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A clear visual hierarchy

The aim here is to draw attention to certain elements of the map and push those of less importance further down the visual plane - although certain features are less important they may still be required, if not then they should be removed. This helps the user differentiate between map features and helps them comprehend the maps message effectively.

The concept of figure-ground is key as it helps the user to distinguish between the main focus of the map (figure) and that which is background or contextual information (ground). The required contrast can be achieved using various methods:

  • colour - hue, saturation, brightness, temperature
  • shape
  • size
  • orientation
  • texture or pattern
  • proximity - how far away map features are from one another
  • graphical effects - such as drop shadow and outer glow
  • text - font, weight, style

Example

Overview map – The purpose of this map is to provide an overview of Great Britain in context to the surrounding countries with the major cities highlighted and it was designed to be used in our web map services.

A variety of techniques have been applied to this map to ensure good contrast between features. An outer glow has been used to make Great Britain stand out more than the other land masses. The use of hillshading covering GB also adds a texture that differentiates it further and draws attention where it is required – anything detailed generally stands out more and this is a technique often applied by artists to their paintings.

A hierarchy within the text has been achieved by applying different sizes, weights and colour saturations. The topographic features, including the major road network, are not the main focus of the map but are included to add context so they have been pushed down the visual hierarchy.

Back to Cartographic design principles

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