ArcGIS Blog

Why Are Maps So Interesting?

For most people, sight is the dominant sense, so when it comes to information delivery, most like it served visually. One way to think about it is to consider that as information publishers, we actually have relatively few ways to organize information. We can alphabetize it, but that’s not very much fun. We can arrange it by time, chronologically, but that has its limitations. We can organize knowledge taxonomically by category or hierarchically in some kind of ranking. And then we come to spatial organization, the system that arranges things by where they are. This option offers unique insights and the potential to visualize information. Organizing by location is a particularly interesting and useful way to marshal information.

Another reason why so many relate to maps and geography is that we have no choice but to think and see spatially. We have to make sense of our surroundings and navigate through our world. Maps make sense of things. They lend order to complex environments, and they reveal patterns and relationships.

Maps can also be quite beautiful. They stimulate both sides of our brain: the right side that’s intuitive and aesthetic, and the left side that’s rational and analytical. Maps are this wonderful combination of both. It’s this neat marriage of utility and beauty that I find so alluring.


This post is excerpted from The ArcGIS Book, Second Edition: 10 Big Ideas about Applying The Science of Where, by Christian Harder and Clint Brown. The twin goals of this book are to open your eyes to what is now possible with Web GIS, and then spur you into action by putting the technology and deep data resources in your hands. The book is available through and other booksellers, and is also available at for free.

About the author

Allen founded the story maps team at Esri. Prior to joining Esri in 2010, he worked at National Geographic for 27 years in a variety of positions, including art director of National Geographic Magazine and chief cartographer at National Geographic Maps.


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