Jump to: navigation, search

Aesthetics, the philosophy of art, is the study of beauty and taste.[1]. Specifically, it is the study of how works of art evoke emotional response, such as "this is beautiful," "this makes me sad," or "I need to do something to fix this depicted injustice." In Cartographic design, the aesthetic aspect of a map can produce a wide variety of subjective responses, whether a reaction to the map itself ("this is pretty") or its subject matter ("this proposed site makes me angry"). The aesthetic quality of a work also has a practical impact on its overall quality, popularity, and usability: [2] When choosing between two similar maps, one usually chooses the map that looks nicer. As cartographer Felix Ortag said, “A beautiful map is not necessarily a good map, but a good map should be beautiful.” [3]

An example of an Aesthetically pleasing map
An example of an Aesthetically unpleasing map


Map Aesthetics can be evaluated by three different principles: harmony, composition, and clarity.

  • Composition refers to the spacing, weighting, and placement of map elements.
  • Clarity is based on how easily the user can recognize and gain information from map elements. [1].

Aesthetic Maps

Maps can produce two different types of aesthetic reactions:

  1. Responses to the map itself as an aesthetic object, based on the Gestalt principle. For example, readers may judge the map as "beautiful," "confusing," "professional," etc. Good Cartographic design can produce maps that are both functional and convey a desired aesthetic "feel."
  2. Responses to the subject of the map, often using the principles of rhetoric. An example of this would be a map of a proposed action that is designed so that map readers intuitively see the advantages of the action, and naturally have a positive reaction.

With these two forms in mind, a cartographer must always be aware of the audience. By knowing the audience, the cartographer can adjust to different appeals of culture, people, and age groups. Just as important as the audience, is the theme of the map. Cartographers make aesthetic judgments when designing maps to ensure that the content forms a clear expression of the theme(s) without confusion. [4] The functionality of a map is the final goal.


  1. Dent, Borden D., Torguson, Jeffery S. Hodlder, Thomas W. (2009). "Cartography Thematic Map Design" , 207-208.