Developing map symbol standards through an iterative collaboration process

Anthony C. Robinson, Robert E. Roth, Justine Blanford, Scott Pezanowski, Alan M. MacEachren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Geographic information is commonly disseminated and consumed via visual representations of features and their environmental context on maps. Map design inherently involves generalizing reality, and one method by which mapmakers do so is through the use of symbols to represent features. Here we focus on the challenges associated with supporting mapmakers who need to work together to reach consensus on standardizing their map symbols. On the basis of a needs assessment study with mapmakers at the US Department of Homeland Security, we designed a new, mixed-method symbol standardization process that takes place through a web-based, asynchronous platform. Astudy to test this new standardization process with mapmakers at DHS revealed that our process allowed participants to identify many issues related to symbol design, meaning, and categorization. The approach elicited sustained, iterative engagement and critical thinking from participants, and results from a poststudy survey indicate that participants found it to be useful and usable. Results from our study and user feedback allow us to suggest multiple ways in which our approach and platform can be improved for future applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1034-1048
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironment and Planning B: Planning and Design
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Architecture
  • Urban Studies
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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