Just and right U.S. maps that need to show Alaska, Hawaii, and more

By Charlie Frye, Esri Chief Cartographer

One of the first and best rules in cartographic design is to beg, borrow, or steal good design. Many good ideas have already been had, and there’s no point in ignoring them.

Today, I got a note from one of our senior folks in sales and marketing at Esri who had been rightfully accosted by one of our customers over some maps that appeared in an Esri brochure called Government Matters. Several pages in there are a series of U.S. county level demographic maps with Alaska and Hawaii un-artfully integrated into northern Mexico.

How would I have solved this problem? Okay, I didn’t actually go about it this way, but after I had done it, I realized that what I had done, and that was:  wonder what Cindy Brewer would have done? I already knew that Cindy Brewer, Trudy Suchan, and a host of reviewers at the U.S. Census Bureau agonized over a U.S. template to show demographics.  It appears in the Esri Press Mapping Census 2000, The Geography of U.S. Diversity, and in Census Atlas of the United States, Census 2000 Special Reports. The Census Bureau created some examples that show the template.

Anyway, that map template went through a battery of reviews to ensure that it offered the least potential to offend anyone or misrepresent information.  The added bonus of Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico being in the same geographic direction as their insets is nice too.

I mention Cindy Brewer since her latest book, Designed Maps, A Sourcebook for GIS Users is essentially an exercise in distributing good mapping ideas to anybody who needs one.  If you don’t find what you want in Designed Maps, then Ask a Cartographer on Mapping Center is another place to go.

This entry was posted in Mapping and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply


  1. dknudsen says:

    The Census Bureau examples are certainly a huge improvement over the Government Matters maps, but I wonder if more improvement could be wrung out of them…For example, the blue ocean surrounding the coast of Alaska does not correspond to the coast of the lower 48, which makes Alaska seem to be part of a separate graphic organizational element, an extension of the title bar. Either removing the blue ocean color in the insets or adding it to the main map seems more consistent to me.

    I also wonder if the whole composition would seem unbalanced if the lower 48 were pushed flush right and the legend relocated west of California. There would still be room for Alaska and Hawaii, and in fact, there might be room to show Alaska closer to its proportionally correct size and rotated slightly clockwise to the graticule used for the lower 48. Has anyone seen evidence that such changes would not work, or have a strong intuition that they wouldn’t?

  2. dmortenson says:

    Nice improvement and a much needed one. Thanks for taking the time.

    You are correct, dknudsen. There isn’t any reason why Alaska cannot be of the same scale, and include the Aluitian Islands.