The Details Make the Map: Design Principles for Cartography
An online workshop for
TUgis: Maryland's Geospatial Conference
8:30 a.m., August 13, 2021
Decisions about color, type, and representational techniques all shape a map’s readability and effect. In this workshop, we’ll learn about principles of color, typography, and graphic representation. We’ll talk about excellent examples of both reference maps and thematic maps from a range of disciplines. You’ll work through type and color exercises, then apply these principles to a mapping problem.
You can download a PDF copy of the slides.
Color picker exercise
- Take a look at Colorpicker for data.
- Explore what happens when you change the chromaticity (saturation). How does this affect the colors available?
- Experiment with the H-L (hue-lightness), C-L (chroma-lightness), and H-C (hue-chroma) modes.
- Change the number of classes/swatches. Preview the results on the sample map.
- Head over to our Miro board. Go to the “Recipe” section, and find your two squares.
- Using the tools on the Miro board, typeset the recipe, aiming to create hierarchy—to explain the relationship between the different types of text.
- Do this a second time, on the next square over. (Most fundamental design lesson: always experiment.)
Map typography exercise
- Open a project with the sample data in your GIS.
The key layers are the names of populated places (
populated_3), smallest to largest.
- Typeset these placenames, using type to explain the relationship. Consider size, case, weight, and font choice. Try more than one solution!
- If you have time, start adding other features, and using color.
- Take screenshots and add them to our Miro board.
Time: 10 minute break + 30 minutes working
You should download a collection of sample data.
The link takes you to Dropbox. You don't need to log in. Download the entire ZIP-compressed folder. There's a download button in the upper-right part of the screen—it looks like this:
Following up topics covered in the workshop.
- Robert Simmon, Subtleties of Color, parts 1 and 3
- Josef Albers wrote an influential and thought-provoking book on color, Interaction of Color, which was mostly exercises for the reader. The book’s now available as a tablet app, also called Interaction of Color. It’s a great way to build your own eye for color, and to play.
- Color Alphabet and paper (via Paul)
- Colorpicker for data
- Color Brewer (easy color schemes for map work, but limited)
- Adobe Color (more useful for features or categorical data)
Three top picks
- Thinking With Type, by Ellen Lupton (at MICA here in Baltimore!), is a highly readable intro to typography. There’s a website with some resources.
- For detail typography, see The Elements of Typographic Style, by Robert Bringhurst.
- Matthew Butterick was a designer, then became a lawyer. Then he wrote a book about better typography, for lawyers. Now he’s got a book (and pay-what-you-can website), Butterick’s Practical Typography.
Free/open source fonts
Some freely licensed and open-source fonts can match the best commercial fonts. Often, the best ones are produced by professional type designers, working for companies that then release the fonts to the public.
Here are a few strong choices for map work. They show some combination of technical quality, flexibility (large families with weight and widths, or superfamilies combing serif/sans/monospace), legibility (esp. at small sizes), and large character sets (going beyond English, often non-Latin alphabets).
- Adobe Source Sans Pro (Paul D. Hunt) and Adobe Source Serif Pro (Frank Grießhammer)
- IBM Plex serif, sans, mono (Mike Abbink et al.)
- Fira sans, mono
- EB Garamond serif (Georg Duffner)
- Alegreya serif (Huerta Tipográfica)
- Vollkorn serif (Friedrich Althausen)
- Cormorant Garamond serif (Christian Thalmann)
- Gentium serif (SIL)
- Arvo slab serif (Anton Koovit)
- Libre Baskerville (Impallari Type)
Also, Kristian Bjørnard has a good list of free/libre fonts.