Who iM…

Ian Muehlenhaus candid photo, 2013

Hi. I am Ian Muehlenhaus (v3.6).

Hi. I’m Ian Muehlenhaus. If you are looking for Ian Oas, I guess I am him too; though, legally, he no longer exists. In 2004 I became Ian Muehlenhaus. It is a long story… essentially, Mr. Oas gave up his name for office space he no longer has.

Somewhere between changing my name and the time at which you are reading this, I earned a Doctorate in Geography (specializing in visualization) from the University of Minnesota. So I changed from Mr. Ian Oas to Mr. Ian Muehlenhaus to Dr. Ian Muehlenhaus. Regardless, I still prefer to go by Ian. (Only my mum can get away with calling me “Dr. Ian,” because it cracks me up!)

Last year I moved from La Crosse, Wisconsin, to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to become an Assistant Professor of Geographic Science at James Madison University (JMU). The Geographic Science Program is housed within the Department of Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT), which means I have really cool colleagues who do a lot of wild things (e.g., design computer programs that fly drones and create board games). I teach courses on print map design and visualization, Web mapping with APIs, and human geography. I also advise students on their design projects, and of course, conduct research on map design.

A picture of Ian Oas, who is now Ian Muehlenhaus, in State College, Pennsylvania, back in 2003. Alligator name and whereabouts unknown.

This was Ian Oas (2002, v2.5).

My research specialty is persuasive map design. Yes, that’s right: I study how to design maps that inform people in compelling ways, so that that map users interpret the information you present as you want them to. I am interested in figuring out the most effective way to visually frame arguments in different contexts and with different audiences. I am fascinated by what I like to call “map rhetoric” — designing spatial visualizations in a manner that resonates with and disarms intended audiences so that they are compelled to see what you want them to. Some worry that this is unethical; they believe that maps are tools that should only be designed as accurately as possible. I like to remind such people that argumentative writing is something we teach in universities around the world; argumentative mapmaking is no less ethical than argumentative writing.

I am also very interested in web map design. I wrote a textbook called Web Cartography on the topic. (If you are looking for the book’s companion website, it can be found here.) It deals primarily with web map design and aesthetics rather than the technologies underpinning web maps. It was a lot of fun to write and is meant to appeal to web techies, print cartographers, and university students that want to get into web mapping.

More recently, I have been exploring general map aesthetics and form using a combination of film theory and the literary theorist Kenneth Burke. Combining aspects of Burke’s theory with that of a graphic design theorist named Donis Dondis, I am attempting to develop a tool for redefining map genre and systematically analyzing map form. It is kind of nuts, but I like nutty projects! Plus, it has been a great excuse to re-watch the Stanley Kubrick filmography!

As for life outside of work — i.e., what matters most — I like to hang out with my wife, two young daughters, and our Wheaten terrier. In my spare time I mostly read sci-fi novels, play European board games, binge-watch streamed television shows, and play around with HTML/CSS/JS. Life is good!