Cartography Guide

A short, friendly guide to basic principles of map design

Map Design

Design in cartography can be thought of as the set of human decisions behind the map—not only the look of the map, but also choices about data, interaction, and more. We’ll give an overview of some of the important considerations in map design. First, a few overarching things to think about initially:

  • Medium. Many design decisions depend on how the map will be displayed, usually meaning either on paper or on a digital device. (And in the digital realm, either on desktop screens or small mobile devices.) Sometimes a map needs to work for several different media, which can mean several sets of designs.
  • Audience and purpose. What you intend to accomplish and for whom are huge drivers of map design. For example, if you’re mapping for an expert audience, the map can probably be more complex than if it’s meant for the general public.
  • Map-worthiness. Just because data can be mapped doesn’t mean it should be mapped! It’s always important to think about whether geography is important to your story. If not, consider other ways to visualize it, or simply provide a table.
  • Interactivity. A static map represents data at a snapshot in time. Static maps are often printed maps, but could also be digital images on your computer or online. Interactive maps allow for user interaction, data exploration, and animation. Interactive maps are usually web-based, on a computer, phone, or tablet. Interactive maps carry some extra design considerations for the flow of user experience and types of interaction, as well as user interfaces.
Cartography Guide

Cartography Guide by Axis Maps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.