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Good composition

Composition concerns the arrangement of all the different visual elements, from the map’s title to the scale bar. It is both how the map is structured and positioned, and how the map works alongside any additional information. All elements of the map should work together to provide a clear and complete understanding to the user. Their style should also be harmonious or complementary.

This is a really important stage in the design process as failure to get the composition right can undermine all effort that has gone before it and result in a wholly unsuccessful map.

The aim here is to achieve balance but the ‘visual path’ that you want to take the user on should also be considered; the elements that they view first can be influenced by mimicking traditional reading patterns. It’s worth noting here that the ‘visual centre’ is slightly above the actual centre and it is here that you may want to focus your user’s attention. These considerations can have a considerable effect on the overall user experience.

‘Elements are arranged with consideration of several factors into a harmonious whole which works together to produce the desired statement – a phenomenon commonly referred to as unity.’ Wikipedia


Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 2030 map - a customised map of the future Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, as it will look in 2030, created in partnership with the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE).

This was designed as a folded paper map and demonstrates the work of civil engineers and Ordnance Survey’s role in providing geographical information to inform design plans. Being a folded map it was designed from the start with the fold lines in mind - for example, the overview map and legend (or key) occupy one panel each. The map of the park itself is the main focus so takes up most of the space and is placed centrally. The maps title, north arrow and logo (including copyright statement) have been placed on the main map but in the open space where they don’t clutter or distract. As we read from left to right the legend has been placed on the left hand side of the map whilst the additional information on the timeline is placed on the right. Borders are used to separate the different map elements but the overall impression is one of balance and harmony, which is helped by the fact that the main map ‘bleeds’ into the other panels.

Back to Cartographic design principles.

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