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, I am him too. (Though, legally he no longer exists.) In 2004 I became Ian Muehlenhaus. It is a long story.

[In a nutshell? When I got married I gave up the “Oas” surname. In return I was promised home office space. Bonus: I scored major kudos with my German father-in-law!!!]

Somewhere between changing my name and now, I earned a Doctorate from the University of Minnesota. So I changed from Mr. Ian Oas to Mr. Ian Muehlenhaus to Dr. Ian Muehlenhaus. Regardless, I still go by Ian. (It’s the only part of my full name that seems to stick!)


I always wanted to be a writer. I just never envisioned it would be this… normal. I imagined sitting in Parisian cafes writing short stories. Then one day I looked at my resume and… Eureka! I realized that I am a writer! Albeit one that locks himself in a basement as opposed to spending time in cafes. (And yes, I lost that home office space years ago. Sigh.)

I write long- and short-marketing copy and blogs, K12 geography educational materials, non-fiction technical books, short stories, instructional guides, and of course, academic articles.

I wrote 25, 1,000-word essays for this BESSIE winning educational website on geography.

I wrote 25, 1,000-word essays for this BESSIE winning educational website on geography.

Currently I am working with a colleague on an extremely cheap ($5) ebook on map design for the masses. We call it Project Q, because it helps make it sound epic… Yeah, well, also because “Project X” was already taken by someone else.


I love teaching and I’ve been told by former students that I am really good at it. (Note: students are known to say nice things in the hopes of bumping up their grades!)

I’m definitely adept at getting students stoked about topics that even I find boring. Wherever I teach, I receive extremely positive teaching evaluations. This includes from:

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 free, online education. I have recorded and posted many of my lectures and tutorials online for everyone to view. View them here on my YouTube channel.


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)

I love presenting so much that I will often research a new topic and happily script a presentation just to have an excuse to get up in front of people and talk about it! So if you are looking for a dynamic, engaging, and wild presenter on any topic, don’t hesitate to 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. (If you don’t know what GIS means, don’t worry. It’s not important because I’m not typical anyway.)

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 pretzel habit in grad school. (It also allowed me to buy some cutting-edge, 2000s technology. Anyone remember the Microsoft Zune… Yes, you can laugh at that!)

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

Recently I have become obsessed (in a good way, of course!) with HTML5 technologies and responsive web design. Though I have been designing for the web since 1998, I’ve really gotten into scripting modern open-source website technologies using Brackets. I also design API-based web maps (mostly using Leaflet.js) and Avenza MAPublisher.

Most of my experience in this realm is from self-instruction as I was formally trained in Adobe Flash Pro and had to start all over when the iPad ushered in the HTML5 era. I love designing responsive websites from scratch and playing with CSS and JS to make really engaging sites!


Being a nerdy professor type, I’m an avid researcher. I love research!

In fact, I think of research as a hobby. It’s something I do involuntarily all the time. This might mean reading through 100s of journal articles on Scandinavian elevator design just because I saw a cool elevator in a Swedish movie, or it may mean getting a zany, harebrained idea to merge film theory with cartographic design after reading a New Yorker movie review. To me it is all the same…

Research is nothing more than a means to satisfy my curiosity about the world, and it is damn fun!


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 that users interpret the information you present as you want them to. Or in business speech: 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 some of my research.

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 what I like to call “visual rhetoric” — designing visuals in a manner that resonates with and disarms intended audiences so that they are compelled to see what you want them to. Basically, certain scholars in English study argumentative writing; I study argumentative visualization.  

Web CartographyI’m also very interested in API-based web map design. I wrote a textbook 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.

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 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!


The last several years of my life have been pretty wild! In 2014 I decided to leave my position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin — La Crosse, and move to Harrisonburg, Virginia. I didn’t do it on a whim. (Yes I did!) I did it because I was feeling restless with my career at UW-La Crosse. I spent the past year as an Assistant Professor at James Madison University (JMU) teaching courses on map design and persuasive visualization, Web mapping with APIs, and human geography. I also advised students on their design projects, and of course, conducted research on map design.

The students at JMU were stellar and the scenery in the Shenandoah Valley was awesome. (Seriously, everyday I left for work I felt like I was on the movie set of the Lord of the Rings! Well… most days. Okay, some days. … Fine. I made that up. But it was beautiful there!)

Cold weather be damned! We're excited to be moving back.

Cold weather be damned! We’re excited to be moving back to the Midwest!

However, you may have noticed I used past tense in the last paragraph. Amazing students and scenery aside, the distance from our relatives proved too much to bear. Also, I realized that I am bored with being a professor. It wasn’t my location that needed changing, it was my career!

I’m excited to try something new! So this summer my wife, Birgit, and I packed up the household and moved back to Minnesota.

I’m not sure if quitting a good paying job in academia (with job security for life basically) and transplanting a family to a freezing cold landscape passes for a midlife crisis or not. I’ll admit: somedays it sure feels like it! But it’s not like we moved our kids to a third-world dictatorship. (As my parents did with my sister and me when they were in their early 40s.) My daughters have it so good!

I’ve remained very busy since moving back to the Northland. I’m currently working on several freelance projects — including Project Q (please see above!) and an online, K12 Human Geography Video Textbook Project for ABC-CLIO. I’m also finishing up some work on a flow mapping NSF grant this summer and drafting a provocative blog post on the most uncomfortable — and batshit crazy — experience of being interviewed for employment by the CIA. (I am really, really not CIA material. If I go missing in the near future you will know why…)

As for life outside of work — you know, the things that actually matter — I really enjoy hanging out with my family. In my spare time I read novels, comics, play European-style board games, binge-watch television shows on Amazon Prime and Netflix, monkey around with HTML/CSS/JS, and of course, write.

If you are looking for a writer, designer, researcher, speaker or professional educator for your business or project, let’s chat! I’d love to hear about your project or idea! You can contact me here.