A Behind the Scenes Interview with Hema Maps Head Map Maker
(Image: The Hema Map Patrol out on a GIS mission.)
Have you ever wondered how maps are actually made? Here, Pierre Kurth gives us an insight into this complex data-driven process.
We all know the Hema Map Patrol; the crew out and about collecting information that goes into all of the Hema products. But what happens next? How are maps actually made? This is when the GIS and cartography teams step into the spotlight to conjure up their special brand of data-driven wizardry.
To try and get a clearer picture of what goes on behind the scenes of every Hema map and guidebook, we had a quick chat with Pierre Kurth, who is the head of Hema's GIS and cartography department. So if you've ever wondered what it takes to get a job at Hema (something which people are always curious about) then it's time to start taking notes.
Q. What is GIS and what does the GIS team do?
This is a very complex question. In short, GIS (Geographic Information System) is a tool or framework used to collect, store and analyse spatial data.
The data is stored in a tabular form with geographic coordinates attached (spatially), most often in a database or other file formats.
The data can be either stored as a point, line or polygon feature. Each feature has one or many attributes attached that describe the data which can be queried.
Q. Once data has been captured in the field, what are the next steps in terms of integrating it with the Hema database?
We have an automated process in place that allows us to get the data from the field device into our database via a cloud platform. This is streamlined to make the process as efficient as possible.
Once the data available to us at the office, we integrate it into our core database and do a quality check before it goes into production.
(Image: The Hema Map Patrol out on a mapping expedition at the Great Australian Bight, South Australia.)
Q. So there's this great big database full of information, how does all of that information end up on a page as a map? What are the processes involved and the roles of different team members?
We have software which allows us to pull from the database whichever map layers and information we need based on scale and type of product (sheet map, guide book, etc).
We have GIS specialists who deal with the data side of things, making sure all necessary map layers are updated and ready to go.
And then we have the map designer – also known as the cartographer – who brings together all the layers of information to author the map. The cartographer makes sure the map information, the cartographic style and legibility is represented to the highest quality standard.
Q. The remote data collection work done by the Map Patrol has always been one of the key points of difference when compared to other mapping brands, but what are some things Hema does behind the scenes that set them apart from other brands?
Beyond our fieldwork, Hema is also involved with a lot of events and shows. At Hema Maps we take the opportunity to have a chat with our customers and listen to their feedback, to understand how we can further improve our map products.
We keep in touch with local communities and 4WD clubs to get the latest information on track and road conditions before we publish any product.
Q. Map making has obviously come a long way in recent decades, tell us about some of the big changes taking place in the world of GIS and cartography?
Data Driven is the key. To make a map production as efficiently as possible you want to have data driven workflows in place. This not only helps with the accuracy of map production, but also to produce and release a map product either digitally or in print in a timely manner.
Repeatable and streamlined data updated processes help Hema Maps to make sure we always have the latest and greatest data available.
Q. Lately we have been hearing about the development of Vector maps as opposed to traditional Raster Maps when presented digitally. What are the differences between the two types of maps?.
In essence Raster maps are very much akin to paper maps with layers built upon one another at a static scale. They are very rich in detail but digitally are problematic due to the size of the files which can cause stability and speed issues. These maps do not offer a multi-level-zoom experience because of its single scale level. The Vector Maps are built to suit a digital platform. They are responsive, fast and versatile, offer the ability to rotate maps and show 3D views. The world's major mapping companies are moving to this platform for their digital mapping products and enables enhanced navigation possibilities on the platform.