ArcGIS Pro

Steal this WPA Poster style for ArcGIS Pro please

This past GIS Day I was invited to chat with some map friends in Sweden about using styles for rapid and consistent cartography. I pondered a bit about what I could demonstrate that might be a fun smashing-together of our homelands and settled on a WPA national parks poster style of the 30s and 40s applied to Corine Land Cover data of Europe. This was a nice opportunity to mix the quaint charm of that aesthetic with the Scandinavian hygge that my hosts bring to their gathering (which they call a fika, and involves coffee and cinnamon rolls and oh my goodness I just discovered someone has written a StoryMap about the Swedish Fika! Map people are just wonderful).

First, here’s a look at some examples of actual WPA posters. Positively dripping with charm…

Actually, you’ll be hard pressed to find a current-day national park art poster that isn’t designed to this aesthetic (there’s also a joyous cottage industry of parody posters that cite negative yelp reviews). Not wanting to feel left out, here is a map I made in ArcGIS Pro during the presentation (and the style, also partially made during the presentation), echoing that design sensibility:

Pretty fun!

Ever since Emily Meriam shared her process for making a WPA Poster styled map I was eager to try it as well; definitely check out Emily’s post for a beautiful map and a helpful history of the Works Progress Administration’s national park posters.

There are actually very few surviving WPA national park posters. They were printed so inexpensively and accepted with such passing regard that they have not well-survived the ravages of time and attention. Many examples only survive as black-and-white photos so we don’t know their original color palette. Some designers and enthusiasts, Doug Leen chief among them, have imagined palettes for these references (or re-imagined the old palettes). Don’t tell anyone, but I actually like these new palettes much better. I sampled this style’s colors from the Devils Tower poster.

So here is the ArcGIS Pro style so you can start making your own WPA-style maps. It’s stuffed with these colors, symbols, north arrows, and scalebars…


Here is a little run-down of the sorts of things I notice about this overall look:

Anyway, because I have the European data all styled up, it was a snap to crank out a few layouts, for different places in Europe.

Here’s lovely Edinburgh…

And Dobova…

And here’s one of Rotterdam…

In fact, I re-purposed my presentation for some friends at Esri Netherlands, so here’s a short video describing the poster aesthetic and the creation of part of the style, if you like.

Happy Retro Mapping! John

About the author

I have far too much fun looking for ways to understand and present data visually, hopefully driving product strategy and engaging users. I work in the ArcGIS Living Atlas team at Esri, pushing and pulling data in all sorts of absurd ways and then sharing the process. I also design user experiences for maps and apps. When I'm not doing those things, I'm chasing around toddlers and wrangling chickens, and generally getting into other ad-hoc adventures. Life is good. You might also like these Styles for ArcGIS Pro:

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