Cartography Reading List
I’m often asked for book recommendations – so here are the ten titles that’ve been the most valuable to me.
One thing you’ll notice: almost none of them are “cartography” books.
Modern cartography lies at the intersection of many other disciplines, and there’s much from these disciplines that’s directly applicable to cartography. But there’s also another reason: if someone wanted to create Google Maps or Apple Maps from scratch, there’s currently no book that serves as a good starting point. (Something I’ll rectify soon.)
So instead of teaching you cartography directly, these books will speak to many of cartography’s foundational elements, such as color and typography.
Often the key to learning something new is to boil it down to its fundamentals and then build up your knowledge from there. And that’s exactly what these books will do: they’ll teach you the first principles behind cartography’s fundamentals – principles that you can build upon as you create your own designs.
⭐️ = Up to three chapters or sections that are especially worthwhile.
🔑 = A key passage, quote, or insight.
I’ve read this a couple dozen times, and each time I still discover something new. A masterpiece.
⭐️ “Chapter 2: Micro / Macro Readings”; “Chapter 3: Layering & Separation”; “Chapter 5: Color & Information”
🔑 “Confusion and clutter are failures of design, not attributes of information”
⭐️ “The Smallest Effective Difference”
🔑 “Make all visual distinctions as subtle as possible, but still clear and effective”
DESIGNING VISUAL INTERFACES
KEVIN MULLET & DARRELL SANO
Out of print and hard to find. Some complain that the book’s images have become dated – but its principles are timeless.
⭐️ “Elegance and Simplicity”; “Scale, Contrast, and Proportion”; “Organization and Visual Structure”
INTERACTION OF COLOR
Color (and a dash of Typography)
A color is always seen in relation to the colors around it, making it art’s most relative medium. A favorite among Apple’s Industrial Design team.
🔑 “We can hear a single tone but rarely do we see a single color unrelated to other colors”
THE ELEMENTS OF COLOR
Eye-opening. Explains why certain color combinations work better than others – and shows you combinations you never considered.
⭐️ “The Seven Color Contrasts” (Hue, Light-Dark, Cold-Warm, Complementary, Simultaneous, Saturation, and Extension)
THE ELEMENTS OF TYPOGRAPHIC STYLE
Labels are half the map – which means that typography is half the map. And there’s no better teacher than Bringhurst.
Out of all the books listed, this is the one I reference most.
⭐️ “Harmony & Counterpoint”; “Choosing & Combining Type”; the Appendices
🔑 “Typography exists to honor content”
THE IMAGE OF THE CITY
Urban Design / Wayfinding
Paths. Edges. Districts. Nodes. Landmarks. This book will help you understand how others form mental maps of cities – better preparing you to create maps of your own.
⭐️ “III, The City Image and Its Elements”
A PATTERN LANGUAGE
CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER & OTHERS
Design Patterns / Systems Design
Out of all the books on this list, this is the one that’s least related to cartography.
So why have I included it?
Its value is in how it creates a system of over 250 large- and small-scale design patterns (what its authors call “a pattern language”). Each of the book’s patterns are, in turn, connected to other larger and smaller patterns elsewhere in the language, forming a complete system.
There are many parallels here to creating cartographic design languages. Read A Pattern Language for how it thinks about these patterns and constructs a language around it.
Save these two for last, after you’ve digested the others...
SEMIOLOGY OF GRAPHICS
Graphic Design / Information Design
Valuable for its discussion of the retinal variables (size, value, texture, color, orientation, and shape).
⭐️ “The retinal variables” (in “II. The Properties of the Graphic System”)
🔑 “The most efficient graphic constructions are those in which any question, whatever its type and level, can be answered in a single instant of perception, that is, in a single image”
CARTOGRAPHIC RELIEF PRESENTATION
A technical guide to creating relief on maps (i.e., representations of mountains, hills, and elevation). Out of all the books listed, this is perhaps the most specialized.
⭐️ “Chapter 4 - The Theory of Colors”; “Chapter 13 - Area Colors”; “Chapter 14 - Interplay of Elements”
🔑 “Pure, bright or very strong colors have loud, unbearable effects when they stand unrelieved over large areas adjacent to each other, but extraordinary effects can be achieved when they are used sparingly on or between dull background tones”