Coffee Hour: From Maps to Apps: Designing National Park Service Maps

Friday, November 15, 2013 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
3:30 p.m. Refreshments are offered in the E. Willard Miller seminar room, 319 Walker Building 4:00 p.m. The lecture begins in the John J. Cahir Auditorium, 112 Walker Building

From Maps to Apps: Designing National Park Service Maps

About the talk

The popularity of US national parks—there are over 400 sites visited by 300 million people annually—presents mapping challenges as well as opportunities. From general orientation to site navigation to conveying interpretive messages, maps are integral to the visitor experience. A typical park map allows a visitor to do much more than get to the visitor center. Through subtle use of shading, color, and textures, the cartographer helps visitors make a connection between the map they are holding in their hands and the park they are exploring.


The look of park maps has changed significantly in the last decade. We now merge shaded relief and land-cover data to better emulate the natural colors that characterize park landscapes, such as parched southwestern deserts and the icy mountains of Alaska. In addition, maps depicting the third dimension—bird’s-eye views with buildings and landscape panoramas—have become more common.


I will discuss design considerations for a range of map types, from printed brochures to mobile applications. National Park Service map design standards, best described as flexible guidelines rather than rigid rules, have evolved through time and are a reflection of changing technology and graphic trends. Regardless of what form they take, park maps share a common trait: they must be accessible to diverse audiences and people with disabilities.

About the speaker

Tom PattersonTom Patterson is Senior Cartographer with the US National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center. He has degrees in geography from State University of New York at Oneonta, and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Tom has previously worked as Cartographic Lab Manager for the University of Utah and as a cartographer for the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a former president of the North American Cartographic Information Society and is active in the ICA Commission on Mountain Cartography.