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Often times when we make maps it is based on our subjective interpretation of what is aesthetically pleasing. I would like if people posted examples of beautiful maps, displaying any phenomena in any manner.

Below I have posted one of my favorite maps. This is an example of a value-by-alpha map recently asked about on the forum, and the picture is taken from the GeoVista website (which has a ton of cool maps and tools to make them.)

alt text

citation for the maps makers

Geovisual analytics to enhance spatial scan statistic interpretation: an analysis of U.S. cervical cancer mortality Jin Chen , Robert E Roth , Adam T Naito , Eugene J Lengerich and Alan M MacEachren International Journal of Health Geographics 2008, 7:57


While I did not stipulate this when I originally asked the question, I think it would be best for the cultivation of knowledge if people would elaborate on why the particular maps they cite are beautiful. I would appreciate any new responses to include this, and if the other authors are still around to update their examples for why they think the maps they mentioned are beautiful.

And I will start with my example, the reason I believe I think the cited value-by-alpha map is beautiful is that it creates a very simple, but obvious and striking visual hierarchy with which to interpret the standardized mortality ratio's. This is in particular useful combined with the very "noisy" standardized mortality ratio's, and the typically very noisy clusters of abnormally high rates produced by the SatScan clustering technique. One can even clearly see very small clusters around Chicago and Philadelphia.

I also appreciate other supplemental elements of the map that make it easy of the eyes. Such as the black background, the heavier white outline for around the states and the white outline for the states (that is blended the same as the attribute values). Maps with many polygons can particularly be distracting if one does not take care when plotting the polygon outlines.

Also the legend is particularly well created, and effectively demonstrates the concept (although it certainly isn't a typical legend, so took some original creative thought).

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put on hold as primarily opinion-based by Chris W, PolyGeo 21 hours ago

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Whats your thoughts on having a repeat question but with 'badly designed' in mind. - I have seen plenty of old local government web mapping sites that are very painful to understand (even as a GIS professional) I think it would be good to show examples of bad design, with detailed justification, but at the same time, is it ok to name & shame people? –  Simon Oct 31 '10 at 1:18
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@Simon, I think suggestions of badly designed maps could be just as informative. If its public I have no problem shaming anyone, and it would have informational value to our community. Like you said the poster should add reasoning as to why it is poor. –  Andy W Oct 31 '10 at 1:58
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@Simon, don't forget about cartotalk.com which has a forum dedicated to people posting maps for people to critique. –  mkennedy Dec 8 '10 at 23:30

54 Answers 54

I like the map with a dark base layer. The representation of the overlay's is very interesting. I choose two map's with social network data's.

The first map is the localisations of the tweets

The second map is an extract of the game Watch Dogs with many live data's from Paris like Tweets, Instagram publications etc... enter image description here

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"animated map of global weather conditions"

Not a map... but still really beautiful!

http://earth.nullschool.net/enter image description here

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I've always loved these cartoon maps by stephen walter (featured in a great BBC documenary series on the beauty of maps) http://www.stephenwalter.co.uk/wp/maps/. The ideas behind them was to integrate personal stories and human connections to a place into a map framework

enter image description here

enter image description here

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Another one (web map) should be

pic

http://datashine.org.uk

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I once saw some important meeting of political leaders on Tv some years ago and they had an amazingly beautiful world-map that was gigantic in size. It was a beautiful orange and blue color and it had almost digital like squares popping out of it with small connecting nodes.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to find it online after watching it so I don't have a link for it.

Other maps that I really like are by Vicente Fernando

enter image description here

enter image description here

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The contrast of the lack of completeness and the amount of detail on this map makes it one of my all time favourites.

It is a italian/protuguese world map by Alberto Cantino from 1502 according to Wikipedia.

(Gigantic, high resolution images are available on the free web)

enter image description here

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Micro Level Informations for Watershed programms in the Part Of India that I think is pretty amazing

Map

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I wouldn't say that it is a good map, since at the given resolution it is pretty much unreadable, and secondly, I have no idea what area of the world it is representing. At the minimum it requires an Index Map, or a Lat-long grid. And Thirdly, and most importantly, it just isn't aesthetically outstanding in any way. –  Devdatta Tengshe Feb 14 '14 at 6:49
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This is not my requirement. It is the requirement of the question, which asks for What makes a Map beautiful, and why the particular maps that is cite is beautiful. –  Devdatta Tengshe Feb 14 '14 at 7:25

From 2011 SND awards:

Best printed map -NG ‘Gulf of Mexico’ map (PDF available here):

enter image description here

Miguel Urabayen Award - NG ‘World of Rivers' map:

enter image description here

(Interactive version here)

(Via FlowingData blog)

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I just saw that as well! I'm a particular fan of World of Rivers. –  Andy W Mar 28 '11 at 11:46

Can't believe no-one has mentioned XKCD's Map of the Internet:

For the IPv6 map just imagine the XP default desktop picture.

and this one has some mind-blowing aspects:

Best trivia I learned while working on this: 'Man, Farmville is so huge! Do you realize it's the second-biggest browser-based social-networking-centered farming game in the WORLD?' Then you wait for the listener to do a double-take.

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I like interactive maps from Stamen a lot. Especially, for their their focus on handling temporal interaction.

Examples:

SF crimespotting

alt text

Hurricane Tracker alt text

(Update) Surging seas

enter image description here

A non temporal example:

Watermark, Terrain and Toner tiles

Water, Terrain and Toner

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I think the SF crime map is the best online crime mapping website I have come across. It also runs very fast in my experience. –  Andy W Dec 9 '10 at 13:12

This map shows how political boundaries would be located if the supercontinent Pangea still existed. Should be shown in every geography/geology course.

enter image description here

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Do you have a link to the original figure? –  Dan C Sep 20 '13 at 19:46
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I found the map in this compilation: twistedsifter.com/2013/08/… A version with higher resolution can be found here: eatrio.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/10.-pangea_politik.jpg –  Gideon Sep 20 '13 at 19:59

There's this mural in the Tokyo Sky Tree, it's a map of Tokyo which is partly animated using LCD screens, it's rather accurate while depicting the city in a fun way with hints about what the different areas are known for.

Detailed pictures and video here: http://www.team-lab.net/en/all/pickup/skytreemural.html

Tokyo Sky Tree mural

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I recently found some beautiful maps in my local map store in Cologne. These are satellite images that have been edited. In my opinion, they offer a great balance of pure picture and annotations and you get a good impression of elevation. Maybe you have to see them in reality, but here are some examples. I have no connection to the distributor of these maps, I just love them! enter image description here

Zoomed in:

enter image description here

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I've been a great fan of the thematic maps by French cartographer Philippe Rekacewicz. I especially like his hand drawn sketches and the maps derived from that. He captures well the emotional aspect that sometimes lies in the topic.

Three frontiers of Europe

fatalities of immigrants at the Schengen-border

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Some of the work of Pieter van den Keere is quite impressive. See this example Leo Belgicus from 1617.

enter image description here

I think that what makes some of his maps particularly beautiful, is the ability of combining the spatial information with caricature or heraldic, mixing cartography with illustration.

Here another example by Gezeichnet von W. Trier.

enter image description here

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Every OpenStreetMap Edit Ever Made, Visualized.

The color scale ranges from green for old, through blue then pink, to white for recent. At the worldwide level it looks pretty; zoom in and it's fascinating. You can check out the whole map here.

enter image description here

enter image description here

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Nelson Minar has created a vector tile map of all the rivers in the United States that I think is pretty amazing.

enter image description here

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The wind map http://hint.fm/wind/. See the wind flow before your eyes. Below is a screen shot example of October 30, 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States.

enter image description here

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I agree it is very nice, please go into more detail about why it is a beautiful map. –  Andy W May 30 '13 at 12:06

I saw fellow GIS.SE user Michael Markieta's piece on airline flight paths on the BBC News website today. Very nice presentation. What tools were used to create these images?

Global Flight Paths North America Flight Paths

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I gave an example of a similar map in this thread for facebook connections, gis.stackexchange.com/a/4437/751. All it is is black background, and lines drawn with either heavy transparency or a color ramp so higher weights are drawn with a brighter color (lines for worldwide maps are typically great circle lines). Various tutorials exist for ArcMap, the R statistical program, and QGIS that I have seen. –  Andy W May 30 '13 at 12:09
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The BBC is a bit late to this party. Micheal posted that back in 2011 spatialanalysis.ca/2011/…. I used the same database in QGIS around the same time anitagraser.com/2011/08/20/visualizing-global-connections –  underdark May 30 '13 at 12:18

Just got this book in the mail this week. it has some truly beautiful maps in it.enter image description here

This is one of my favoritesenter image description here

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you may think what you like about Gall Peters Projection but he releases an Atlas every year which is hand coloured :) pic here can't post any yet. http://www.amazon.de/Peters-Weltatlas-wahren-Proportionen-Erde/dp/3833155590

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ESRI recently published the following map due to its EsriUC Map Gallery and Software Applications Fair. I will be following this event and I am very excited for further maps. enter image description here

The map shows the estimated annual energy consumption of New York City. I regret that the quality is low. Still it is a great map in my opinion.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/esrigis (February 12, 2013)

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I really like the 1:25'000 maps of Switzerland:

1:25'000 map of Switzerland

They manage to convey a huge amount of information while not looking overfilled. Also, I like the combination of the shading (which immediately gives you a good clue about the shape of the terrain) and the elevation lines (which you can use to determine the exact elevation at any point on the map).

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I just wrote a long message to the USGS about their new "National Map" 7.5' 1:24000 topo quads. They are truly horrible compared to their earlier products. This map is an excellent example of the art of cartography. I'm going to lift it and pass it along to USGS. I don't expect any change from them, they have slashed costs and now depend on machines to generate their imagery. I still felt like I needed to let them know that people notice. Thanks again for this excellent example! –  Bob Denny Sep 10 '14 at 15:26

Some nice maps made in R:

enter image description here http://spatialanalysis.co.uk/2012/03/mapped-british-shipping-1750-1800/ enter image description here http://spatialanalysis.co.uk/2011/03/global-migration-maps/

This one was made with OpenStreetMap data, althought I am not sure how the algorithms were implemented (R or not), the plot was made with ggplot2:

enter image description here http://spatialanalysis.co.uk/2012/02/london-cycle-hire-pollution/

I decided to post these maps as an example of can be achieved with a software that is not know for the ability to make nice plots (including geographic maps). For me these are examples of the best or most beautiful maps created in R in recent years with a lot of work behind each one.

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Please be more explicit about what makes these beautiful maps. –  Andy W Jan 8 '13 at 18:48
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+ 1 for showing that R is capable of making good maps too! (although i can't imagine hom much work is behind that) –  Dspanes Jan 23 '13 at 10:00

Le monde diplomatique offers some really beautiful maps. They look like hand-drawn maps, but I'm not sure whether they really are.

Why do I think this maps are beautiful? I prefer the handmade style - but in a modern way: they don't look like historical maps. These maps visualize current global economical, social or environmental issues with high accuracy and an always interesting spatial context.

Africa without its margins.

Every now and then they publish the Atlas der Globalisierung (German only?) with these maps.

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I can appreciate that! Thank you for the update. I'm not sure what it is about the hand-drawn feel but it certainly is endearing to many people. Several examples in this thread resemble that, and it reminds me of all the drawing xkcd style charts. –  Andy W Jan 7 '13 at 16:16

In french : L'âge d'or des cartes marines, Quand l’Europe découvrait le monde (trans google : The Golden Age charts, When Europe discovered the world), from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

All images : http://expositions.bnf.fr/marine/icono/index.htm

An example :

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Iam a biologist and most maps i create have something to do with nature and its management. I really got inspired by the beautiful maps from the ESRI Conservation Mapping Contest. Visit the site for some very good and nice looking examples.

For instance this beautiful map by Mark Endries from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which highlights conservation priority areas in Western North Carolina. Click here to see the picture in full-resolution (Size over 4MB).

All credits go Mark Endries. Picture from the ESRI CMC

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+1 This is an excellent map aside from the frightening, high contrast background color and 3-d scale bar. –  Aaron May 30 '13 at 13:43

How about Minard's flow map of Napoleon invading Russia, made famous by Tufte? Both beautiful and informative. It achieves the latter primarily by abstracting away many of the typical elements that identify it as a carte, but still conveys a strong sense of the geography involved.

Minard map

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Anyone interested in this should check out Michael Friendly's page on Charles Minard, including various re-creations. My favorite might be the protovis example superimposed on a google map, so you can actually see the location in greater geographic context. –  Andy W Dec 12 '12 at 12:53

For those on the latest Chrome or Firefox version: This brilliant animated map of the world arms trade is a beautiful, yet simple representation of a major global issue!

enter image description here

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I agree the visualization is impressive, but I have had to downvote. It is a really awful presentation for flow data. See one of my other answers for a wider discussion of how people present flow data in IMO a much more enlightening manner. –  Andy W Aug 7 '12 at 23:40

How about these ones from Prometheus? Can't seem to find the tools in Arc to recreate them though - maybe they'll be in 10.2.Prometheus globePrometheus mound

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maps should be able to "communicate" informations to their viewers. sci-fi CG globes as the above although spectacular they fail in that aspect. -1 (great movie btw) –  nickves Oct 23 '12 at 17:58

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