Data-Ink Ratio

Data Ink Ratio

What Problem Does This Solve?

A large share of “ink” (pixels) on a map should present data-information, i.e. show more data that is relevant to the user performing a task.

When to Use This Pattern

Always strive to show what is important while simultaneously removing what is not important.

What’s the Solution?

To increase the data-ink ratio the author of a map must increase the amount of data points with value (data-ink) and decrease the content that is not necessary to comprehend the information represented (total ink used). The following techniques help to increase this ratio:

  • Chose the right Basemap
  • Removing, hiding, dimming layers
  • Show labels wisely (selective and only when necessary)
  • Follow cartographic rules
  • Guide users to their area of interest
  • Use UI Patterns like Placemarks or Unified Search

Why Use This Pattern?

In a time when big data is almost a given, it becomes more and more important to edit and curate the data and visualization. The American statistician Edward Tufte uses the term “data-ink ratio” to argue against using excessive decoration in visual displays of quantitative information.

Special Considerations

Editing data is difficult and anticipating the multitude of display options might be overwhelming, but every time a user is confused, it adds friction and reduces trust which eventually will lead to abandoning the task and maybe even the application. The goal is reached when users don’t realize anymore that they are interrogating a map, when the map and its content become invisible to them.
Start by asking “What is the minimum set of visuals necessary to communicate the information understandably?” and continue by asking “Which elements (layers, features, labels, ornaments) can be removed without degrading the essence of what needs to be communicated?”


Canada is not relevant to the US-centric map but still uses most of the ‘ink’
Canada is not relevant to the US-centric map but still uses most of the ‘ink’

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