This paper examines the techniques being developed by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) Division of Publications for designing plan (2D) maps with a faux realistic look. The NPS produces tourist maps for 385 parks in a system spanning a large swath of the Earth’s surface from the Caribbean to Alaska to the South Pacific, and which is visited by nearly 300 million people each year. Many park visitors are inexperienced map readers and non-English speakers. In our ongoing effort to make NPS maps accessible to everyone, the design of NPS maps over time has become less abstract and increasingly realistic, particularly in the depiction of mountainous terrain and natural landscapes (Figure 1). Many of the techniques discussed herein are borrowed from or inspired by 3D mapping (Patterson, 1999). However, the scope of my paper deals exclusively with plan mapping—a format that has received scant attention in the digital era in regard to abstract vs. realistic depiction compared to the 3D world. It is also the format in which the majority of NPS maps will continue to be made.
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