With the proliferation of online maps and mapping tools, one might wonder if print maps – including wall maps, atlases, and travel maps – may be headed down the same road as rotary phones.

Unquestionably, the ways in which people not only access, but also use maps have drastically changed along with technological advances. “In the past 20 years, we’re really seeing a huge switchover to the digital world – from online tools like Google maps to geographic Information systems (GIS) software,” says William Dieber, Co-Director of the Urban Data Visualization Lab at the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

“I’m suspecting that more and more people are using digital map-building capabilities to conduct  analyses – to size up the distance between various locations, determine what factors (natural or otherwise) ’contain’ an area, identify elements that might connect regions, and perhaps even explain why things are where they are.”

Dieber quotes Dennis Wood, an expert cartographer who has studied the significance and meaning of maps, who says, “Maps tell you ’this is there’, but also ’there is this’.”

Maps can be used for a variety of purposes, falling into two broad categories: reference and spatial analysis.

Wall maps can convey the idea of perspective far better than an image on a computer screen. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a bigger picture is worth 10,000.

Spatial analysis can help businesses decide where to locate, taking into account a prospective location’s connectivity with suppliers via ports, transportation corridors, etc. as well as its proximity to commuter rail options for employees, for example.

Local governments can use spatial analysis to evaluate tends in assessed values – even to compare whether one side of town is experiencing greater growth or decline than another.

Digital vs. Print

Online maps and mapping tools have increased the accessibility of maps beyond imagine. And nobody can argue the power of digital maps. Digital maps offer the advantage of interactivity, often allowing the user to change layers, colors, and symbols in order to evaluate various hypotheses, as William Dieber points out.

But are print maps headed toward extinction? Doubtful. Print maps still hold an irreplaceable spot as an important reference tool. Wall maps, for example, can convey the idea of perspective far better than an image on a computer screen. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a bigger picture is worth 10,000.

Craig  Owensby, Public Information Officer with the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County Planning Department, says he doesn’t ever foresee print maps becoming irrelevant.

The Mapping and GIS Department works with all other departments within the Metro Nashville Davidson County government, lending map expertise in situations many might not consider. For example, the department often works with the local police department and prosecutors office to determine the location of a crime and appropriate penalty. If it can be proven that a crime was committed within a certain distance of a school, the penalties are stiffer.

During community planning meetings, held to determine a vision for each of the 14 planning districts, maps can be an invaluable tool. “We often have community members break into small groups to consider: ’Here is the situation now; what would you like to see it become?’”

To aid these discussions, Owensby says, “We actually have people sitting around with markers, drawing on maps to show where they would like to see a new library, retail center, or a bus line.”

“While it is true that a majority of map information can be found online, the accuracy and research that makes up a printed map product are above and beyond what is capable online,” says Jeff Chappell, Vice President of Online Business for Maps.com. While atlases and road maps are most often used by travelers, transportation companies, and delivery services, wall maps are generally used by business professionals, urban planners, and those in research-related fields.

“The attitude of the map industry today is that online mapping tools, GIS software, and printed materials – wall maps, atlases, etc. – can complement each other, and work well together.”

Wall Maps Provide Perspective … and Much More!

Wall maps can be valuable reference tools because they convey perspective – spatial and dimensional. Through our affiliate, Maps.com, MuniNet Guide offers a wide range of wall maps for purchase, like the Ludington wall map of Chicago, shown below.

This aesthetically designed map employs an Axonometric view, which projects objects on a flat surface so that they appear inclined with three sides showing. While the horizontal and vertical distances are drawn to scale, diagonal andcurved lines are distorted.

From business wall maps to atlases, historical maps, and more, visit the MuniNet Guide Maps Index page to access a state-by-state listing of map products available for purchase.