Introducing Smart Mapping

We want to introduce you to Smart Mapping, an exciting new capability built into the March 2015 update to ArcGIS Online and to the ArcGIS 10.3.1 release of Portal for ArcGIS (included with ArcGIS for Server). Smart mapping is designed to give people confidence and power to quickly make maps that are visually stunning and useful. This makes it easier than ever for you to create attractive maps, maps that tell important stories. Here’s more about what we added and what you can expect when you try smart mapping.

We added new ways to symbolize your data, ‘smart’ defaults, and data-driven workflows to the ArcGIS Online and the Portal for ArcGIS map viewer. Continuous color ramps and proportional symbols, improved categorical mapping, heat maps, and new ways to use transparency effects to show additional details about your data are all now delivered via a streamlined and updated user interface.

But smart mapping is more than just new kinds of maps (as exciting as those are!). To power this experience, we’ve articulated and then programmed in deep cartographic first principles that become a set of interconnected ‘smart’ defaults that create data-driven workflows.

Unlike ‘dumb’ software defaults that are the same every time, with smart defaults we now offer the right choices at the right time. When we see your data in the map viewer, we analyze it very quickly in a variety of ways so that the choices you see in front of you are driven by the nature of your data, the kind of map you want to create, and the kind of story you want to tell (e.g., I want to show places that are above and below the national average).

The best thematic maps apply thoughtful analysis of the underlying data to a set of map parameters designed to bring focus and clarity to the topic. Here, the author has positioned the handles controlling symbol size (running beside the histogram) to emphasize areas with household incomes over $100,000. Great maps relate the data back to the real world, using visual cues that immediately highlight the message you want to convey.

Our goal is to take the guesswork out of the hundreds of settings and choices so your maps are both cartographically appropriate and look wonderful. Even if you don’t have a degree in cartography or GIS, you’ll still succeed. That means you can work much faster because you spend less time iterating and wrangling your maps into something great.

Given the nature of my data, what are the appropriate ways I can map this? Through the new gallery browser in the map viewer (left side), you can now quickly hone-in on the best ways to represent your data and understand the range of choices.

Critically, we’re not taking control away from map authors or dumbing down the map authoring experience, we’re just being smarter about how we set all of the initial parameters of the map (color, scale, styling, etc.). For example, for each of the Esri basemaps (e.g., Streets, Dark Grey Canvas, Topographic) we have created professional, multi-hue color schemes that can be used as the defaults so that you know your map will look great right out of the box without needing any adjustments. Mapping pros still have full control, we’re simply moving beyond defaults that provide the wrong choices for your data and story.

Advanced transparency effects can now be used to nuance the story your data tells. Here the counties with the highest percent of African-American population emerge clearly, showing complex underlying historical and geographic processes. Further, you can normalize your data at any point in the workflow—e.g., divide one attribute by another to create rates and ratios—which is a critical and often overlooked step in the map authoring process.

Where do I find Smart Mapping?

Within the map viewer, you can use smart mapping two ways: (1) if making a new map from a CSV, TXT, of GPX file just drag it into the viewer, or (2) find Change Style in the layer context menu.

    • When you add feature layers that don’t have any styling, such as CSV or SHP files, the map viewer analyzes your data and presents layer styling options in a new Change Style pane.
    • When you add features layers you’ve already styled, the map viewer respects the styling, though you can change this map styling at any time and tap into the new smart mapping workflow. Look for Change Style in the layer menu icons.
    • You can create heat maps now when mapping the location of point features! Heat maps use colored areas to represent the density of point features. The colors are most intense where the most points are concentrated together.
    • You can use continuous colors and continuous size, bypassing the complicated step of having to group or classify your data.
    • You can now set the visible range with intuitive sliders when styling your layer. You can also have the map viewer calculate and set the optimal visible range.

We have a series of blog posts planned that will dive deeper into each of the exciting new enhancements around smart mapping. Although it has made its first appearance in the March release, smart mapping isn’t a one-shot effort; it’s a new philosophy and approach that will infuse our work. Stay tuned for more. We’ve just begun.

This entry was posted in ArcGIS Online, Cartographic Design, Mapping and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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  1. columbus1964 says:

    250 rows of csv-data isn’t a lot of data to add to a map.
    Why so modest….?

    • Mark Harrower says:

      @columbus1964 not sure I follow; A CSV with 250 rows (say for 250 counties or point features) is the kind of file I add to my maps regularly, so we want to make sure it’s working for you too. Let me know what isn’t working and we’ll try to help you

  2. agd17 says:

    When will this be available on Portal for ArcGIS?

    • Mark Harrower says:

      @agd17 – Smart Mapping will be part of Portal for ArcGIS 10.3.1 which is set to be released to customers next week (May 13th) if all goes according to plan.

  3. michael.udell says:

    Hi. I am making my first map using esri. For the base map I will use a street map. I want to add data about the trees in my backyard. The way I want to add this data is to save GPS coordinates, tree diameter (in feet), and tree type on a csv file. I will be collecting the raw data on an excel spreadsheet and then save it as a csv file. Has anyone done something like this that you can point me too?
    Mike Udell

  4. enrico.bonino says:

    Does these tools will be available in a nearest future also in the ArcGIS Desktop platform (release 10.x or ArcGIS Pro?)

  5. Thanks for posting this informative blog about smart mapping options. While I have been using smart mapping in my own work, I feel that I have only scratched the surface of what options are available and how best to use them.

    • Mark Harrower says:

      thanks for the encouraging words @joefrancis1_1 – we have more blog posts and more goodies coming with Smart Mapping in the upcoming summer release!

  6. says:

    Hi everyone,
    i have an issue regarding the “smart mapping feature” and attribute symbology and i’d really appreciate any help. I’ll try to explain this as best i can.
    1. Main idea is to have 2 web apps using same data, one for ADMIN and one PUBLIC, admin web app allows editing and shows all shapefile elements while public shows just certain shp points regarding the attribute (“SOLD” or “NOT SOLD”).
    Just to note i use 2 maps for this because of symbology and i don’t want to show certain data on public map.
    2. On a public map, i’ve set symbology options “Unique values” and set that if shp point have attribute “SOLD” then it is blue circle, if attrbute is “NOT SOLD” then it is red one.
    3. When i make change and change the attribute from “sold” to “not sold”, it creates new style group called “SOLD” and it doesn’t place blue, but green circle and so on. But i already have that group and symbology for this, i don’t want new group called the same and acting as different.
    Is there any option to lock this “unique values style” just to 2 groups. I don’t want when i change the attribute (“sold” or “not sold”) to make a totally new group with same name which doesn’t have symbology.
    Somehow i solved a part of that issue with filtering “not contains” but still on admin page i’d like to have my visual style show exact 2 groups depending on att data.
    Thank you, i’m looking forward for any recommendations how to fool this “smart mapping” so it doesn’t make new group when i edit the att called the same as one i already have. Greetings from sunny Croatia!

    • Mark Harrower says:

      Thanks for sharing this great idea – that makes a lot of sense and I understand that you just want 2 symbols on the map (SOLD, NOT SOLD), not a 3rd new type of symbol. Let me work on this and get back to you with an answer!

      • Mark Harrower says: – One way I know this works is to turn SOLD and NOT SOLD into numeric codes and make a 2-class Counts and Amounts (Color) map. With 1 = SOLD and 0 = UNSOLD, shown as red and blue dots on the map. If you change the value of one of the houses (from 0 to 1) it will automatically get the new color. My colleague also said he tried this with Unique Value and it worked for there too, so it might be in how the data are formatted. The good news is this is possible. Cheers!

        • says:

          Hi again Mark,
          thank you for your dedication into this issue, i really appreciate that.
          You helped me a lot with this info and right now regarding this it is acting as server side for maps which don’t need postgis, postgre database but getting it from same shapefile based on att data.
          Thanks again, cheers!

  7. steve.lewis_noaa says:

    Super technology; a huge step forward in GIS. Nice Job!.
    We’ve recently implemented in the JavaScript API. We can only change color scheme base on the base map and have not been able to use a color ramp in the JavaScript API? Ideas?

  8. steve.lewis_noaa says:

    Super technology; a huge step forward in GIS. Nice Job!.
    We’ve recently implemented SmartMapping in the JavaScript API. We can only change color scheme base on the base map and have not been able to use a color ramp in the JavaScript API? Ideas?

    • Mark Harrower says:

      @steve.lewis_noaa – Thanks for the kind words. You can definitely use different color schemes/ramps and don’t have to stick with the default ones. Let me know if these pages help:

      • steve.lewis_noaa says:

        Super, Mark. We’ve looked at choropleth but have not been able to implement. I see that you would add esri/Color and esri/styles/choropleth. …A code example would be great. I have colleagues across the country with the same question about getting a red to blue like color scheme. Looking forward to 3D SmartMapping in the next several months.
        This is our relevant code:: Can send the stand-alone html form if necessary.

        var promise = smartMapping.createClassedColorRenderer({
        layer: featureLayer,
        basemap: “topo”,
        field: “Total_Tons”,
        classificationMethod: “natural-breaks”

        function (response){
        console.log(“createClassedColorRenderer response: “, response);
        drawingOptions.renderer = response.renderer;

        var options = [];
        options[] = drawingOptions;


        function (error){
        console.log(“createClassedColorRenderer error: “, error);

  9. peter.baldwin.1980 says:

    are there any plans to put smart maps directly into the Explorer app? so that people could make changes on the fly if they are in the field with an iPad.

    • Mark Harrower says:

      @peter.baldwin.1980 – I’m not aware of any plans at this point, but I’ll reach out to that team and if they are planning that, I’ll let you know.

  10. tomarcgis says:

    Smart mapping is a great! It works super well with FeatureLayer. The feature layer inherits from the graphics layer. I am wondering if this smart mapping works with ArcGISDynamicMapServiceLayer??? Thanks!

  11. eroley says:

    Is there an option to add webservice URL with key or granting access from remote repository that requires a ssl, HTTPS user login and or active ditectory account? I absolutely like the base concept. Would like to see account integration with arcgis earth/…mobile. Keep up the great work!

  12. krzickert says:

    I understand how to access and view the “change style” feature but I believe with the format my CSV file is formatted, I am not getting the style options I am seeking. I would like to illustrate financing at a particular point – using “Counts and Amounts” – but my data is not provided this option.
    How can I save or upload my CSV so that I can apply this data in a “counts and amounts” style?


    • Mark Harrower says:

      Hi Kevin – Both the counts and amounts (size) and counts and amounts (color) options will be offered if you have numeric data attached to points/lines/or polygons. Make sure the financing data is formatted as numeric field in the CSV (not a general or string field)–I do that in Excel myself–and you should see those styling options appear. I’m curious, what options are you given currently?

  13. rrose_cga says:

    Hi Mark

    Is it possible to have the Smart Mapping tools in a geo application? So for instance, if we make the maps in our organization account on AGOL, can we share the maps wion a web site and allow the public to interact with the data using the Smart Mapping tools?



    • Mark Harrower says:

      Hi Rob – That’s a great idea! I don’t believe we have a way to do that (e.g., add the interactive color ramp handles to a Story Map or geo app), but I’ll be sure to pass that along to those teams and see what their thinking is about adding more data exploration-like tools to their work. Cheers!

  14. varvara_t says:

    Thanks for a great post!
    Maybe you know – is it possible to create custom color schemes and save your own colors in AGOL?

    • Mark Harrower says:

      @varvava_t I know the team has talked about wanting to support this, but I don’t know when. I think everyone agrees it makes sense for organizations that have brand-specific color schemes they might want to re-use without having to do this manually every time. If I hear more, I’ll let you know!

  15. ofer Gold says:

    can heat map be created using a “Map Image Layer” or only with a “Feature Layer”?