The word ‘design’ means different things to different people. Artists
often speak about being able to design. Architects are known to
communicate quality of life through design, and engineers talk about
designing infrastructure including bridges, highways, power plants and
so on. How many surveyors, GIS professionals or remote sensing
specialists would raise their hand in an audience if asked, “do you
consider yourself to be a designer?” I’m guessing few, but I would
immediately query, “why not?”
The character of geospatial maturity
Geospatial tools are design tools. Whether we care to admit it (or realise it) or not, the evolutionary path of geotechnology development has resulted in maturity. This is characterised in these tools through higher levels of technical integration, increased demands for interoperability, wider use of complex databases and programming, increasing em[phasis on quality and last but not least – a shift toward geo-referencing all data in a single real-world coordinate system. Many manufactuers of software can readily integrate spatial data from a number of sensors and devices. And they can integrate it quickly and effectively alongside previously gathered information.
Today we speak about linking transportation systems to grid energy use, health policy to demographic analysis and environmental indicators to climate data models, and even their relationship to individual buildings and their orientation. Whereas we were solely interested in constructing a building physically, questions relating to the surrounding landscape are also being asked, for example. What is the slope, which areas will be shaded, where does the wind originate from and what can we see from the top floor?
Geo-processing is design
From the moment a spatial project begins, design begins. The planning, constructing, operation and maintenance of a GIS or survey total station require a series of step-by-step procedures and the application of methodologies and protocols to ensure the project progresses toward successful completion. Is the beauty of a building any different the beauty of designing a spatial analysis procedure for use across a network or the implementation of an efficient GPS data gathering project for wildlife?
Earlier I had wrote on the question, “What is a spatial data model and why are they important to understand?” On this basis one can argue that anything contributing toward the realisation of a data model, from data gathering to processing to visualisation, are all part of the spatial design process.
We need to expand our definition on what constitutes ‘design’ – such that it embraces the realisation of a real-world data model. I don’t think architects or engineers own the design process anymore than surveyors can own the surveying field or GIS professionals can the use of GIS technology.
Moving from vertical to horizontal
Thinking and acting in a vertical plane is safe, comfortable and, dare I say, protectionist. Geospatial technologies are enterprise technologies and created to operate and contribute across discplinary boundaries, between administrative units and between regions and countries, around the world.
As we begin to see the connectedness (and power) of geospatial tools for solving problems in a more holistic fashion, then it must surely dawn on us that we need to design the procedures, steps and means for shared participation, if we are to work together. Each of us knows our own spatial discipline well, but to create solutions that embrace other disciplines, and needs, is true beauty – and design.
Note: This column alternates weekly. Jeff Thurston is editor Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia for V1 Magazine and V1 Energy Magazine.
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Between the Poles Blog
What is a spatial data model and why are they important to understand?”
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