First Advisor

Geoffrey Duh

Term of Graduation

Fall 2023

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geography






Communication, Design, Geographic information science and geodesy, Geography, Information Science



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 113 pages)


Kernel density heat maps have emerged as a new, popular thematic map type. Yet, unlike other thematic map types, little if any published guidance exists for effective heat map design. This is significant because maps are highly persuasive objects that are often utilized to communicate important information, but maps can also be misleading and misunderstood. Therefore, proper guidance for heat map creation is critical for cartographers to create maps that convey geographic information successfully.

To address this literature gap, I used a modified Delphi method and an online survey to investigate several questions, including understanding what cartographic experts think are appropriate heat map guidelines for effectively communicating accurate geographic information and, more specifically, how well those guidelines assist in the ability for map users to correctly identify accurate geographic information. First, using a modified Delphi method, I worked with a panel of cartographic experts to determine potential heat map guidance using a questionnaire and two virtual focus groups. Then I tested the effectiveness of the expert-informed heat map design guidance among public reference librarians in the United States using an online survey.

The results of this work include a list of expert-informed guidelines for heat map design. When validating some of these guidelines (color scheme choice and search radius size), I found that certain guidelines performed better than others, such as selecting a blue to red color scheme over a blue to yellow color scheme. Furthermore, the results of G Goodness of Fit tests demonstrate that color choice and the combination of color choice and search radius have a statistically significant impact on survey answer correctness (α = 0.05), indicating that these heat map parameters are highly impactful for heat map effectiveness. Finally, I found that there seemed to be some knowledge gaps among survey participants around the basic nature of heat maps, indicating that more education on heat maps design and usage is needed among map users.


© 2023 Lauren Eileen McKinney-Wise

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Available for download on Thursday, December 12, 2024