Monday, January 10, 2011

My Grandfather’s Map

For Christmas, my mother gave me one of the most meaningful gifts I have received for some time. She had framed a map my grandfather drew when he was in his Tertia year at Penn Charter (the 1915-1916 school year, I think). I get weepy when I really think about it.

Though he was only around 15 when he drew it, it shows an attention to detail and craftsmanship that I have always associated with my grandfather, and also reminded me why I think making real things is so important.

Some disclaimers:
  • I loved my grand-pop and have long considered him to be the spiritual source from which both my father and I inherited our respect of and devotion to making well-constructed things. (My wife probably labels this trait as compulsive and occasionally annoying. Sorry Hun.)
  • I love steel pen-and-ink drawings. The line weight variations that are introduced as one changes pressure on the nib are a wonderful artifact that says a human being has made this.
  • I love cartography and maps – the more detailed and well-designed the better. They may be one of the last graphic forms where the combination of good design and good printing yield something that just cannot be duplicated electronically.

You can’t read it on the image, but the title (in carefully lettered capitals) is Historical Map of the British Isles. It documents Heptarchy boundaries (I had to look that up), Roman roads, battles, and treaties. I assume it was done as part of a history study.

This map required homework and some serious thinking to execute – no Google Maps in 1915. For example, look at the latitude lines. If you had to draw a smooth, thin, shallow, 12-inch long arc with pen-and-ink today, how would you do it? (The map is about 12 x 18 inches.) You may not be able to tell, but the latitude lines are very thin and very smooth. And this is a 15-year old kid.

Ok, here’s the point…

This sort of thing matters today too. Everyone has Powerpoint and everyone can draw boxes and arrows and lines. And we know that everyone can add bullets galore. But evidence suggests that not everyone can draw a useful diagram, or construct a meaningful 2x2 model. And giving a presentation with really good typography and well-crafted graphics is a rarity.

Details matter.

I’m not sure if you can test for it, but the really good presentations that are continually referenced (Jobs, MLK, Godin, Gore, etc.) all reflect really good craftsmanship – these people pay attention to lots of details. And you should too, especially if your presentation includes tangible stuff like on-screen slides or paper handouts.

It doesn’t matter if you’re building a deck, carving a turkey, or drawing a map, paying attention to the details matter.

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