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The Art of the Basemap

“Graphical elegance is often found in simplicity of design and complexity of data.” – Edward Tufte

Data visualization is the art of quantitative story telling. The story of data about places is commonly told on maps.  The purpose of a basemap is to provide the appropriate backdrop for telling a really compelling story. The basemap provides the stage and setting for the story, while data—tied to specific geographical coordinates– provides cast and plot.

We’ll have more to say about cast and plot later, but first let’s talk about stage and setting.  The basic elements of a base map are water, land, nature, roads, buildings, place labels and icons. Each of these elements can be designed to stand out prominently for map reading, or they can quietly reside in the background providing subdued context for story telling.

Take, for example, the following illustration of county voting data from the 2008 presidential election.  It is a great example of Urban Mapping’s unique ability to offer basemaps that are uniquely suited to the story that the creator seeks to tell.  In keeping with Urban Mapping’s design principles, the map is easy to read,  provides a visually pleasing and content-relevant backdrop, and enables quick access to the story line. Our basemap cartography aims for muted color palettes that have low contrast, without losing personality.

2008 presidential election results by county

2008 presidential election results by county

It is these very principles that we have also been able to bring to Tableau, one of Urban Mapping’s primary partners.  Our crack cartographic team has developed a number of basemaps that enable Tableau’s users to elegantly render geospatial business stories.  Here are just a few examples of base maps that you could access through Tableau.  Each of these three cartographic styles is designed to display the unique stories of Tableau’s users.  You can leverage our Classic style,

Classic Basemap Style

Classic Basemap Style, available through Tableau (and Mapfluence)

Gray style (depicted below),

Classic Basemap Style

Classic Basemap Style, available through Tableau (and Mapfluence)

and Dark style (depicted below).

Dark Basemap Style

Dark Basemap Style, available through Tableau (and Mapfluence)

As it happens, we’re a sponsor of Tableau’s Customer Conference next week in Las Vegas, and we couldn’t be more excited.  Geoservices is at some level all about telling the right story with maps – and the ability to access Urban Mapping’s maps through Tableau is fundamentally all about allowing Tableau’s customers to create great geospatial narratives.

We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation about data’s relationship to maps (plot and characters) next week.  In the meantime, let’s talk about what makes a good basemap – we’d love to hear what readers think!

Guest blogger: Andrew Hyder, Urban Mapping, Inc. Data Curation Associate

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