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Cartopics > Basic Issues in Map Design

Basic Issues in Map Design

  1. Considering the purpose of and audience for the map
  2. One of a cartographer’s first steps is to identify the purpose and audience of the map. The purpose and audience determine how data are displayed, what map elements are included, and the general layout and format of the entire map. A map designed to be a teaching tool for third graders will obviously look different than a map designed to be included in a report for senators.
  3. Choosing a map type
  4. Once cartographers know what they want to show on a map, they must decide which map type (reference or thematic) will be most effective in communicating the map’s purpose to its readers. The type of data, audience, and geographic area represented are some of the factors that affect this decision. See section on “Types of Maps” below for more information.
  5. Selecting a title that represents what is shown
  6. Choosing a title for a map is an important part of the cartographic process. The title of the map should tell map readers, in a few words, what is important about the map. Some map titles simply state the information portrayed (e.g., “Percentages of Global Indigenous Languages”), while other titles engage map readers with a broader, catchier phrase (e.g., “Voices of the World”).
  7. Selecting and placing text
  8. Placing text on a map is a particularly difficult challenge to the cartographer. Text must be placed so that it is readable and easily located but also must not interfere with the map’s data or design. Different font types, styles, sizes, and colors can be used to establish clear association between text and map features.
  9. Designing an overall layout for easy understanding
  10. As in any form of graphic art, cartographers have to consider the layout of all map elements to create a final product that is informative, accurate, and aesthetically pleasing. Visual balance is always an important consideration for design.

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