Posts Tagged ‘Map Design’


Quite a few years ago I wrote an overview article on the use of sound for representing geographic data, including a series of sound variables for mapping I developed. The article was titled “Sound and Geographic Visualization” and was published as a chapter in the now out-of-print book Visualization in Modern Cartography (MacEachren & Taylor eds., 1994).

Sound is used to convey information all the time, but less so in the realm of mapping where the visual dominates. The article explores the possibilities of making maps with sound, or using sound in tandem with a visual display to add additional layers of information.

Some work on tactile mapping had had occurred at the time the article was published, as well as a few dozen articles on sound for representing data in general (not geographic data). Subsequently, research on multi-sensory mapping has expanded but not as much as I expected. We still can’t hear data with Google Earth.

For an updated bibliography of related work, see the articles and books that cite “Sound and Geographic Visualization” at Google Scholar.

The article is below as originally published. It holds up ok, although technology has changed quite a bit.


Denis Elder emailed me (Feb 6, 2012) and asked about the “manuscript videotape” cited in the paper below. The video was made to accompany my 1993 Association of American Geographers (AAG) conference presentation on using sound with maps. Back then, showing the examples (which were created with the software Director on a Mac) live at the conference would not have been easy, so I made a video of the maps being used (and making sounds). This presentation was an early form of the work that would be published as “Sound and Geographic Visualization.”

I managed to find the video and had our media center create a digital version (in Quicktime / .mov format).

The video and the notes for the presentation (“Mapping with Sound”) are below. This is old stuff, so don’t laugh!

“Mapping with Sound.” (PDF) Presented at the 1993 Association of American Geographers Conference, Atlanta, Georgia.

“Mapping with Sound.” (Quicktime Movie, 9 minutes, 84mb) to accompany paper. Explanation of this video is in the above PDF of the paper presented at the conference.


Sound and Geographic Visualization

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

Harry Warner on being confronted with the prospect of the sound movie.


The issue of sound in the context of visualization may at first seem incongruous. There is, however, evidence to support the claim that sound is a viable means of representing and communicating information and can serve as a valuable addition to visual displays. Abstracted two-dimensional space and the visual variables – the traditional purview of cartography – may not always be adequate for meeting the visualization needs of geographers and other researchers interested in complex dynamic and multivariate phenomena. The current generation of computer hardware and software gives cartographers access to a broadened range of design options: three-dimensionality, time (animation), interactivity, and sound. Sound – used alone or in tandem with two-or three-dimensional abstract space, the visual variables, time, and interactivity – provides a means of expanding the representational repertoire of cartography and visualization.

This chapter discusses the use of realistic and abstract sound for geographic visualization applications. Examples of how and why sound may be useful are developed and discussed. Uses of sound in geographic visualization include sound as vocal narration, as a mimetic symbol, as a redundant variable, as a means of detecting anomalies, as a means of reducing visual distraction, as a cue to reordered data, as an alternative to visual patterns, as an alarm or monitor, as a means of adding non-visual data dimensions to interactive visual displays, and for representing locations in a sound space. The chapter concludes with research issues concerning sound and its use in geographic visualization.

Experiencing and Using Sound to Represent Data

Our sense of vision often seems much more dominant than our sense of hearing. Yet one only has to think about the everyday environment of sound surrounding us to realize that the sonic aspects of space have been undervalued in comparison to the visual (Ackerman 1990, Tuan 1993). Consider the experience of the visually impaired to appreciate the importance of sound and how it aids in understanding our environment. Also consider that human communication is primarily carried out via speech and that we commonly use audio cues in our day to day lives – from the honk of a car horn to the beep of a computer to the snarl of a angry dog as we approach it in the dark (Baecker and Buxton 1987).

There are several perspectives which can contribute to understanding the use of sound for representing data. Acoustic and psychological perspectives provide insights into the physiological and perceptual possibilities of hearing (Truax 1984, Handel 1989). An environmental or geographical perspective on sound can be used to examine our day to day experience with sound and to explore how such experiential sound can be applied to geographic visualization (Ohlson 1976, Schafer 1977, Schafer 1985, Porteous and Mastin 1985, Gaver 1988, Pocock 1989). Understanding how sound and music is used in non-western cultures may inform our understanding of communication with sound (Herzog 1945, Cowan 1948). Knowledge about music composition and perception provides a valuable perspective on the design and implementation of complicated, multivariate sound displays (Deutsch 1982). Many of these different perspectives have coalesced in the cross-disciplinary study of sound as a means of data representation, referred to as sonification, acoustic visualization, auditory display, and auditory data representation (Frysinger 1990). Within this context both realistic and abstract uses of sound are considered.


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Successful, Unsuccessful

Nonmineral, Mineral

Nonmineral, Mineral, Artesian, Gravity, Artesian, Gravity

Rise, No Rise, Rise, No rise, Cold, Warm, Cold, Cold, Warm, Cold

Flowing, Nonflowing, Flowing, Nonflowing

Those are all the wells and springs…


In general there has been no attempt at uniformity of practice in the delineation on maps of underground water features or of wells or springs… …it now appears desirable that a concerted movement be made to develop a uniform system of symbols for use on maps.

The number of symbols devised should be sufficient for the representation of all features which it is desirable to show. If wholly arbitrary devices are used, confusion will result whenever a considerable number are used simultaneously, but this difficulty will be largely avoided if the system adopted is based on a few suggestive forms grouped according to easily remembered principles.

The principles to be considered in devising a system of well and spring symbols for underground water maps are (1) simplicity, (2) clearness, (3) ease of making, and (4) suggestiveness. Failure to answer these various requirements ruled out many of the arbitrary systems used in the past…

It is believed that a system of symbols can be most logically developed if a single arbitrary device is taken as a base. In common practice a circle is most often used for a well, while more or less closely allied devices are used for springs. Inasmuch as both wells and springs are ordinarily approximately circular, this device, which seems to have both the required simplicity and suggestiveness, is proposed.

Words of map symbolization wisdom from “Representation of Wells and Springs on Maps” by Myron Fuller in Water-Supply and Irrigation Paper No. 160, U.S. Geological Survey (1906).

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A cartogram varies the size of geographic areas based on the data values associated with each area. Typical cartograms scale geographic areas to population, GNP, electoral votes, etc.

This “apportionment map,” as creator William B. Bailey (Professor of Political Economy, Yale University) calls it, scales the size of U.S. states to the size of their population (in 1910). Note that New York has colonized much of the upper Midwest.

The map, published April 6, 1911 in The Independent is one of the earliest cartograms I have seen.

Apportionment means “allotment in proper shares.” Thus, each state size is allotted based on population, not actual geographical area. Is a curious term to use, possibly more meaningful than the somewhat vague term “cartogram” (a “map diagram”).

Bailey writes:

The map shown on this page is drawn on the principle that the population is evenly distributed thruout the whole United States, and that the area of the States varies directly with their population. With the map constructed on this principle some curious changes become apparent. On the ordinary map the four States, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico, together with the seven States which lie to the west of them, comprise more than one-third of the territory of the United States, and the area of each one of them is considerably larger than that of New York State; yet the population of New York State alone is nearly one-fourth larger than the combined population of these eleven Western States. In fact, the entire territory to the west of the Mississippi River contains only about 5 per cent. more people than are to be found in the New England States, together with New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Yet the territory at present covered by these nine Eastern States is only about two-thirds as large as the State of Texas. If we should add to these nine Eastern States the population of Ohio, the total would be greater by about three millions than the entire population west of the Mississippi. The State of Rhode Island, hardly visible to the naked eye on the ordinary map, now becomes almost as large as the territory of Utah and Arizona combined.

Were Texas as densely populated as is the State of Rhode Island, it would contain a population of nearly eighty-five millions, leaving only six millions of our people to be scattered thruout the rest of the country. Were the population of the United Stats as a whole as dense of that of Rhode Island this country would have more than a billion inhabitants.


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Map of New York City, Showing the Distribution of the Principal Nationalities by Sanitary Districts published in Harper’s Weekly (June 1, 1894) using 1890 U.S. Census data.

This map looks great, revealing a substantial amount of information with its intense, juxtaposed patterns.

The textures on the map show the relative amounts of different nationalities (qualitative data) in each of the areas (sanitary districts) on the map:


The map shows if a district has more or less diversity (more or fewer lines of different textures), the relative proportions of different nationalities, the nationalities themselves, and, at a broader scale, the districts that are similar or differ in their nationality constitution. Because of the careful rotation of the lines of textures, the different sanitary districts can also be distinguished from each other.


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Making maps is rife with rules. But following rules does not necessarily produce a great (or even good) map. It may be the implementation of broader design principles that leads to a successful map.

Principles are an intellectual generalization of a broad field of knowledge: a kind of map, in the broadest sense of the word.

They are useful for guiding map makers and helping map users understand how maps work.

There are numerous sets of cartographic design principles. My previous post on Edward Tufte distilled six map design principles (or commandments as I called them) from Tufte’s first book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

In 1999 the British Cartographic Society’s Design Group proposed “Five Principles of Cartographic Design.” When I first came across this set of principles I thought them interesting – even a bit passionate – a rare state of affairs in the often stoic world of cartography. I added a few maps and my own comments (in italics).

More on these map design principles below: Concept before Compilation, Hierarchy with Harmony, Simplicity from Sacrifice, Maximum Information at Minimum Cost, and Engage the Emotion to Engage the Mind.

Cool maps below include: Geo-Smiley Terror Spree Map, The Continents and Islands of Mankind, Hate Groups and Hate Crimes Map, and Where Commuters Run Over Black Children, Detroit 1968.

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