Principles Of Good Symbol Design
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Here are the steps for designing map symbols...
- Research Look at other maps and note what you like and don't like about their symbols. Make sure the symbols fit into the map style you want to make. Find pictures of your subject. Trace some ideas as initial concepts.
- Decide on a size The symbol needs to work for the size you have in mind. Smaller symbols demand less detail.
- Make some initial sketches Choose three or four different symbol concepts... realistic to very abstract. Recreate and change them to your chosen size. Make some variants of each symbol... some filled, some negative with a black background, some with lines as a background.
- Organize your symbols Don't choose a design yet. Repeat this process for the other symbols for you map.
Designing the symbols is only the first step. At the end of the process you need to see which concepts and designs work best together. They need enough contrast to distinguish one from another at small sizes.
As you work, keep in mind the idea of contrast, repitition, alignment, and proximity applied to symbol design.
Pictographs are special symbols. They may depict...
- An object
- An action
- A process
- A concept
Modern pictographs were first introduced in 1909 when European nations adopted them for road signs. When done well, they transcend language barriers and become universally understood.
To understand pictographs, think of traffic signs. What is the pictograph for...
- A pedestrian crossing?
- A slippery road?
- Falling rocks?
Did the images pop in your head? That is the power of pictographs!
Because of the need for universal understanding, good pictographs are difficult to design. The best are designed by teams. Because of their design difficulty, it is better to choose well-known, well-designed, strong pictographs for your map. Weak pictographs easily confuse the viewer.
Use groups of pictographs. If you choose a pictograph for one map object, you should use pictographs throughout to keep the map design cohesive. Isolated pictographs stick out and disturb the viewer.
Make pictographs cohesive. Pictographs on your map should feel like they belong together.
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