1. Avoid Default Fonts

Type and Text

Though subtle, using unique fonts has a MASSIVE impact on map aesthetic.

Imagine if National Geographic only used Arial and Times New Roman on their maps.

Would you appreciate the maps differently? Would they be lacking some personality or uniqueness you’ve come to expect?

Type on maps is an integral part of a map’s overall form. Map form is best thought of as the meanings or interpretations people make — both logical and emotional — when viewing or interacting with a map. Font is a key component in shaping people’s perceptions in both the logical and emotional realms.

The font you select (and yes, I use font and typeface interchangeably here, though I know they officially have different meanings) influences the message your map communicates. It also has an impact on map affect — the emotional response and feelings a map user has about what they’re using.


Times New Roman and Arial Fonts Are Yucky

Roboto Slab and Roboto
The top image uses two default fonts: Times New Roman and Arial. The bottom image uses two free Google Fonts: Roboto Slab and Roboto. The uniqueness of the fonts in the second map helps make it look more polished even though it is exactly the same map.

Professional cartographers use non-default, or at least less typical, fonts on their maps. They tweak their font selection based on the map like a lead guitarist switches out guitars based on the upcoming song during a live set. Or sometimes, as with guitarists, sometimes you just change fonts to add variety to your life.

Use unique fonts for your web and mobile maps too!

In the old days, it was a nice cop-out to say that you could only select among a handful of web-friendly fonts (Georgia on my mind…). But today, with open font repositories galore and linking to a font requiring merely a line of CSS script, there is no more excuse to use default web fonts as there is to use web-safe colors.

Download Free Google Fonts with SkyFonts

The following video from the UW-Madison Online Master’s in GIS and Web Mapping Program quickly walks you through how to select and install Google Fonts on your PC or Mac.

If you’ve never explored the 1000+ free fonts available via Google, I recommend you view this now. Your maps and map readers will thank you for the variety!