Project (2006-2008) >> About research project

The project "Aesthetics in Cartographic Expression" was in progress throughout the years 2006-2008 and was supported by the Grant Agency of the Charles University. This web page includes all information and links to results of the project.

Introductionprof. Karel Kuchař

In the past cartographic works were considered works of arts. As the society and its needs developed this artistic aspect of cartographic works gradually had a less significant role. Nowadays cartographic works are considered more or less purpose-oriented and their aesthetic aspects are not the primary object of cartographers´ interest any more (this is substantiated in the work by the renown cartographer Kuchař 1958).

This may be related to the fact that the issue of aesthetics as a special humanistic branch of cartography is alien to cartographers (evidence of this can be found mainly in domestic sources). When we add that cartography comes under natural and technical sciences it is not a big surprise. Covering such interdisciplinary issue means, among others, adequate command of the study of aesthetics, study of sources related to aesthetics, consultation with experts – aestheticians, sociologists, etc.

Reasons for research project

When we look for reasons for dealing with aesthetics in cartography, or rather in its means of expression, these are some essential ones that deserve to be mentioned:

a) aesthetic aspects of a cartographic works influence their overall quality and their user-friendliness),
b) aesthetic aspects of cartographic works can also influence the customer’s choice when assessing two similar cartographic works,
c) in the era of technicization of cartographic works and computer technologies the necessity to take into account even aesthetic aspects of these works becomes more evident.

Fig. Graphical representation of studied issue – aesthetic process as a communication process

Existing research on aesthetics in cartography

According to available information no-one in the Czech or Slovak Republic has dealt intensively with this issue and there are no self-contained studies of this issue even though the need to deal with it has been mentioned by a number of distinguished experts on cartography, both in academic and scientific sphere (the above mentioned  Kuchař 1958 or Miklošík 2005, and many others), as well as in the cartographic sphere as such.

In foreign literature we can trace hints of partial studies of this issue, especially in the Anglophone world, so called cartographic design (Wood & Keller 1996). Here rather visual perception than overall aesthetic reception is assessed. At other times the issue is researched as part of overall user-friendliness of the user interface, etc. (Shneiderman 1998). So called artistic cartography has been studied primarily at some German schools and workshops of cartography (E. Imhof and others).

The project leader started to intensively study this issue in 2001. After defending an examination paper called The Aesthetics of Cartographic Works (Estetika kartografické tvorby) at the Department of Applied Geoinformatics and Cartography the project leader defended a diploma thesis called Aesthetical Assessment of Czech Cartographic Production for Schools (Hodnocení české kartografické tvorby pro školy z hlediska estetiky) where he made the first attempt to apply his findings on aesthetics to assessment of cartographic works.

The proposal of the presented project is based on the above mentioned research; it is closely related to the topic of the project leader´s dissertation thesis and respects the research activities conducted at the proponent´s workplace. The project requires interdisciplinary cooperation and communication of cartographers and aestheticians (especially the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University in Prague). The findings will be applied to emerging cartographic works and during assessment of current cartographic works – here cooperation with the cartographic community will be needed.

When cartographers communicate with users of cartographic works they use a special language – cartographic means of expression. Therefore, the project is oriented primarily at these.  The most important means of expression are colour, shape, points, lines, areas, font, positioning, etc. They will be subject of our research and assessment.

Project objectives

The aim of the project is to put emphasis on practical use of the acquired knowledge. The results will be used for further education of cartographers at our Faculty, and possibly interested students of other fields. This should strengthen the interconnection of science and research and educational activities (see long-term intent of the Charles University). The project is on the following objectives:

1)    to get complex and systematic overview and proof of interconnection of cartography and aesthetics and answer questions related to using aesthetic knowledge in cartography practice;
2)    to draft methodology of objectification and quantification of analysis and assessment of cartographic works in terms of aesthetics and user-friendliness; set up qualitative assessment criteria;
3)    to prove general validity of the above mentioned methodology on various applications (tourist maps, road maps, cartographic production for schools,…);
4)    to find out to what extent results acquired by the above mentioned methodology correspond with results acquired from empirical research among the users of the corresponding cartographic works;
5)    to create materials and curriculum for teaching the given topic at the Faculty of Science of the Charles University in Prague;
6)     to elaborate and publish a publication, a self-contained study of the given issue, which should serve for both the professional cartographic public, and cartography, geodesy and geoinformatics students.

The result of the project should also include formulating an answer to the question whether aesthetic aspects of a cartographic work and its user-friendliness can be objectified. Last but not least is the cooperation between the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University.

(Extract from project from October 2005)

Project Final Report (March 2009)

The interdisciplinary project “Aesthetics in Cartographic Expression”, in progress throughout the years 2006–2008, led to the following results:

1)     Publishing activities: a number of specialist and popularized articles, conference papers, both in oral and poster form, and two exhibitions (one presented in the Czech radio ČRo Radiožurnál and ČRo Leonardo). Approximately 2/5 of the publishing activities took place abroad (Austria, Slovak Republic), one is currently being printed as part of an upcoming publication within a series by a renowned publisher Springer in Berlin.

2)     Among others, the major one is a monograph called Cartography: On the edge of art and informatics (Kartografie: mezi uměním a informatikou) which will be published by the Dokořán publishers in 2009. It is a self-contained study designated for both students and experts, as well as for those who are simply interested in maps and cartography.

3)     Methodology of multi-criterion assessment of cartographic works (not only) in terms of aesthetics and user-friendliness (with the key possibility of partial objectification and quantification) tested on a number of cartographic products, especially under field research among their potential or direct users; for this methodology a software tool for semi-automatic assessment will be developed.

4)     Curriculum and materials for teaching interdisciplinary aspects of cartographic production (optional subjects Analysis of Cartographic Works, Graphic Design and DTP in Cartography) + its implementation in the structure of traditional compulsory subjects Introduction to Cartography (lecture on colour in cartography, using knowledge of art) and Thematic Cartography (lecture on creativity in cartography and the possibilities of thematic representation of the reality).

5)     Students’ participation in the research when testing the methodology by field research (two pieces of extensive field research with users) and when assigning graduate theses (two defended theses and four theses in process, supposed defence in 2009).

6)     Establishment of a “subproject” of so called “creative maps”, which appealed to a number of people of international universities when presented abroad. In the future this activity could expand abroad (to the Slovak Republic in the first stage, later to Austria and Germany, and possibly Hungary).

7)     Cooperation of cartographers with humanities experts in aesthetics, psychology, sociology, or culturology. Cooperation with domestic and international institutions.

8)     Internet portal providing information about given issues in Czech and English ( Contains information on publishing activities, field research, student works, events dedicated to this or related topics, exhibitions, and especially creative (aesthetic) thinking during production of cartographic works (links to photographs of “creative” maps). There a possibilities of future expansion: e.g. surveys, discussion, connection to the Art and Cartography group.

9)     Acquisition of extensive domestic and foreign literature, which is not always easily accessible in the Czech environment, acquisition of a number of up-to-date products; after their practical utilization they were placed in the library to be at the disposal of geography and cartography students.