Atlas Trends

3707.2 - Story Telling in Atlases – The intrinsic way

Monday, July 3
4:30 PM - 4:50 PM
Location: Maryland B

Thematic atlases usually contain a broad spectrum of curated maps and related information like texts, pictures, or tables. On the one hand, the concept of such atlases aims to give an overview of the themes, but on the other hand, an atlas is also conceived to show the most relevant facets of the thematic content in the maps. Unfortunately, users often do not manage to discover the relevant places and characteristics in a map, because they are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of maps, map elements and functions. How can atlas authors solve this dilemma and design map environments that motivate users to have a closer look at the map?
Story telling based on narratives is proposed as a very promising solution for atlases in order to communicate more complex or hidden facts. Narratives are effective educational means, because users become engaged and therefore remember (Fuchs 2015). In fact, narrative elements are inherently incorporated in every printed or digital atlas, but have been neglected or even ignored in most atlas concepts. In today’s cartography, story telling is mainly achieved by creating Story Maps (ESRI 2016). In Story Maps, users can virtually walk through a “region” and get context-based, narrative information (Straumann and Sulzberger 2014).

Story Maps are usually implemented using a top-down approach to focus on a specific theme or issue. Although several story formats (e.g. map journal, guided tour) and tools (e.g. spyglasses, swipe) supporting story telling are used in Story Maps, they virtually neglect the narrative character of the map itself. This results in interactive maps consisting of independent thematic features or spatial referenced individual stories but hardly of map-centered, consistent story lines. Whereat maps only play a supportive role as one of several media, interactive tools and multimedia elements are focusing on thematic aims or enhancing the emotional experience. Since those Story Maps remain highly motivated by specific topics, this approach can be classified as extrinsic story telling.

To augment the existing concept of story telling in atlases, we propose a complementary approach, called “Intrinsic Story Telling”.
Three main differences to the extrinsic approach can be pointed out:
1) As a first and most important differentiator, the story should become an integral, intrinsic part of the map. Thereby, the story enrolls in the map itself; the narrative structure is visible in the map. This idea is inherent in Minard’s famous presentation of Napoleon’s march to Moscow in 1812.
2) As a second distinctive feature, a bottom-up workflow is followed by first analyzing and filtering the data set, then creating a map, and finally presenting the story. Using this kind of data-driven journalism workflow (Bradshaw 2011) opens the mind to detect new, unknown spatial or temporal patterns in maps, independent of the map theme.
3) As a third distinction, the maps are fully empowered by atlas features. In contrast to single story maps, atlas-embedded maps can make use of the whole atlas functionality, e.g. free map layer combination, thematic and spatial/temporal search and query. In 3D atlases, the visual perspective and spatial navigation can also be used to convey an immersive impression.

In our contribution, we will show the power of Intrinsic Story Telling in the thematic 3D atlas application Atlas of Switzerland – online (Sieber et al. 2015). First results will be demonstrated by using temporal sequence (e.g. spreading and repelling of rabies), spatial displacement and focus (e.g. navigation with hot spots), spatio-temporal combinations (e.g. rush of the French army into Switzerland 1798), and thematic sequence (e.g. noise distribution). To develop this powerful method further, future work will concentrate on the use and integration of animation techniques.

Nina Bonassi

ETH Zurich, Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation

Nina Bonassi, MSc ETH in Geomatics, studied geomatics with specialisations on GIS and Catrography/Engineering Geodesy and Photogrammetry at ETH in Zurich. She works at Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation since 2015, first as an editor for the "Schweizer Weltatlas" and from october 2016 for the Atlas of Switzerland.


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René Sieber

Project Manager
Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation, ETH Zurich

René Sieber, born 1958, has a diploma in geography from the University of Zurich. His Ph.D. thesis dealt with visual perception of 3D models. He is a staff member of the Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation ETH Zurich since 1991. He has been involved in the editorial work for the “Schweizer Weltatlas”, and for the interactive version of the “Atlas of Switzerland”. For more than twenty years he acts as deputy editor-in-chief and project manager of the “Atlas of Switzerland”. Since 2015, he is chair of the ICA Commission on Atlases.


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3707.2 - Story Telling in Atlases – The intrinsic way

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