Google Maps Designer Tells How to Draw the World's Atlas
How do you design an atlas for the entire world? It takes a lot of thought and some specialized icons for different parts of the world, for starters.
A Google Maps designer, Willem Van Lancker, wrote in Core77 recently about some of the color, icon and other decisions Google Maps has made since its beginnings in 2004.
Van Lancker and his team started by gathering maps from all over the world to study how they looked. They found there was no universal color palette, so they decided to create their own that would apply more or less all over the world on Google Maps. They had take into account some local differences, however, such as different classifications of roadways, which might require certain colors. (The U.K. and Japan have more types of roadways than other nations, Van Lancker wrote).
They also created an enormous database of icons to represent airports, camping sites, karaoke bars and other points of interest. While they used many of the same icons internationally, there are some regional differences there, too. In Japan, for example, children learn specific icons for post offices and schools, so Japanese users see those icons instead of the international ones. Meanwhile, there's no international symbol for subway, so Google uses whatever the local symbol happens to be.
Van Lancker posted screenshots to show that Google Maps designers have given their maps softer colors and fewer drop-shadows over the years. The changes make the maps look less cluttered and help fade some details to the background so more important details, such as major street names, stand out better. Streets drawn in thinner lines also help the maps look less jam-packed while keeping the same level of detail.
"All of these small details add up to make a product that just works," Van Lancker wrote. As the world becomes ever more developed and offers more data, it'll be interesting to see how Google Maps continues to show more information on its internationally available, digital atlas.