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How Hema Maps Are Made

Have you ever picked up a map and just felt more lost after looking at it than you had beforehand? To make high quality, user-friendly maps, simply having loads of geographical data isn't going to cut it. Before hitting the shelves, a Hema product travels through a series of different processes, each undertaken by people who specialise in their respective fields. To help shine a light on the hard work of our GIS and cartography teams, we thought it we'd break down exactly what it takes to make a Hema map.  

Data collection is the glamorous job of heading out in the Hema Map Patrol rig and driving the tracks.(Image: Data collection is the glamorous job of heading out in the Hema Map Patrol rig and driving the tracks.)

Data collection is the glamorous job of heading out in the Hema Map Patrol rig and driving the tracks. Don't be fooled by all the pretty pictures you see, however, this kind of work is no holiday; though it's better than sitting around the office all day. As Bryce Christie explained in our recent interview “data is collected using an off-the-shelf 3rd party mobile GIS data collection app along with high precision/ accurate DGPS hardware to ensure data collected has sub-metre accuracy.”

Once it's been logged, the data is transmitted to a cloud-based system, which is accessed by the GIS team back at the office, downloaded and tidied up. All these data-points need to be checked to make sure all the attribution information is correct before they're integrated into Hema's master database; the integration itself is now mostly automated. 

In order to translate all this data into usable products, first, the team need to figure out what each product should look like, who it's for and how it'll be used. 

Take the new Tasmania maps as an example. The fieldwork took place over the course of six weeks, the data was tidied up, then the cartography, GIS, merchandising, sales and design teams all sit down to determine exactly what they're about to start working on. Some things are dictated by concrete limitations, such as the paper size – these are standard across Hema's ranges – which will inform the scale of the map. Other decisions are more abstract, such as which kinds of information should the map display, which points of interest (POIs) should be included and what information should be shown; some locations could have a hundred little attributed symbols beside them if everything was included. 

Another consideration is customer feedback, as Pierre Kurth, Hema's head of GIS and cartography explains “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 a product.”

Once all the details have been confirmed, information is pulled out of the database in layers that show different types of data: POIs, roads, terrain and so on. Additionally, any other information like indexes and distance charts are exported for later use.

 A cartographer can be thought of as a map designer(Image: A cartographer can be thought of as a map designer.)

Now it's time for the cartographers to get to work. A cartographer can be thought of as a map designer. Their job is to bring together the layers of information, defining the style and overall look of the map, ensuring legibility and ease of use for the user. What this looks like in practice is a painstaking process of precise manual adjustments to the design elements of the map to keep everything as easy to understand as possible. 

Once the map is done, or at least a first draft has been completed, the design team put together the layout, collect images and any other elements that will be needed to enrich the end product. The designs will then be checked by everyone involved, revisions are often made, and finally, the map will be ready to go to print. 

With all those steps, it's easy to understand how a single map can be months in the making. From start to finish, each map requires hundreds of hours of work and ten or more people who specialise in different stages of the process. It's Hema's dedication to achieving the best they can in each of these areas that makes Hema maps stand out over others that just don't quite make sense. Good map design is invisible, but it takes an awful lot of work. 


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