Annotations in maps – story-telling in an interesting avatar

Annotations in maps – story-telling in an interesting avatar


Story-telling has always been a favorite among cartographers. Stories captivate the interest of the audience like nothing else. Images, on the other hand, are visually appealing and speak a thousand words.  Maps, on which almost our every movement depends today, can now combine the power of both to give a new meaning to data visualization.  Putting annotations in maps is becoming a popular trend.

Maps help us know the ‘where’ of things, enabling us to reach a destination in lesser time and easily. While scouting for a location, we are often driven by a purpose and now cartographers are making efforts to make this search and consequent visits more purposeful. By using narratives, they are helping us know more about a location. Maps are now getting laced with interesting annotations, telling stories about a place.

Annotations in maps
Annotations in maps Courtesy: Ordnance Survey

But why annotations?

The dictionary definition of Annotation is: ‘a note by way of explanation or comment added to a text or diagram.’  They have been a part of charts since long, enabling the creator to provide extra useful information to the readers.

Annotations beautifully guide readers to view certain aspects of the data that are important. They help in adding narratives to guide the audience and offer commentary for a graphic. These narratives help the audience to understand the symbology used in the maps more accurately. These narratives could be any personal anecdote about the place including social media posts.

Cartography reaches a new level with annotations. Annotations in maps allow the map-makers to provide additional details. These details bring in more clarity in understanding the data on maps, removing ambiguity and confusion. If one wants to highlight a particular point or emphasize a key message in the presented data, then annotations can be of great help. These narratives not only add zing to the map but also encourage the audience to compare different data points or highlight a particular range. Including text with graphics, make the graphics self-encapsulating and highly useful on their own. Even sharing and embedding of these graphics is more encouraging as compared to empty graphics.

Putting the annotations correctly

While creativity knows no boundaries, keeping in mind the following points as you put those annotations in your maps, will make them more useful and visually appealing:

  • Put the annotations as close as possible to the data points of interest.
  • Readability is of prime importance. Take time to design your annotation, but the message should be clearly visible.
  • Let go of the legend –Annotate and make those boring legends redundant. You may differ if your map contains a large number of individual symbols.
  • Pay attention to positioning the annotations within the visual hierarchy. Think whether you want them to be read first or they should be there only as a supporting feature? According to the impression you want to create, place the annotation.
  • Don’t make them stand out too much, else they could detract from your data.
  • To establish the connection between your data and the annotation, use leader lines or arrows.

Maps have become an important part of our everyday living. They tell us numerous stories and adding narratives or annotations to the points of interest in a map is just another way of visualizing the world more creatively!  Annotating a map is definitely the thing to do today if you are an enthusiastic cartographer.

Also Read

Story Maps: Bringing storytelling and mapping together