Who is going to use your GIS? Three types of people, so you better figure them out!

Hey there everyone!

I love geographic information systems, and if you are reading these words, I hope you do as well!

One measure of success in my GIS is how many people use it and love it. Love might seem a little bit of a strong word but something special happens when people say “Hey, I really understand what is going on” or “Thanks for making your maps easy to use”.

Free PDF provided at the end to help you out!

The ideas that I am going to share with you in this post will not only make people extremely happy with your GIS, the ideas will also increase the value and impact of your GIS on the world.

The way to have other people use and love your GIS is to get out of your own bubble. As GIS people, we tend to stay inside our minds. We know our GIS inside and out, we may have even coded every single line of every single tool in our code libraries.

We have to take a step back and have a look at our GIS from a different point of view. Three points of view actually.

Three use types, with the first one being the most important.

As part of “Building a Bulletproof GIS” I am going to introduce you to the three types of people that will use your GIS. To be 10 times more effective in your GIS you have to take into consideration each type of person when designing your GIS.

You have to learn to speak these types of users language. You have to connect with them where they want to be connected with. You have to get in their minds, ask them questions, maybe even become them for a few days (if not longer) to really understand them.

These three types of people are going to be with you for your entire GIS career. People can shift between each type rapidly, but they each have distinctive needs depending on your GIS.

These three types of people are:

  1. Creators
  2. Viewers
  3. Field Workers

You as a geographic information professional need to understand each of these types of people as they related to your GIS.

I will explain each.


These are the people who can look at your features, shapefiles, folder structures, maps, layouts, projects and understand what is going on. They speak “GIS”, they know the technical terms, they know the jargon, they most likely have training in GIS.

Creators are people like you who know GIS lingo and can build their own GIS.
Creators are people like you who know GIS lingo and can build their own GIS.

Creates can to look at your GIS and say “Great, this person is competent” or “Good they planned ahead and don’t have 10 features named roads1 roads2 roads3”.  

Creators can be your colleagues, your subordinates GIS analysts, your direct superiors. They could be new hires.

Most of all, YOU are a creator.


Viewers want to understand very specific details about your data. They want to “click here” and information flows out. They want your data easy to understand, no matter how complex it actually is, no matter how long it took you to create or acquire. Their world is instant gratification.

Viewers want to understand your GIS instantly without any explanation or training.
Viewers want to understand your GIS instantly without any explanation or training.

They want to look at a map, a webpage, a graphic, a chart and say “It’s about Population” or “It’s about economic growth” or “It will take me 10 minutes to get there”.

Viewers don’t care how long you spent on your infographics. Again, they want instant gratification.

Viewers could be clients desiring updates, bosses wanting time motion analytics, the public looking at your volcano mapping.

Most of all, YOU are a viewer.


These are your crew on the ground using mobile apps to collect date or navigation. They could be using your hard-copy maps as backup. Field workers concern lies more in ease of use of your data and safety than what hue you picked for the red stop sign.

Field workers use your GIS in their daily activities and need it to function smoothly and safely.
Field workers use your GIS in their daily activities and need it to function smoothly and safely.

They don’t want complexity. If they are there for pipeline surveying, they want to see all things (but nothing more) important to pipeline surveying. If they are doing ecological work they want ecology features, and nothing more.

Field workers may be volunteers, surveyors, managers, or inspectors.

Most of all, YOU are a field worker.

Maximize your GIS effectiveness you need to understand these three user types with respect to your GIS.

I have provided a PDF below to help you understand the users of your GIS better.

Build a Bulletproof GIS… but before you begin, you have have this: Purpose

I love Geographic Information Systems, but this was not always the case. In this post I am going to talk about the first step in building a great found foundation for GIS, and my future blog posts about how to build a bulletproof GIS.

You can start here if you haven’t even clicked your first buffer, or if you just finished your last GIS course, if you are struggling to get your GIS career off the ground, or find yourself in a GIS rut.

I am going to teach you how to 10 more effective in GIS, double your value in GIS, and massively increase your impact (and make more money) in GIS.

So what is a bulletproof GIS anyway?

Over the past few years I have been putting together geographic information systems that allow me maximum creativity, maximizing my time, maximize safety, and maximize cash. I have made some huge gains along the way, but I have also made some huge mistakes.

What I am going to teach you is how to avoid mistakes and create a better GIS so you can have an amazing career.

Here is something not many people know about me, I few short years ago, I would not have been able to tell you what GIS stood for.

Yes I used maps all the time, I even made maps in Photoshop and Illustrator for presentation, figures for scientific papers, technical talk slides, my thesis, and teaching. “Maps” had their purpose, but GIS was just not on my radar.

Then I found GIS, and I never worked harder, I never learned more, and I never loved a topic as much as GIS in my life. Yes, this includes my PhD in Geophysics (probably a blog or two on that one day).

Why did I work so hard and why did I have so much success in GIS?

It turns out that we humans are purpose driven creatures. We do way better in life if we have a target that we are aiming at, or a goal we are working towards.

The saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” should actually be “Where there’s a purpose, there’s a way”.

For me, my purpose in GIS was straight forward. I needed a job.

Little did I know when I started GIS just how awesome it is.

My purpose for needing a job drove me to figure out what I needed to accomplish.

My purpose in GIS changed rapidly as I progressed through my courses and shifted from “I need a Job” to “I need a job I love” to “How can I build a job I love?” and it didn’t stop.

The world of GIS has massive opportunities spanning multiple industries, using some very cool technology. Your purpose in GIS will shift rapidly as you progress, and that’s a good thing.

Finding your ultimate purpose in the world is a very large task and beyond this little blog post. It is well worth finding of course, and I encourage you to do your searching if you have not already discovered your purpose.

I have created a worksheet to help you figure out how to best deal with your purpose as it is related to GIS. You can down load the sheets below.


Identify your purpose with respect to GIS. Do what it takes to get it done with respect to GIS.

GIS is Awesome! So… now what? This is a little awkward…

Geographic Information Systems is AMAZING! It’s technologies and software are everywhere and used to generate not only an impact in the world, but also money! I fell in love with GIS (not literal love… geeez) after seeing it work first hand in field operations for resource exploration.

But I also noticed not everyone I knew who took GIS was getting a great job. Some had low level “click here, do that” GIS jobs, and some couldn’t find any employment at all. After getting asked over and over again on my LinkedIn account about GIS jobs, I realized something.

Skills are common, Mindsets are NOT.

Any keen person could teach themselves the GIS software through trial and error. I taught myself the Adobe suite of products (Photoshop, Illustrator, Aftereffects, Premiere Pro) over a number of years via YouTube (and Pre YouTube… yes I am little oldish). I am no Adobe expert, but I have skills. Skills are common, Mindsets are not.

A lady who trained in GIS at the same time as me was so mad about not finding a GIS job, she said “I could have learned all I needed to from YouTube videos!” For her, I would say this was true. She could easily have learned “Click Here Do That” from a video and she probably learned this why which is why she ended up with no job at all.

So let me reiterate, Skills are common, Mindsets are NOT.

We had the same practical training in GIS which essentially consisted of “Click Here Do That, Repeat”. I exaggerate of course, there is TONS to learn in GIS and the program I took can be found here which was AMAZING. Also, skills may be common, but they are very VERY important.

If you don’t know how to create a buffer from a subset of objects selected based on their proximity to an attribute within a subset of line features selected by attributed polygons in your Geodatabase, you are missing some very important fundamentals.

The differences between my GIS experience and others is that GIS is not just about the skills or the software, which are VERY important of course. What is essential for success and to make an impact on the world (and money), are mindsets.

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