Wisconsin Geospatial News

Map titles are extremely important

Choosing a clear title and giving it prominence in the layout may be the most critical decision you make each time you set out to create a map. Even though it is one of the easier aspects of map design, we see plenty of maps with titles that could be improved.

While a map usually relies heavily on graphic elements to carry its message, you shouldnt lose sight of the importance of text. Whether it be as explanation of the map or its sources, labels for geographic features, words in the legend, or the title, text plays a heavy role in most maps.

It may be that we concentrate so hard on the graphics decisions that we sometimes fail to consider text as much as we should. A map that is otherwise effective can be crippled by problems with its title. Luckily, it takes only a bit of effort, thought, and care to neatly avoid this hazard.

Keep it simple

At a glance, a reader of your map should be able to determine what the map is all about. So, it helps to have a concise but clear title; a subtitle may help convey the maps theme. Of course, this all depends on the audience and the context in which the map is being viewed. Nevertheless, a simple and clear title will usually be the best choice no matter the expected audience.

However, the title shouldnt be so brief that it is not revealing. City of Badger Falls would be too vague unless the map is a general-purpose base map. A title Bypass Option C might be better if expanded to Highway 27 Bypass of Cheddar Grove: Option C.

Think about the titles given to books or term papers; they are rarely vague. Population of the U.S. probably wouldnt attract much attention. More likely the book would be titled Trends in the U.S. Population: Changes by State over the 20th Century. Our maps should have similarly descriptive titles which are also crisp as possible. A map of wells in an area could be titled Drinking Water Hazard but would be far more descriptive as Residential Wells Susceptible to Arsenic Contamination.

On a related note, its rarely a good idea to include your organizations name in the map title.

Don’t whisper or shout

Beyond the words of a map title themselves, the choice of font and point size are important, too. Youll want a simple look that can be read quickly, and the size and weight of the lettering must help raise the title to visual prominence. Too small, too light, or too complex, and your title may be hard to locate or read. On the other hand, you dont want your title to appear to be shouting. The exception would be if your map needs to attract attention from some distance away.

Front and center

Just like your term paper, the best place for a map title is at the top. There can be good arguments for other locations depending on space available and overall visual balance , but top is usually the most logical. Leave some space around the title so that graphical competition for a readers attention is lessened.

With a little time and care, all your maps can have effective titles.

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