Working with maps in newspaper design

Using a map as lead artwork, especially on the front page, can be a bit of a gamble. Unlike a photo of a cute puppy, a devastating fire or a scantily clad woman, there isn’t much about a map that captures the reader’s immediate attention.

That’s where are little bit of creativity can go a long way in turning a lackluster map into the crowning jewel of a page design.

When putting together a map there are a number of things to consider:

The use of colour

Getting the colours right is crucial. In most cases the purpose of a map is to focus the reader’s attention on a specific geographic area. Bold, primary colours are a great way to highlight areas of importance and increase the impact of the map on the page. However, be careful not to use too many vibrant colours or things will get ugly, fast. Two, maybe three bold colours (tops), is about all the eye can handle.

Basic features of the map (like land, roads, water, etc.) should be filled with a more subdued colour.

If your map is more complex, use various shades of the same colour to identify the separation of regions.


The typography used for labels is just as important as the map itself. Without clear, precise, attention-grabbing labels the map has little context and is virtually meaningless. That’s why it’s crucial to think about how the typographical elements of the map will add to its legibility and enhance the overall look.


Throughout the process of putting a map together you need to constantly evaluate how it will be interpreted by the reader. Using identifying markers makes it much easier for someone to extract relevant information.

A legend (or key) is a must for any map that highlights areas with multiple colours or patterns. For most people there is a strong association between legends and maps. That’s why you will find that most readers will focus their attention on the legend first while trying to interpret a map.

The use of photography

When the silhouette of the map isn’t immediately recognizable, it’s often beneficial to pair the map with a relevant photograph so the reader has something to connect it with.

When you pair a map with a photo, it’s best to use subtle colours. Utimately, you don’t want the map and the photograph fighting for attention. They need to work together in a way where one flows into the next.

Connecting to the headline

Maps, by their very nature, are a conceptual, abstract form of imagery. When a reader looks at a map, they need to be able to pull out the key information within a few seconds or their attention will wander elsewhere. By pairing a map with an overtly related headline it helps the reader to bridge the gap between the image and the concept that is being presented.

I’ll leave you with a collection of map designs for your inspiration.

Category: Infographics



  1. Hi Matthew,
    What is your suggestion for new designs for my newspaper (just like on the website above). I mean about fonts, headlines, sub headlines, and the body text. What kind of fonts that you suggest for me.
    Actually I am a designer like you too, but I feel so small in front of you….please suggest me.

    Thanks before,
    Jeano Donovan

  2. Hi,

    I am also curious about what kind of software you use for mapping and later for editing – if different. 🙂

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Article by: Matt French

Assistant art director for The Globe and Mail. Matthew is an award-winning editorial designer based in Toronto, Canada.