Why We Love It

You’ve heard of art for art’s sake. We love this map because it is data for art’s sake—the growing cartographic practice of data art. This kind of map creates its own aesthetic through patterns made by data. In this case, the map shows all known connections between origin and destination airports across the globe, a total of 58,000 routes on one map. A single, bright color atop a dark, simple basemap provides high contrast and immediate visual impact.

Why It Works

This map uses high contrast and a limited color palette. To achieve harmony, there is artful interplay between background and foreground. The design is dramatic, showing the dataset and letting the patterns speak for themselves. Using very high transparency on individual symbols (98%) shows density of routes in congested areas and avoids a jumbled mess of lines. Projection is also important and here, Web Mercator transforms essentially straight flight paths into beautiful curves.

Important Steps

Data from openflights.org is processed in Excel to create a simple spreadsheet of origin and destination airports, each as a unique row with latitude and longitude.

Import the data to ArcGIS and run the XY-to-Line tool using the start and end coordinates of each pair of airports to create a line feature between them.

Symbolize the lines using 98% transparency and using the Dark Gray Canvas Basemap.

Publish to ArcGIS Online as a cached tile service.



Patterns are made by a large dataset of a single phenomenon. The raw data structure forms the final map and, in this case, creates the shapes of continents, countries, and cities.


This map uses an accurate digital globe and the XY-to-line geoprocessing tool included in ArcMap, which creates an accurate representation of the shortest path around the globe.


It should take one hour, though the size of your dataset can affect processing times.


A view of raw data can often reveal patterns and provoke additional questions which becomes a jumping-off point for further mapping. It’s a great first look.


Keep your map deliberately devoid of clutter to allow people to simply experience the data as art


The ability to change transparency at the symbol level is available in ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online.


Print it out – put it on your wall!!

More Information

Map Author

Kenneth Field

Ken Field

@kennethfield | LinkedIn

Professional cartonerd, amateur drummer and snowboarder. Lifetime encourager of cartographic quality not quantity. Map with the times while building on the past.

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