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 linked directly to either their original (2006) or revised entries; 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 Mapping & Responsive Design
Data Considerations: Cartograms Usability Engineering
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  
Geodesy, Coordinate Systems, & Projections Map Analysis  
Visual Hierarchy, Layout, & Map Elements User-Centered Design & Evaluation  
Symbolization & the Visual Variables Political Economy of Mapping  
Color Theory Map Critique  
Aesthetics & Design    
Map Production and Management    


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-18 - Mapping Uncertainty
  • Describe a technique that can be used to represent the value of each of the components of data quality (positional and attribute accuracy, logical consistency, and completeness)
  • Apply multivariate and dynamic visualization methods to display uncertainty in data
  • Sketch a map with a reliability overlay using symbols suited to reliability representations
  • Develop graphic techniques that clearly show different forms of inexactness (e.g., existence uncertainty, boundary location uncertainty, attribute ambiguity, transitional boundary) of a given feature (e.g., a culture region)
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-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-04 - Scale and Generalization
  • Explain why the reduction of map scale sometimes results in the need for mapped features to be reduced in size and moved
  • Identify mapping tasks that require each of the following: smoothing, aggregation, simplification, and displacement
  • Illustrate specific examples of feature elimination and simplification suited to mapping at smaller scales
  • Apply appropriate selection criteria to change the display of map data to a smaller scale
  • Discuss the limitations of current technological approaches to generalization for mapping purposes
  • Explain how generalization of one data theme can and must be reflected across multiple themes (e.g., if the river moves, the boundary, roads and towns also need to move)
  • Explain how the decisions for selection and generalization are made with regard to symbolization in mapping
CV-05 - Statistical Mapping (Enumeration, Normalization, Classification, Dasymetric)
  • Discuss advantages and disadvantages of various data classification methods for choropleth mapping, including equal interval, quantiles, mean-standard deviation, natural breaks, and “optimal” methods
  • Demonstrate how different classification schemes produce very different maps from a single set of interval- or ratio-level data
  • Write algorithms to perform equal interval, quantiles, mean-standard deviation, natural breaks, and “optimal” classification for choropleth mapping
CV-08 - Symbolization and the Visual Variables

Maps communicate information about the world by using symbols to represent specific ideas or concepts. The relationship between a map symbol and the information that symbol represents must be clear and easily interpreted. The symbol design process requires first an understanding of the underlying nature of the data to be mapped (e.g., its spatial dimensions and level of measurement), then the selection of symbols that suggest those data attributes. Cartographers developed the visual variable system, a graphic vocabulary, to express these relationships on maps. Map readers respond to the visual variable system in predictable ways, enabling mapmakers to design map symbols for most types of information with a high degree of reliability.

CV-14 - Terrain Representation
  • Describe situations in which methods of terrain representation (e.g., shaded relief, contours, hypsometric tints, block diagrams, profiles) are well suited
  • Create a map that represents both slope and aspect on the same map using the Moellering-Kimerling coloring method
  • Explain how maps that show the landscape in profile can be used to represent terrain
  • Differentiate 3-D representations from 21/2-D representations
  • Describe situations in which methods of terrain representation are poorly suited
CV-10 - Typography

The selection of appropriate type on maps, far from an arbitrary design decision, is an integral part of establishing the content and tone of the map. Typefaces have personalities, which contribute to the rhetorical message of the map. It is important to understand how to assess typefaces for their personalities, but also to understand which typefaces may be more or less legible in a labeling context. Beyond the choice of typeface, effective map labels will have a visual hierarchy and allow the user to easily associate labels to their features and feature types. The cartographer must understand and modify typographic visual variables to support both the hierarchy and label-feature associations.

CV-13 - User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX) Design

Advances in personal computing and information technologies have fundamentally transformed how maps are produced and consumed, as many maps today are highly interactive and delivered online or through mobile devices. Accordingly, we need to consider interaction as a fundamental complement to representation in cartography and visualization. UI (user interface) / UX (user experience) describes a set of concepts, guidelines, and workflows for critically thinking about the design and use of an interactive product, map or otherwise. This entry introduces core concepts from UI/UX design important to cartography and visualization, focusing on issues related to visual design. First, a fundamental distinction is made between the use of an interface as a tool and the broader experience of an interaction, a distinction that separates UI design and UX design. Norman’s stages of interaction framework then is summarized as a guiding model for understanding the user experience with interactive maps, noting how different UX design solutions can be applied to breakdowns at different stages of the interaction. Finally, three dimensions of UI design are described: the fundamental interaction operators that form the basic building blocks of an interface, interface styles that implement these operator primitives, and recommendations for visual design of an interface.