Publication Date

Summer 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Global Studies


Kathryn David


cartography, communication, design, GIS, map, visual

Subject Areas

Geographic information science and geodesy; Design; Geography


The nature of GIS maps, as tools designed for visual communication, puts them in the realm of art that is in many ways unique among scientific tools. As a visual form of communication, maps are responsive to methods of visual design, affecting the map’s appeal and function. Through cartography, a well established body of standards and best-practices exists to help GIS users avoid common design errors and create effective and meaningful maps that support their work. This research examines the adoption rate of those standards amongst professionals using GIS software for creating maps for journal publications. A selection of 80 GIS-produced maps from the AAG’s Professional Geographer were examined and compared to a uniform set of cartographic standards to look for trends in the adoption rates of map design standards amongst GIS map makers. Maps were rated by the author on their use of cartographic standards based on map content and purpose as opposed to their aesthetic quality. The data show trends in GIS cartographic design use that closely follow the inclusion of default values in common GIS software. The implication is that GIS professionals making maps are typically not applying cartographic standards on their own, but mostly following the standards set up in their software of choice. This suggests that there is still significant work to be done in teaching the value of cartographic principles to GIS students and practitioners.