A Common Map Design Error: The Bold Boundary Line

My posts are coming out less frequently lately. This is because I’m coming up with cooking metaphors for my book such as:

The box’s contents would ultimately provide all the ingredients and recipes for you to make informed and inspired decisions that could ultimately be whipped up into a delicious cartographic concoction.

I’m still trying to find a good spot to put that one. :)

So today’s post is just a quick reminder to everyone out there to watch out for this common cartographic catastrophe…The Bold Boundary Line. Don’t let The Bold Boundary Line happen to your maps!

What is The Bold Boundary Line? It’s a situation where your map is completely overwhelmed by boundaries of one sort or another. For some reason that I can’t figure out, beginning cartographers make this error all the time. In fact, I made this mistake quite a bit in my early career too. I certainly was not immune.

It seems we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that political boundaries, watershed boundaries, ecosystem boundaries, geologic boundaries, and so on are the most important thing on the map. In reality, the most important thing on the map is usually what is inside those boundaries such as the quantity or type of something, and of course that is what should be highlighted. The boundaries may still be of some importance but they ought to be lightened in order to lower their place in the visual hierarchy.

The best way to describe this map problem is with an illustration. Here are good / bad / worse maps of my own creation.

To start, let’s look at a GOOD map. This is a little map of Colorado that I made for the post prior to this one:

Now, here’s an example of a map with The Bold Boundary Line problem:

And here’s an even worse one, because it adds in The No Figure-Ground Sin (to be discussed in a later post?):

  1. #1 by @bradav on April 26, 2012 - 6:27 pm

    How to make maps look less awesome: RT: @PetersonGIS A Common Map Design Error: The Bold Boundary Line http://t.co/JktP3Xph #cartography

  2. #2 by @bricker on April 27, 2012 - 9:12 am

    A Common Map Design Error: The Bold Boundary Line http://t.co/cG9inN2C

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