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Cartography aims to portray spatial information in an appropriate way in order to transform information into knowledge. The inclusion of unnecessary information makes this process less effective and one should always assess that information’s value to the user against map clutter and confusion.

Kelly Johnson’s KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle is often referred to in design and is very relevant to map design. It states that simplicity should be a key goal and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. Quite often the decision to leave things out can have a greater impact on the overall design than what is left in. There can be a temptation to over-embellish which risks confusing the user or diverting their attention away from the main message.

The following two quotes sum this up perfectly:

‘Less is more’, Mies van der Rohe

‘It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away’, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


A map comparison between the British Isles, Great Britain and the United Kingdom – this map was created to compliment a blog post.

Only the necessary map elements have been retained and no unnecessary graphical effects have been used so there is nothing to distract the user’s eye. The message therefore is very clear and communicated simply.

Back to Cartographic design principles.

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