Mapping the North Carolina Botanical Garden


This blog originally appeared on Diagram Office's Medium Account on July 27, 2017. You can find the original post here

The North Carolina Botanical Garden is part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was built to promote plant conservation and advance sustainable relations between people and nature. The Garden is comprised of 10 acres of display gardens, classrooms and a visitor center, and several miles nature trails.

The Garden needed a new master map that was user friendly, reflected their new brand identity, and accurately depicted the lush, hilly landscape of the region.


Log cabin in the Mountain Habitat of the Garden


The original Garden Map

The original map was poorly oriented as visitors only enter the Garden facing south, which meant the map was inverted from visitor’s first encounter with the space. It also didn’t show the nature trails to the south of the Garden and gave too much prominence to the parking area.

After doing an initial drawing, flipping the orientation, and adjusting the scale of the parking area, the next step involved a series of colors studies to determine the basic tone of the map.


There are two approaches to map base colors: light backgrounds with dark labels, or dark background with light labels. We choose to proceed with a darker green style to mimic the lush greens of the physical garden. After choosing a general direction, I further studied the green tones to find the perfect balance.


Left: light green with black labels. Right: dark green with white labels.

An important feature to show was the significant elevation changes on the nature trails. I explored several options for showing the elevation using contour lines and shading.


Left: top down lighting. Right: shaded relief

The Garden wanted to show the canopy covering the Display Gardens and nature trails. We went through several iterations of tree cover to find a style that would work both on the overview map, and a cropped map of the Display Gardens.


Final Maps

From the beginning, the goal was to create a map that could show the overall trail system, and also be cropped to show the Display Garden in more detail. Below are the two final maps.


Each trail color was selected to match existing trail markers, and new colors were chosen for the trails that were not yet marked.

The label colors were selected from the Garden’s brand palette and will be used to inform the colors of the wayfinding system within the garden. The orange of the Education Center was also selected from the brand palette and mimics the browns of the physical building.

The new maps will serve as both a template for future maps around the UNC campus and a start on further wayfinding upgrades at the Garden.


Sam is a Raleigh native and NCSU College of Design alumnus. He fell in love with infographics, data, and maps while working at Two Twelve in New York City. He specializes in making information visually concise, beautiful and accessible. Sam's clients include Bloomberg, WIRED, The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Outside the studio, Sam studies and performs improv comedy and reads lots of books.