Who iM

Ian Muehlenhaus candid photo
Hi. I’m Ian. Nice to meet you!

Hi. I’m Ian Muehlenhaus (iM). If you are looking for Ian Oas (iO), I’m him too. Though, legally he no longer exists. In 2004 I lost a battle of wills with my wife and became Ian Muehlenhaus. (It wasn’t much of a battle… I folded in about two minutes.)

Somewhere between changing my name and now, I earned a Doctorate from the University of Minnesota. So I changed from Ian Oas to Ian Muehlenhaus to Dr. Ian Muehlenhaus. Regardless… please just call me Ian. Only my mum calls me Doctor… “Dr. Honeybunny.” (How embarrassing!)


I always wanted to be a writer. I just never envisioned it would be this… normal. Yes, I once had delusions of grandeur about sitting in Parisian cafes writing poetry. About being a radical — writing manifestos that moved people into revolutionary action.

I quickly realized, however, that this was no way to make a living. So now I do freelance contract writing for K12 and higher education. I helped write the BESSIE Award Winning K12 Geography textbook several years ago. I still dabble in academic research writing too — though, admittedly, I find it insanely boring to both read and write. You can find a whole slew of my non-fiction and academic writing here.

I contributed ~25,000 words to this BESSIE winning K12 geography textbook.
I contributed ~25,000 words to this BESSIE winning K12 geography textbook.

I’ve become obsessed with copy writing. While staying with my in-laws for several months during the summer of 2014, I left the house for the library to consume literature on copy writing and advertising. (And honestly, to get a break from staying with my in-laws for two months. Though, I do love them dearly!)

I find writing copy to be highly rewarding and more fun than most other types of writing I do. I’m still obsessed. In fact, I have a copy of Words That Sell next to my bed and still hit it up regularly for late-night inspiration.


I love teaching and I’ve been told by former students that I’m pretty good at it.

Wherever I teach, I receive stellar teaching evaluations (average of 4.8/5.0 overall score, regardless of course or university over the past 8 years). The places I have taught include:

by @ErinLHamilton
Image by @ErinLHamilton
  • The National Geographic Society
  • James Madison University
  • University of Minnesota
  • Macalester College
  • University of Wisconsin – La Crosse
  • Metropolitan State University
  • University of Wisconsin – River Falls

I am also a huge proponent of online education. I have recorded and posted many of my lectures and tutorials online for everyone to view.

You can view many of them here on my YouTube Channel or please visit my Map Design Tips You Didn’t Learn in GIS Class Blog.

I’m now the Director of UW-Madison’s Online Professional Master’s in GIS and Web Map Programming.


Some people are more terrified of public speaking than death. Not me! I love giving presentations! I have been invited to give professional talks on everything from:

  • nationalism in Central Europe (National Geographic Society in DC)
  • effective web map design (ICC in Dresden)
  • persuasive graphic design (UW-Madison and Oregon State)
  • how to develop and solve research problems (UW-River Falls)

So if you are looking for a dynamic, engaging, and wild speaker who is good at visualizing with his hands, please contact me!


I have spent a decade teaching and doing design. Though officially I am a cartographer (i.e., I make maps for a living), my research and all of my teaching is steeped in graphic design theory. I am not your typical GIS person.

Given the fact that no one reads them, I have been thinking a lot about how to better visualize information on syllabi.
Given the fact that no one reads them, I have been thinking a lot about how to better visualize syllabi.

Ten years ago I co-founded a small design business — Muehlenhaus Design Studios — that helped fund my grapefruit addiction through grad school. (It also allowed me to buy some cutting-edge, 2000s technology. Anyone remember the Microsoft Zune? Yes, you can laugh at that. Though, it was the first mass-produced digital interface incorporating flat design. So there! :-)

Some of my clients have included the: Bush FoundationNorthwest Area FoundationConcept Farm (NYC), and ethanol lobbyists (remember that craze)?! Additionally, I have designed maps and graphics for numerous textbooks.

Recently I’ve become somewhat obsessed (in a good way, of course!) with HTML5 technologies and responsive web design.


My research specialty is Persuasive Design — particularly when it comes to mapmaking. Yes, that’s right: I study how to design maps that inform people in compelling ways, so that users interpret the information you present as you want them to. Or in business speak: I have spent years researching how to Design Maps That Convert!

A persuasive map I designed for some of my research.
A persuasive map I designed for a user study.

Beyond maps, I’m trying to figure out the most effective way to visually frame arguments in other visual mediums — particularly websites. I am fascinated by “visual rhetoric” — designing visuals in a manner that resonates with and disarms intended audiences. Basically, certain scholars study argumentative writing; I study argumentative visualization. 

Web CartographyIn general, though, I just love talking about and researching map design. I’m increasingly interested in web and mobile map design.

I wrote a book called Web Cartography on the topic. It deals primarily with web map aesthetics rather than the technologies underpinning web maps. Web Cartography was a lot of fun to write and will appeal to web techies, layperson cartographers, and students of all ages that want to get into web mapping. If you are one of these, please feel free to contact me to learn more about it.

More recently, I’m exploring general map aesthetics 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’m attempting to develop a tool for categorizing map genre and systematically analyzing map form.

Admittedly, it’s totally nuts! I love nutty projects! You can view my presentation on the progress I’ve made so far here:

iM a Homebody

I love being at home with my family. Nothing else compares!

In my spare time I love to read, play with my kids, and eat a lot of popcorn. (Grapefruit was so Y2K.)

I also enjoy grilling with the neighbors, watching sports, playing board games, and when time permits, taking out Tie Fighters in Star Wars Battlefront.

Thanks for visiting! If you’ve read this far, you rock!

If you’re interested, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn so I can get to know you too!