Cartography and Visualization

The Cartography & Visualization section encapsulates competencies related to the design and use of maps and mapping technology. This section covers core topics of reference and thematic maps design, as well as the emerging topics of interaction design, web map design, and mobile map design. This section also covers historical and contemporary influences on cartography and evolving data and critical considerations for map design and use.  

Topics in this Knowledge Area are listed thematically below. Existing topics are in regular font and linked directly to their original entries (published in 2006; these contain only Learning Objectives). Entries that have been updated and expanded are in bold. Forthcoming, future topics are italicized

History & Trends:  Map Design Techniques:  Interactive Design Techniques: 
Cartography & Science Common Thematic Maps User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX) Design
Cartography & Technology Bivariate & Multivariate Maps Web Mapping
Cartography & Power Mapping Time Virtual & Immersive Environments
Cartography & Education Mapping Uncertainty Big Data Visualization
Cartography & Art Terrain Representation Mobile Maps & Responsive Design
Data Considerations: Cartograms Usability Engineering & Evaluation
Vector Formats & Sources Icon Design Basemaps
Raster Formats & Sources Narrative & Storytelling Geovisualization
Metadata, Quality, & Uncertainty Flow Maps Geocollaboration
Map Design Fundamentals:  Map Use Geovisual Analytics
Scale & Generalization Map Reading  
Statistical Mapping Map Interpretation  
Map Projections Map Analysis  
Visual Hierarchy & Layout User-Centered Design & Evaluation  
Symbolization & the Visual Variables Political Economy of Mapping  
Color Theory Map Critique  
Aesthetics & Design    
Map Production and Management    


CV-35 - Geovisualization

Geovisualization is primarily understood as the process of interactively visualizing geographic information in any of the steps in spatial analyses, even though it can also refer to the visual output (e.g., plots, maps, combinations of these), or the associated techniques. Rooted in cartography, geovisualization emerged as a research thrust with the leadership of Alan MacEachren (Pennsylvania State University) and colleagues when interactive maps and digitally-enabled exploratory data analysis led to a paradigm shift in 1980s and 1990s. A core argument for geovisualization is that visual thinking using maps is integral to the scientific process and hypothesis generation, and the role of maps grew beyond communicating the end results of an analysis or documentation process. As such, geovisualization interacts with a number of disciplines including cartography, visual analytics, information visualization, scientific visualization, statistics, computer science, art-and-design, and cognitive science; borrowing from and contributing to each. In this entry, we provide a definition and a brief history of geovisualization including its fundamental concepts, elaborate on its relationship to other disciplines, and briefly review the skills/tools that are relevant in working with geovisualization environments. We finish the entry with a list of learning objectives, instructional questions, and additional resources.

CV-23 - Map analysis
  • Create a profile of a cross section through a terrain using a topographic map and a digital elevation model (DEM)
  • Measure point-feature movement and point-feature diffusion on maps
  • Describe maps that can be used to find direction, distance, or position, plan routes, calculate area or volume, or describe shape
  • Explain how maps can be used in determining an optimal route or facility selection
  • Explain how maps can be used in terrain analysis (e.g., elevation determination, surface profiles, slope, viewsheds, and gradient)
  • Explain how the types of distortion indicated by projection metadata on a map will affect map measurements
  • Explain the differences between true north, magnetic north, and grid north directional references
  • Compare and contrast the manual measurement of the areas of polygons on a map printed from a GIS with those calculated by the computer and discuss the implications these variations in measurement might have on map use
  • Determine feature counts of point, line, and area features on maps
  • Analyze spatial patterns of selected point, line, and area feature arrangements on maps
  • Calculate slope using a topographic map and a DEM
  • Calculate the planimetric and actual road distances between two locations on a topographic map
  • Plan an orienteering tour of a specific length that traverses slopes of an appropriate steepness and crosses streams in places that can be forded based on a topographic map
  • Describe the differences between azimuths, bearings, and other systems for indicating directions
CV-22 - Map interpretation
  • Identify the landforms represented by specific patterns in contours on a topographic map
  • Hypothesize about geographic processes by synthesizing the patterns found on one or more thematic maps or data visualizations
  • Match features on a map to corresponding features in the world
  • Compare and contrast the interpretation of landscape, geomorphic features, and human settlement types shown on a series of topographic maps from several different countries
CV-06 - Map Projections

Map projection is the process of transforming angular (spherical / elliptical) coordinates into planar coordinates. All map projections introduce distortion (e.g., to areas, angles, distances) in the resulting planar coordinates. Understanding what, where, and how much distortion is introduced is an important consideration for spatial computations and visual interpretation of spatial patterns, as well as for general aesthetics of any map.

CV-21 - Map reading
  • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using conventional symbols (e.g., blue=water, green=vegetation, Swiss cross=a hospital) on a map
  • Find specified features on a topographic map (e.g., gravel pit, mine entrance, well, land grant)
  • Match map labels to the corresponding features
  • Match the symbols on a map to the corresponding explanations in the legend
  • Execute a well designed legend that facilitates map reading
  • Explain how the anatomy of the eye and its visual sensor cells affect how one sees maps in terms of attention, acuity, focus, and color
  • Explain how memory limitations effect map reading tasks
CV-17 - Mapping Time
  • Describe how the adding time-series data reveals or does not reveal patterns not evident in a cross-sectional data
  • Describe how an animated map reveals patterns not evident without animation
  • Demonstrate how Bertin’s “graphic variables” can be extended to include animation effects
  • Create a temporal sequence representing a dynamic geospatial process
CV-25 - Metadata, Quality, and Uncertainty
  • Describe a scenario in which possible errors in a map may impact subsequent decision making, such as a land use decision based on a soils map
  • Evaluate the uncertainty inherent in a map
  • Compare the decisions made using a map with a reliability overlay from those made using a map pair separating data and reliability, both drawn from the same dataset
  • Critique the assumption that maps can or should be “accurate”
CV-40 - Mobile Maps and Responsive Design

Geographic information increasingly is produced and consumed on mobile devices. The rise of mobile mapping is challenging traditional design conventions in research, industry, and education, and cartographers and GIScientists now need to accommodate this mobile context. This entry introduces emerging design considerations for mobile maps. First, the technical enablements and constraints that make mobile devices unique are described, including Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and other sensors, reduced screensize and resolution, reduced processing power and memory capacity, less reliable data connectivity, reduced bandwidth, and physical mobility through variable environmental conditions. Scholarly influences on mobile mapping also are reviewed, including location-based services, adaptive cartography, volunteered geographic information, and locational privacy. Next, two strategies for creating mobile maps are introduced—mobile apps installed onto mobile operating systems versus responsive web maps that work on mobile and nonmobile devices—and core concepts of responsive web design are reviewed, including fluid grids, media queries, breakpoints, and frameworks. Finally, emerging design recommendations for mobile maps are summarized, with representation design adaptations needed to account for reduced screensizes and bandwidth and interaction design adaptations needed to account for multi-touch interaction and post-WIMP interfaces.

CV-20 - Raster Formats and Sources
  • Explain how color fastness and color consistency are ensured in map production
  • Compare outputs of the same map at various low and high resolutions
  • Differentiate among the various raster map outputs (JPEG, GIF, TIFF) and various vector formats (PDF, Adobe Illustrator Postscript)
  • Compare and contrast the file formats suited to presentation of maps on the Web to those suited to publication in high resolution contexts
  • Compare and contrast the issues that arise for map production using black-and-white and fourcolor process specifications
  • Outline the process for the digital production of offset press printed maps, including reference to feature and color separates, feature and map composites, and resolution
  • Critique typographic integrity in export formats (e.g., some file export processes break type into letters degrading searchability, font processing, and reliability of Raster Image Processing)
  • Prepare a map file for CMYK publication in a book
  • Prepare a map file for RGB presentation on a Web site
  • Discuss the purpose of advanced production methods (e.g., stochastic screening, hexachrome color, color management and device profiles, trapping, overprinting)
CV-18 - Representing Uncertainty

Using geospatial data involves numerous uncertainties stemming from various sources such as inaccurate or erroneous measurements, inherent ambiguity of the described phenomena, or subjectivity of human interpretation. If the uncertain nature of the data is not represented, ill-informed interpretations and decisions can be the consequence. Accordingly, there has been significant research activity describing and visualizing uncertainty in data rather than ignoring it. Multiple typologies have been proposed to identify and quantify relevant types of uncertainty and a multitude of techniques to visualize uncertainty have been developed. However, the use of such techniques in practice is still rare because standardized methods and guidelines are few and largely untested. This contribution provides an introduction to the conceptualization and representation of uncertainty in geospatial data, focusing on strategies for the selection of suitable representation and visualization techniques.