Let’s talk basemaps for a minute. These all-too-often under-appreciated reference layers have an outsized influence on the look and feel, the legibility, and the lasting impact of an interactive thematic map. An effective basemap should provide enough geographic information to orient viewers and contextualize thematic data overlays, but should not distract from the map’s key messages. An effective basemap should also contribute to, or at least harmonize with, the visual language and character of the overall map.
I designed these vector basemaps for use in Story Maps. Styling a basemap is a tedious, often frustrating process, and I am continuing to iterate on these five examples, as time permits. As I’ve discovered, it’s exceedingly difficult to create a map that looks good across all scales and geographies, especially if the quality/thoroughness of the data varies from place to place. If you’re feeling particularly daring, you can design your own custom vector basemaps using these two vector tile style editors. Be forewarned, though—it’s kind of addicting.
These basemaps are best experienced in their native interactive environments, but if you must see static screenshots instead, I’ve added a few comparison slides below.