Thematic maps are often regarded as somewhat mundane because the simple geometry of the shapes used, or the colours chosen, can leave them being little more than clinical graphical statements. Choropleths and proportional symbol maps are excellent ways to communicate quantitative information but we see so many that sometimes you need to pay more attention to the style of the overall map to elevate the aesthetics, give it a particular look and feel and, hopefully, inspire more interest. Stephen Benzek’s proportional symbol map of civilian casualties due to acts of terrorism in Afghanistan from 2004-2009 does just that.
Benzek has styled the entire map along the lines of newspaper and propaganda mapping from the 1930s and 1940s. The cartoon-like typeface, heavy line weights and strong colours creates a dramatic appearance that suits the subject matter. The shape of the country lends itself well to a landscape layout and he uses the surrounding space to good effect with an additional map and well placed and sized graphs, textual components and legends. The title is particularly strong and overall, the visual hierarchy designed into the map leads the eye effortleslly to the core detail. Context is there in the form of useful topographic detail but it is unobtrusive and sits quietly in the background, allowing the strong symbols to be the main actor on the map. The use of a heavy drop shadow raises the study area (Afghanistan) above the surrounding geography to give added focus and depth to the map.
A simple thematic map with a very strong graphical statement.