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The readability of a map depends directly on its cartographic design and generalisation. The bases for the uniform design of maps at all scales are the objects catalogue, the utilised geodata and the key to the symbols in the map elements.

Two extracts of the map 1:25,000 and 1:100,000 of Klosters
1:25,000 scale compared with 1:100,000

The objects to be depicted in each map are selected on the basis of the geodata in the topographic landscape model and incorporated into an objects catalogue for each scale. The importance of the objects in relation to one another, and the available space on the map, are the criteria for ensuring the best possible selection of objects in terms of suitability and hierarchy.

Depicting reality with the aid of maps calls for a high level of expertise in the use of the various graphic elements:

  • Lettering
  • Forms of objects
  • Dimensions and distances of objects
  • Colours
  • Saturation
  • Brightness
  • Contrast


The depiction of each object is clearly defined in the form of symbols and icons. These can be divided into point, line and area symbols, as well as abstract and audio icons. These are harmonised at all scales and in terms of depiction and colour, and are described in the key to symbols. This ensures that the national maps are uniform in terms of content and graphics, and are easy to understand.

The generalisation of map content ensures that a balance can be obtained between the conflicting requirements of depiction of reality and readability at the various scales.
Generalisation encompasses the following steps:

  • Selection
  • Simplification
  • Summarisation
  • Classification
  • Evaluation
  • Enlargement
  • Replacement


Today these processes are mostly executed automatically. However complex situations that are not resolvable through automation are solved by our specialists.

Furthermore, familiarity with the specific characteristics of the various forms of media is also a decisive factor for optimal depiction and perception. For example, the requirements for a map printed on paper are different to those for maps published on the Internet or for use on mobile devices.

Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
+41 58 469 01 11


Relevant authority


Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern


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