Choosing the Finalists

September 18, 2012

So, a few weeks ago we announced the final selections for the Atlas of Design. Twenty-seven great examples of some of the world’s great cartography. Today we want to talk about how those selections were made.

We received about 140 different entries as part of our initial call for submissions earlier this year. These came from about 90 authors/groups, as sometimes an author would submit multiple works for consideration. Once the submission deadline passed, we were faced with the difficult task of paring this cartographic cornucopia down into a handful of finalists.

To help us in this task, we recruited several volunteer judges, who spent hours looking over each selection and giving each a score. Helping us out were:

Tanya Buckingham, University of Wisconsin Cartography Lab
Elbie Bentley, United States Geological Survey
Hannah Fairfield, Washington Post (now at the New York Times)
Bernhard Jenny, Oregon State University
Tom Patterson, United States National Park Service
Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso, Stamen Design

We, the editors, joined them in the panel:
Daniel Huffman, somethingaboutmaps
Tim Wallace, University of Wisconsin-Madison (now at The Huffington Post)

Several of the judges were also entrants to the competition, and a number of them are featured in the final volume. The cartographic world is pretty small, and so it’s not altogether surprising that this would happen. Judges recused themselves when scoring their own work, and in cases of any other conflicts of interest. Their inclusion was by acclaim of their peers; they had no say in their own selection.

Together this panel of eight judges represented a wide variety of employments (academia, government, private industry, and the media), aesthetic tastes, and opinions on what makes great design. Such a diverse panel was often in disagreement; it was not uncommon to find a map that some judges loved while others hated, and almost none were universally acclaimed or disliked. Instead, each map appealed to some and not others. This disagreement was exactly our goal in bringing the panel together, because our aim was to ensure that the final selections held something for everyone. We wanted the final selection to be broadly appealing, rather than being dominated by one style or taste. Our final selection features a broad array of looks and subjects — from elaborate and traditional political maps to starkly minimalist experimental pieces. Very few people will consider every single one of our 27 finalists to be “great,” but we believe that people of every aesthetic preference will find plenty to enjoy in the pages of the Atlas.

Once each judge scored every work (except those in which they recused themselves), we two editors averaged the scores and ranked them. Then we went through the ranked list and picked out the top ones to include in the final volume. There was some decision-making to be done at this point. We decided early on that no author would be featured more than once in the volume, in order to showcase as many people as possible. So, that meant that, if an author had multiple pieces that were highly ranked (as happened in a few cases), we made the decision as to which of their pieces we would include.

Once that was all settled, we got in touch with the finalists and those who weren’t selected, and started down the long road of putting together a book of maps. We hope you’re as excited by the outcome as we are.