10 inspiring examples of interactive maps in digital storytelling

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Image: rikirennes/Adobe Stock

Image: rikirennes/Adobe Stock

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Kiera Abbamonte — Contributing Writer

Have you ever picked up a novel that shares a map of its fictional world? Or used Google Maps to virtually explore somewhere you’ve never been?

If so, you know how impactful the right map can be. It can help ground an audience in the physical setting of a narrative or visualise a data story in a concrete, digestible way.

Interactive maps, in particular, have become increasingly popular in website design over the last 10 years. That rise runs parallel as the technology to build these maps has become easier to use and more accessible.

Creating these maps isn’t a breeze — it still takes time and expertise to produce great interactive maps, after all — but there are tons of tools, providers, and tutorials available to help streamline the technical and design side of the process, and help you build your map.

And that’s good news — because there’s huge potential in using maps for digital storytelling. You can animate maps with images, embed rich data, allow the functionality to be triggered by a scroll, or to show macro and micro views of an issue or place. 

We’ve covered the best tools to make interactive maps in a previous post, so this one is all about inspiration. Below, we share some of our favourite bright and beautiful ideas for your next piece of digital storytelling with maps.

Image: Юрий Парменов/Adobe Stock

Monochrome line map of the scheme of road. Urban environment, architectural background.

What is an interactive map?

Before we get to the examples, let’s get on the same page about what we mean when we say “interactive map”. In the broadest sense, an interactive map is any visual representation of a physical location that changes as a reader interacts with it.

It’s a broad definition for a reason — because there are a lot of ways to approach interactive mapping depending on the information you want to convey and the tools at your disposal. 

An interactive map can simply be a series of static map images stitched together and triggered via scrollytelling. Google Maps-style maps are more complex to create, and allow a reader to drag, zoom, view points of interest on a street-view level, or overlay data points, statistics, and other information.

The key is that an interactive map changes in some way as the audience scrolls, clicks, or otherwise interacts with it.

By adding this interactivity, you can highlight key points on the map, guide readers through the information they need, and better engage your audience via interactive marketing.

Image: rikirennes/Adobe Stock

10 inspiring examples of interactive maps

Now that we’re on the same page about what an interactive map entails and how powerful they can be, let’s get you inspired! Without further ado, here are 10 of our favourite examples of interactive maps in digital stories.

An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Amazon alert'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Amazon alert'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Amazon alert'.

1. Amazon alert: Crime and destruction in the rainforest

  • What it is: an environmental news report on the destruction of the Amazon rainforest
  • Who created it: Sky News
  • What the map shows: deforestation reports and protected regions in the Brazilian Amazon

Why we picked this example

In this data report, Sky News offers a masterclass in interactive mapping. The map uses Scrollpoints to highlight information as readers scroll, along with text overlays that add context to the visual map.

As the dark spots on the map grow, it helps visualise both the frequency and scale of deforestation reports in the Brazilian Amazon. As you continue to scroll, the map zooms in on particularly affected areas, which sets the stage for powerful satellite images to come.

An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Ukraine attacked'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Ukraine attacked'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Ukraine attacked'.

2. Ukraine attacked: Map of sites targeted by Russia’s invasion

  • What it is: a news report detailing Russian attacks on Ukraine
  • Who created it: NBC News
  • What the map shows: the location of attacks

Why we picked this example

This interactive map from NBC News does two things incredibly well. For one, it shows readers — many of whom have likely never been to Ukraine — where Russian attacks have taken place. At the same time, it helps the audience contextualise the timeline of the war.

The map doesn’t move; it’s always visible along the left-hand side. But it changes as you scroll, highlighting the location of individual attacks and reports of Russian forces in tandem with the timeline of the written article.

An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Sinking cities'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Sinking cities'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Sinking cities'.

3. Sinking cities

  • What it is: an environmental report on sea level rise
  • Who created it: Stuff
  • What the maps show: the projected rise of sea levels along several parts of the coast of New Zealand

Why we picked this example

This is a prime example of using interactive maps for data visualisation, to help tell a story with data. The report uses a minimalist map to strip away everything but the most important details. Then, the colour-coded scale makes the data set super digestible by clearly highlighting areas with a high projected sea level rise.

The clickable interactivity allows readers to select their own coastal region, zoom in, and view an additional data overlay for each point on the map. This report allows the maps to take up the most real estate on the screen, as it is the focus of the feature.

An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'The Coptic miracle'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'The Coptic miracle'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'The Coptic miracle'.

4. The Coptic miracle: How Egypt's historic Christian church survived and thrived

  • What it is: a history of the development of Coptic Christianity
  • Who created it: Arab News
  • What the map shows: the three waves of migration of Coptic Christianity around the world

Why we picked this example

This story from Arab News uses interactive maps in a few ways. The first map is an example of stunning visual and web design and helps showcase how Christianity originally came to Egypt and the surrounding region. The highlighted areas show this spread and include years to help readers understand the timeline.

The second world map, later in the story, visualises the diaspora of Coptic Christianity beyond Egypt as a result of persecution. As you scroll, it clearly shows the route of each of the three waves of migration across the globe.

An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'The Bicycle Boys'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'The Bicycle Boys'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'The Bicycle Boys'.

5. The Bicycle Boys: An Unforgettable Garden Tour

  • What it is: a retrospective virtual tour
  • Who created it: Royal Horticultural Society
  • What the map shows: the routes Loyal Johnson and Sam Brewster took through more than 80 gardens across the UK.

Why we picked this example

This virtual tour tells the story of two Americans who cycled their way through more than 80 quintessential gardens across the UK. Whether you’re familiar with British geography or not, the scroll-activated map, combined with charming infographics, help you follow right along with Sam and Loyal as they travelled.

Designed to blend seamlessly with the visual style of the rest of the piece, the map design illuminates each garden and its surrounding area as the story progresses.

An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Road to nowhere'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Road to nowhere'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Road to nowhere'.

6. Road to nowhere: China’s Belt and Road Initiative at tipping point

  • What it is: an article on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  • Who created it: Nikkei
  • What the map shows: the global spread and ambitions of the BRI

Why we picked this example

This article from Nikkei uses a simple but powerful map to show the development, scale, and ambition of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Using scrollmation, the map colours in countries participating in the BRI as the years progress from 2014 to 2022.

Early in the story, the map helps to hammer home the wide, global ambition of the policy, before diving into its failures and stagnation.

An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Sewing her lifelong dream'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Sewing her lifelong dream'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Sewing her lifelong dream'.

7. Sewing her lifelong dream

  • What it is: a story of war, displacement, and sewing
  • Who created it: NRC
  • What the map shows: Gulistan’s route from Al-Hasakah to Dohuk

Why we picked this example

Gulistan’s story is one of war, migration, and perseverance told through the lens of her sewing. The map is only a small part of the story, but it flows perfectly with the overall narrative.

Visually, it plays on the sewing theme with the dashed line and scissors, which expand as you scroll to show Gulistan’s path through the region.

An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'There's more to explore in Malta'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'There's more to explore in Malta'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'There's more to explore in Malta'.

8. There’s more to explore in Malta

  • What it is: a tourist’s guide to visiting Malta
  • Who created it: Wanderlust and Visit Malta
  • What the map shows: the geography and points of interest of Malta

Why we picked this example

Visit Malta hopes to generate interest in the island of Malta and all it has to offer. The map in this piece for the travel publication Wanderlust does just that by helping to familiarise the audience with the overall geography of Malta while calling out specific points of interest.

The map moves, zooms in, and highlights key areas as you scroll through the guide. Overlays help add context and information about points of interest and activities in each region of the island.

An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'The lost tablet and the secret documents'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'The lost tablet and the secret documents'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'The lost tablet and the secret documents'.

9. The lost tablet and the secret documents

  • What it is: a report on a secretive Russian mercenary group
  • Who created it: BBC
  • What the map shows: military maps with the locations of assets, mines, and more

Why we picked this example

When a lost tablet was found chock full of information on a shadowy Russian mercenary group, the BBC published a report on their analysis of the details it contained. Some of the most compelling findings came from the tablets Maps app. The report includes both static images from the app, along with simple overlays to help add context for readers. It’s a great example of using an interactive map simply.

An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Built to keep black from white'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Built to keep black from white'.
An image of a computer screen sitting on a desk. The screen is showing an example of an interactive map in the article 'Built to keep black from white'.

10. Built to keep Black from white

  • What it is: an editorial on the history of segregation in America and its legacy today
  • Who created it: NBC News
  • What the map shows: the historical and continued legacy of racial segregation in Detroit

Why we picked this example

This editorial from NBC News (which won a Webby Award for Best Individual Editorial Feature) uses several interactive maps to show the reality and the legacy of racial segregation in Detroit. Each map serves to showcase the geography of Detroit and its suburbs, along with the segregational lines drawn historically.

Perhaps the most powerful map is this last one. It shows the clear racial divides across Detroit and how they remain largely unchanged from 1930 to 2019, then it illustrates in no uncertain terms the real financial impact of that segregation on home values in each neighbourhood.

City Centre 3d rendering illustration.

Image: rikirennes/Adobe Stock

Image: rikirennes/Adobe Stock

Wrapping up

As the examples above illustrate, there’s a huge variety of ways to use and approach interactive maps. Our last example, in particular, makes it clear how powerful interactive maps can be for digital storytelling — there’s so much potential for map-based storytelling on the web.

With digital technologies and tools making this kind of interactivity accessible to a growing number of people, there are exciting horizons ahead for every sector, from journalism and tourism, to education, nonprofit, and beyond.