Asked 21st Oct, 2017 in the project Advancing Education in Mapping and Cartography

Can an unattractive map ever be an example of good cartographic design?

Maps tend to be judged according to how good they look rather than how well they function.
Can form ever follow function in cartography?

Most recent answer

29th Dec, 2017
Gáspár Albert
Eötvös Loránd University
Thanks Pawel, I didn’t know about this article! Here’s another paper that aims to explore this topic:
This study was a good experience, people how differently read the content of the same map. The answer for Alex Kent's question will always be vague because of the relativity of the “unattractiveness”. To answer it correctly one must define what is “unattractive” in cartography. Must the definition tackle the problem of color choice? …line types and thicknesses? … font types? Although (in theory), this can be done through user studies, concerning the Bertinian variables, in reality we will surely stumble upon the cultural differences (see this link, for example:

All Answers (10)

22nd Oct, 2017
Abdelgadir Abuelgasim
United Arab Emirates University
Cartography is a form of communication, the measure of a good map is how well it expresses
information to its readers to explain the communicational value of the map. Artistic issues surely play a role in effective cartography, but it is the issue of communication that holds the central role in cartographic design
24th Oct, 2017
David Forrest
University of Glasgow
It largely depends on the purpose of the map and the user, and also how you define 'good design'.
A scientific user who is knowledgeable about the topic and is seeking to extract something specific is probably unconcerned about aesthetics, as long as the map represents the information in a functional way that does not break basic cartographic principles, or only does so knowingly. This is especially the case with maps made for personal consumption, not for communication to others. For him/her the design is 'good' because it achieves its purpose.
However, in many circumstances one of the aims is to engage the reader - to make them spend time extracting information. Here aesthetics does have a key role because in encourages engagement and it less likely that a 'poorly designed' map will communicate the information effectively. It is unlikely that the scientist's map would engage other users, despite being 'functional'.
However, some information is just so complicated (or perhaps so simple), that regardless of the best efforts of a cartographer a map may not be seen to be aesthetically pleasing, even if it communicates the information effectively.
A classic dilemma arises with map series, where the design is often a compromise and all possible sheets in the series cannot be tested prior to production. The design may work very well for some sheets, but less well for others. I would argue the much lauded Swiss 50k topo design works very well in the mountains, but much less well in less mountainous parts of the country....
Alex: we need to discuss this over a pint sometime ;-)
2 Recommendations
24th Oct, 2017
Eugene Eremchenko
Lomonosov Moscow State University
Unattractive man could be honest and wise man. Unattractive map could be informative, useful, efficient and, therefore, be an example of good cartographic design. Usability does not equal attractiveness.
27th Oct, 2017
Pablo lopez ramirez
Centro de Investigación en Ciencias de Información Geoespacial A.C
I struggle with the idea of "attractiveness" in this context. I think that if a map serves its purpose as a mean for communicating geographical concepts, ideas or relationships it will, almost by definition, be appealing.
The question of weather a map is attractive or not, I believe lies on a rather subjective interpretation (and I have nothing against the subjective world, but it doesn't lend itself well as a principle of cartographic design). For example, if find this Japanese map very attractive, but I don't think it does a good job in communicating.
29th Oct, 2017
Temenoujka Bandrova
University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy
Yes, good map does not mean attractive one. Good map should be readable and giving enough and accurate information to readers and users according title, scale and aim.
2 Recommendations
29th Oct, 2017
Eugene Eremchenko
Lomonosov Moscow State University
I guess 'Map in need is Map indeed'. Usability will prevails decorations in future cartography. Moreover, signless representation in Google Earth is more attractive then any map.
13th Dec, 2017
Alexander James Kent
Canterbury Christ Church University
Thanks, everyone, for all your answers. It is interesting how much emphasis continues to be placed upon communication (at least in theory), which can also include the communication of the aesthetic of the map's subject, i.e. national landscapes in topographic maps. Today, perhaps, maps are increasingly being seen as objects to be 'consumed' (visually, in an instant) so the challenge to cartographers is perhaps to communicate meaning to users instead of creating meaningless visualizations for consumption. Perhaps there is a wider 'consumption versus communication' debate to be had within cartography.
17th Dec, 2017
David Forrest
University of Glasgow
I think you are correct in saying there has never really been any significant discussion on the differences between maps intended for short-term, immediate use and then perhaps discarded, as opposed to those intended for wider, more long term use. Clearly publishing a topographic or tourist map, or something like an atlas, implies some longer term use, whereas many web based maps are very much here today and gone tomorrow. The ephemeral nature of some maps is not an excuse for poor design, but investing time in design if there is no financial return becomes harder to justify. This may account for many of the poor maps we see, although ignorance of good design also plays a major part.
1 Recommendation
27th Dec, 2017
Paweł Cybulski
Adam Mickiewicz University
There is an example of study that proves that attractiveness of cartographic desing does not go hand in hand with their effectiveness:
WIELEBSKI Ł., 2014, Mapping techniques of spatio-temporal relatioships for a centric road network model, Kartographische Nachrichten, 64 (5): 269-276.

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