eight different scales. Whether you’re trying to figure out where in the world Chile is, or you’re driving to the park from the airport, hiking on one of the trails, getting groceries in town, or navigating the headquarters, we have you covered. Having explored this place without a map, we were essentially making the map we would have loved to have.

Maps of the future Patagonia National Park are now available in print or as an interactive online map

Maps of the future Patagonia National Park are now available in print or as an interactive online map

6.  How is the process of creating an interactive/ online map different from creating a print map?

Ross: The two are similar in concept; in both cases we’re designing for a unique user experience, and we’re trying to connect people with the place. After the data collection/editing/analysis portion of the work is done, the two workflows diverge. In creating a print map, we use tools like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to craft the look and feel of the map, designing for a printed outcome that people will touch, fold, and carry. When we develop an interactive map, we’re using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to shape the look and experience of the map. An online outcome presents its own set of challenges: how will this look on each different browser and on each different device? It’s pretty unusual for a cartographer to make both print and interactive maps—most people specialize in one or the other. But we see them both as compelling tools that serve different purposes, so we do both. I think it makes what we do more versatile and accommodating.

7.  Why maps? Why be cartographers?

Ross: More than just a tool for navigation, a map can be a canvas for telling a story. It can show us how patterns of space are related to patterns of events. We’re building our business at the intersection of science, art, and social good.

8.  What’s next for you?

Marty: As we move forward, we’re partnering with conservation initiatives and other social enterprises to tell their story and showcase their impact through maps. We’re now accepting new client projects. We invite anyone who is interested to check out our website or contact us directly (contact@mapsforgood.org). We’d love to hear from you.

Marty Schnure, Founder and Art Director  -  Ross Donahue, Founder and Media Director Photo: Maps for Good

Marty Schnure, Founder and Art Director – Ross Donahue, Founder and Media Director
Photo: Maps for Good

To learn more about Marty and Ross’s work, visit their website, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Instagram and Twitter. The print map of the park is available for $9.95 on their online store.

2 thoughts on “Maps for Good: An Interview with Founders Marty and Ross

  1. Friday May 16th, 2014 at 04:11 AM

    Another part of wilderness get destroyed via mapping – wilderness by definition is the unknown, the more it becomes documented the more it comes closer to a city park (like Torres del Paine). For me the areas behind Chile Chico were always very precious, mainly because they were unknown – now, with more mapping the ‘unknown’ becomes the ‘known’ – hence diminishing its wilderness essence. I am not meaning to be critical of the creators of this, as yet unrecognised, national park, nor of the map makers – I just wonder about the ethics (from an ecocentric perspective) and the future of ‘wilderness’ (if any such place on this planet still qualifies for such a title).

  2. Boudewijn jansen
    Thursday May 22nd, 2014 at 05:37 PM

    Just today the long expected map arrived,mail in Argentina is far from ideal!
    Great map you made, I love maps since many many years this is a perfect one for its purpose.
    A job well done,I intended to visit the parque coming November but a visit to the USA ,to the North of Argentina and later to Europe have priority so 2015 I hope to really use this supermap in the Chacabuco
    With kind regards Boudewijn M.J Jansen,Dutch,living in provincia Cordoba Argentina

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