Map Symbols For Natural And Man-Made Features
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Map symbols are simply pictures that stand in for words.
Antique maps used illustrative representations that highlighted commonalities between the symbol and the real object. They tended to be more realistic portrayals of things represented.
As cartography matured, symbols tended to become more compact and abstract. This was done to fit more information on maps.
Modern maps tend to use simple, smaller, abstract symbols to represent features on maps. These stylized symbols are efficient, but not very decorative or compelling to look at. But this simplicity and smallness of mapping symbols is necessary because the density of information on the map demands it.
For decorative and pictorial maps use more picturesque symbols when possible. They add personality to your maps. But keep the gestalt of your map by matching symbols and map style. The best way is to create map symbol forms that best fits your map design.
Whatever you symbol design form, be sure your symbols are clear and simple. If possible make them easily recognizable on sight. Viewers should be able to clearly interpret their meaning.
And even if they are perfectly recognizable to you, every map should have have a legend (or explanatory table) of any symbols used. What is clear to you may not be to a viewer from a different background or culture.
Varieties of symbols
Symbols are used to represent the topographic features of a map and can be divided into five categories often grouped by color...
- Hydrography Water features usually represented in blue.
- Culture Man-made features usually represented by black or red.
- Hypsography Relief features including hills and mountains usually represented in brown.
- Vegetation and cultivation Natural and agricultural features usually represented in green.
- Special symbols This is a catch category usually represented in purple or orange.
Hypsographic features are an important part of the landscape. They add much to understanding the physical environment of a place.
By far, mountains are the dominant feature viewers connect with.
But don't forget other important hypsographic features. If you want to create a map with more detailed physical geography symbols, look at Erwin Raisz's physiography symbols for physical geography
Line features play a big part of maps. They provide movement and direction for the eye to follow.
Hydrography (water features) have special meaning for humans. Nothing is as attractive as fresh water. Perhaps it is because water is so necessary for human life?
Vegetation is another important aspect of human life. Forests for timber, fields for food, grasslands that speak to our ancestral roots, and stony ground that we view as unproductive.
Trees are attractive to humans. We plant them in our yards, in our parks, and along our streets.
Farm and pastoral features attract us through our taste buds, whether vineyards waiting to be pressed into wine, or the farms that produce dairy and other food.
Buildings and cities speak of comfort, companionship, and our need for contact with others. Cities and buildings provide a road for the viewer to enter into the map and find others there.
Remember, symbols should be...
- Easy to draw Hand-drawn maps will require them drawn over and over. Digital maps will require them created in a graphics program.
- Distinctive Very different from other symbols on the map.
- Recognizable Understood without a legend.
I like pictoral symbols. To me it adds a lot of expressiveness to the map and allows the map artist to express a point of view.
I also tend to like organic representations.
What are your preferences? Look at maps you really enjoy and decide what about the symbols appeals to you.
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