Feb 20, 2016

Icons vs dots on digital maps

written by Mike

When configuring an event mapping system it can be a great idea to customise the icons with symbols used to represent features. We often spend time at the configuration stage designing icons which match the style of the brand. An example of this was for England Rugby where a typical round icon was replaced with a rugby ball shape.

Custom icons are great as they reinforce the brand on all the maps and makes the map feel part of the event from the outset. However we have noticed a tendency for GIS users to try and ‘over-brand’ the maps. This can lead to confusion between icons. Here are some guidelines for when it should be a dot and when it should be an icon:

With online maps it should be an dot when:

Icon sizes are going to be below 25 pixels

Any smaller and you cannot see the icon anyway

There are more than around 20 of the feature on a view of the map

Dots are easier to use to establish relative density of features

The specific location does not require accuracy below over 5meters

Larger icons make determination of exact location more difficult

Consistency is not possible with icons

Where a consistent look is not possible due to multiple symbols mean the same thing

Icons just look wrong

Sometimes too many icons can make a map seem too busy, or they fail to be clear on what they mean.


This is not an exact science – but the above guidelines can help when choosing to use icons or dots.