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Quantitative Color Schemes: Contemporary Usage

Anyone who has used refereed journals in the last couple of decades or so has probably noticed the increasing prevalence of color graphics and maps. The increasing use of color permits more eye-catching graphics and maps, and allows greater flexibility in the design of these images. Although there are clearly benefits to using color, it seems reasonable to ask how color is being used and whether it is being used appropriately. In this research we focused on one particular type of color image, the quantitative color map, or Qc map. These maps use color to represent either ordinal (ranked) or numerical (interval and ratio level) data, and are fundamental tools for displaying the spatial pattern of geographic data.

We asked the following four questions: 1) In recent years, to what extent has the use of color maps in geospatial journal publications become more prevalent? 2) Have Qc maps also become more prevalent in those same journals, and if so, to what degree? 3) What sorts of color schemes are being used to depict spatial data on Qc maps? And most importantly, 4) Are these color schemes being used appropriately?

I created these (and many other) graphics to illustrate the concepts and issues underlying our paper, which was published in the Annals of the AAG in 2017.

Travis M. White, Terry A. Slocum & Dave McDermott (2017) Trends and Issues in the Use of Quantitative Color Schemes in Refereed Journals, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 107:4, 829-848, DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2017.1293503