Design principles for origin-destination flow maps

Bernhard Jenny, Daniel M. Stephen, Ian Muehlenhaus, Brooke E. Marston, Ritesh Sharma, Eugene Zhang, Helen Jenny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Origin-destination flow maps are often difficult to read due to overlapping flows. Cartographers have developed design principles in manual cartography for origin-destination flow maps to reduce overlaps and increase readability. These design principles are identified and documented using a quantitative content analysis of 97 geographic origin-destination flow maps without branching or merging flows. The effectiveness of selected design principles is verified in a user study with 215 participants. Findings show that (a) curved flows are more effective than straight flows, (b) arrows indicate direction more effectively than tapered line widths, and (c) flows between nodes are more effective than flows between areas. These findings, combined with results from user studies in graph drawing, conclude that effective and efficient origin-destination flow maps should be designed according to the following design principles: overlaps between flows are minimized; symmetric flows are preferred to asymmetric flows; longer flows are curved more than shorter or peripheral flows; acute angles between crossing flows are avoided; sharp bends in flow lines are avoided; flows do not pass under unconnected nodes; flows are radially distributed around nodes; flow direction is indicated with arrowheads; and flow width is scaled with represented quantity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-75
Number of pages15
JournalCartography and Geographic Information Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Aesthetic criteria
  • Cartographic design principles
  • Graph drawing
  • Map design
  • Movement mapping
  • Origin-destination flow maps

Cite this