MapCarte 211/365: Bauhaus building by Hinnerk Scheper, 1926


Mapping in the third-dimension is nothing new in cartography. The very earliest maps on clay tablets illustrated mountainscapes by using rudimentary aspect depictions. Perhaps we nowadays think of 3D as detailed cityscapes with photorealistic textures yet this isn’t always the best way to approach a solution for which 3D might be appropriate. One of the key tenets of cartography is, of course, generalization and so reducing complexity to the bare essentials sits at the heart of much of what we do. Detailed satellite base imagery and realistic building renderings are becoming a map-makers preferred approach and it’s inevitable people add stuff to a map if it’s available. Elimination is one of the most important skills a cartographer can master. This map, created by Bauhaus teacher Hinnerk Scheper illustrates the principle at work.

His map is a large scale representation of the orientation and outline plan of the various floors of the Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany. Floors are shown one on top of another and colour signifies function. The linework is absolutely minimal. Colour is applied internally to each room but not as a complete fill. This gives the work space to breath and reduces the blocks of colour which may overpower the image due to the differently sized rooms. An almost whimsical set of linework connects the floors simply indicating staircases and the front and back of the building is represented with a slightly thicker line.

There’s no photorealistic textures. There are no transparent walls. There’s no need for any other landscape detail. It communicates the structure of the building and the function. that’s it. That’s all.

Of course, the Bauhaus style has had a profound influence on many aspects of design including architecture, interior design, typography and graphic design. We can learn much from such design approaches to inform our cartography.

MapCarte 210/365: Multidimensional mapping by Jacques Bertin, 1967


Although strictly speaking MapCarte is about showcasing great examples of map design, many maps from after the mid-late twentieth century and onwards owe much to one man’s detailed exposition of cartographic symbology. Jacques Bertin’s ‘Semiology of Graphics‘ was first published in French in 1967 and subsequently translated into English and republished. Bertin’s classic ‘Semiology of Graphics’. It is a classic of information design as it leaves almost no stone unturned in presenting the principles of graphical communication.

Bertin developed many standard rules which have become de facto syntax and grammar of the cartographic language. He didn’t make many maps outside of his book but the second part contains over 1,000 maps and illustrations that demonstrate the clarity of the principles at work Here, we see a set of maps of France showing how one can manipulate some basic graphical marks to present multidimensional (multivariate) data. This, of course, is one of the challenges for any thematic map and usually the answer is to eliminate detail and present different variables using separate maps. However, with careful choice of symbology it’s possible to combine symbols to represent multiple pieces of information in a way that doesn’t clutter the image or cause the map reader to be overwhelmed.

A classic text with many perfectly framed maps and illustrations that showcase the graphical language of cartography.

MapCarte 209/365: Bird’s eye view of China by Katushika Hokusai, 1840


When classic artists and illustrators turn their attention to maps it’s going to go one of two ways. Either you get some sort of self-absorbed abstract bastardisation of a map…or you get the sort of beauty that Katushika Hokusai produced.

Hokusai painted ‘The wave’…the classic iconic illustration possibly only surpassed in reproduction by Munch’s ‘Scream’. Hokusai is arguably the most widely known Japanese artist in the west and he was prolific. His woodblock prints are exquisite and he’s widely known for his ’36 views of Mt Fuji’ from the early 1830s of which the wave was part (Mt Fuji is in the background). During his long and distinguished career, he turned his canvas to virtually every theme and style. Here, during the latter years of his life he created a superlative birds eye view of China.


Let’s remember, this is the mid 1800s and there is very little evidence that Hokusai had even been to China yet he was able to turn his hand to the technique to perfection. He respresented many of China’s most important landscapes and places. He even managed to include a good portion of the ‘Great Wall’ and all in a perspective view with mountains standing impressive throughout. This is almost plan-oblique since there’s no hint of a vanishing point.

A fantastic piece of work by a fantastic illustrator and artist.

More of Hokusai’s illustrations including maps can be found here.

MapCarte 208/365: The United States: Her natural & industrial resources by Stephen Smith, 2014


Colour can often be the defining element of a design and which gives the work as a whole a very particular aesthetic. This rather beautiful map is not much more than a fairly standard thematic map showing a range of natural resources for the United States as either shaded areas or through the use of mimetic point symbols. The use of different colours and pattern fills to illustrate the range of a particular land uses is not new. Neither are the way in which shape is used to create pictorial symbols representing certain resources…but the colours used make the map stand out.

The colours are not from a standard map-maker’s palette. They are fairly dark and although bright in hue are actually quite desaturated. This gives the map a retro feel, akin to the atlas printing of the 1950s when perhaps only a few solid colours were used. The dark background used for Canada and Mexico focuses our attention on the shape of the U.S. as the main map. The use of lightly coloured bathymetry also helps frame the main map and creates a sensible hierarchy.

Labels are bold but used sparingly. The use of yellow rectangular masks behind some of the key text gives them a strong highlight but because the whole map is bold in approach they fit right in. The title panel is strong and the use of a circular motif goes beyond the standard approach of just placing the title text on the map.

Overall, a bold and very purposeful use of colour and style that creates a strong visual with a unique aesthetic. Maps don’t have to follow convention and this breaks the mould in terms of it’s use of colour.

UPDATE: Despite the some 100 years+ of collective cartographic wisdom your ICA Map Design Commission team are deeply indebted to Marty Elmer for pointing out that the map featured above isn’t as original as we first presumed. While noting its retro appearance and style we were unaware of the existence of the following map produced by the British Information Services sometime between 1939-1945. The original can be seen at the Boston public library.


This proves a number of interesting points. First, even experienced cartographers are not aware of everything and we learn something new every day. It’s part of what makes cartography fascinating. Second, taking design cues from what has gone before is important because a lot of design is already out there somewhere and informs our work. There’s very little that is truly original and part of what this blog is attempting to do is point to great, properly ground-breaking examples of good design. Third, while the U.S. map we discussed IS a beautiful map it’s a copy. It’s an homage and while there’s nothing wrong with that, if you’re going to make something old, new again then it begets you to cite the work. Both maps are great examples of design. We’re not going to replace the U.S. one with the Great Britain one but had we known of the existence of the latter before the former then it would have been the MapCarte entry.

MapCarte 207/365: Transatlantic Superhighway by John Grimwade, 1996



Abstract maps that take their subject and reproject into an imaginary space, distorting scale and reality can often bring clarity to a complex geography. Here, John Grimwade produces a map of the North Atlantic air traffic system for Condé Nast  magazine. He visualizes routes as a linear strip map from North America to Europe showing scheduled flights at their safe distance and altitude.

There’s far more going on in this map than first inspection reveals which makes it perfectly in tune with our cognitive processes. For instance, the layout of routes from bottom left in the lighter areas to the top right, the darker areas actually mimics the latitudinal difference as well as the fact most west-east flights operate during the night. There’s a visual association that we subconsciously recognize. The safety envelope in the upper left gives us detail that we can then transpose to other flights. The individual detail works well as a key for the rest of the flights and, of course, not every flight is shown so we build our own associations.

Sadly, the map still lists Concorde as an operational flight given the map was published in 1996. Concorde was retired from service in 2003 to the great regret of many.

The map detail is highly generalised. Colours are in balance and sympathy and as a diagrammatic map used to tell a very simple story it works perfectly.

MapCarte 206/365: Swiss National Map 1:25,000 1088 Hauenstein by Swisstopo, 2013


There are very few maps in the world that might be described as perfect but the work of Swisstopo has been consistently at the pinnacle of topographic map design for decades. Their maps illustrate scientific accuracy and precision of construction but it might be argued that many topographic maps by many other mapping agencies can claim this also. What sets Swisstopo apart is their ability to create a beautiful map by carefully considering colour, balance, contrast, heirarchy, labelling density and positioning. These are all core to the map design process but achieving success with such consistency is almost magical.

The new range of 1:25,000 scale maps by Swisstopo, of which the Hauenstein sheet is one, shows that they have not lost their eye. Building upon the legacy of elegant maps that have gone before, this updated design shows clear lineage with contemporary flair. The lines are cleaner, the marks almost more deliberate.The text is so well placed it looks as if it sits perfectly at home amongst the other map features. The density of information is almost unbelievable and to achieve such a well balanced product without recourse to more omission and simplification is astonishing. The classic Imhof-inspired hillshade lends a clarity and brightness to the topography and gives it the unmistakable look of a Swiss topographic map.

The fact that Switzerland’s topography is spectacular of course lends itself to inspire cartographers to make a beautiful map but it’s another thing altogether to achieve it. These 1:25,000 sheets have been modernised but still deliver. They remain iconic and engaging and represent the very best of modern topographic mapping.


MapCarte 205/365: Manchester Music Map by CreativeLynx c.2002



Making a map to support rourism requires two important design considerations – the content must be unique and speak to the audience; and the design must be attention-grabbing. Manchester’s music scene arguably provides the first in abundance given the number of iconic musicians and bands that hail from the area. Creative lynx came up with an aesthetic that did the second job.

This fantastic cartoon-styled map throws geography and scale out of the window. It’s useless as a tool for navigation but, instead, it emphasises key spaces of historical significance to some band or other. Places, buildings, venues and meeting spots are located. These are the important places for this map.  It goes beyond that by positioning the musicians in amongst the city itself, showing them taking ownership of Manchester and in so doing, defining its cultural relevance. Interest is encouraged through varying sizes of the main characters so you are invited to go beyond the larger figures to find and figure out who the smaller ones are.

A heavily stylized tourist map that supports the intended purpose and to develop a particular sense of place.

MapCarte 204/365: NYC Taxis: A day in the life by Chris Whong, 2014

MapCarte204_NYCtaxiClick image to view web map

Increasing access to unique and intriguing datasets is driving a massive map-making movement. People are exploring data in many interesting ways and occasionally developing some creative cartographic products in the online medium particularly. Chris Wong has done just that. Taking a dataset of different New York taxi cab fares he’s processed and manipulated the data into a form that can be mapped in a compelling way.

Notwithstanding any dataset such as this is prone to some level of uncertainty and the fact that Wong took some cartographic license (the actual routes mapped are based on the Google API suggestion, not a GPS tracklog for instance) it’s the mapping that is really quite impressive.

By taking a single journey we are pairing the data right back from the millions of cab journeys. It helps show how real each cab is and how it travels independently of the rest. Our imagination can extrapolate to the whole and it’s a good way to personalize a theme when mapping. It overcomes the generalisations that must be made to make any sense when mapping the entire dataset.

The mapping is clean and intuitive. The yellow/black theme aligns with the taxi cab colours and creates a sleek, modern look and feel with high contrast between components and good use of ancillary colours and transparency. The hovering data panels provide cumulative information on time and running totals. The graph shows the linear pattern of fare accumulation. The movement of the map is particularly creative as the focal point (the cab) remains central in the map view as the map pans and the journeys are traced. This gives an excellent way of holding the gaze while the map does the work rather than relying on the user to pan and zoom around. It reduces effort on the part of the user who can simply sit back and view the moving map.

A beautiful web map in terms of design and the marrying of form and function.

MapCarte 203/365: Mt Fuji, by anon, 1830



There’s very little that is genuinely new in cartography yet with such massive technological advances we see reinvention all the time. So it’s always useful to keep an eye on our cartographic heritage. It informs what we do because we can tease out best practice; and it shows us what has gone before so we can ensure we give credit where due.

This stunningly beautiful map of Mt Fiji from the early 1800s gives us much food for thought. The detail of the mountainscape and, in particular, the use of a side elevation to create the appearance of molehills was used earlier but used here to great effect. The fact the Fuji itself is given prominence by being depicted in the round, rather than an elevation works well and shows how different graphical treatments to similar phenomena can be used to classify importance.

There’s a fine mix of planimetric and plan oblique in the work with a coastline shown using a vignette and some sense of routes across the landscape. The surrounding text works well in the traditional vertical orientation.

Overall, a beautiful historical map. Simple.

MapCarte 202/365: Escape Routes by Torgeir Husevaag, 2010-11




Designed as an exhibition piece in 2011, Escape routes and it’s counter piece Meeting Points offer an artistic interpretation of paths of movement through an unnamed city. The reason for escaping is not made clear so the maps are esoteric and unexplained in terms of a clear purpose yet cartographically they create an interesting aesthetic.

The first map, Escape Routes, plots the paths of 32 directions around a compass rose from the centre of the city showing the different characteristics of the escape route through symbology. The paths are defined as: Up to an hour. Wintertime. Moving discreet, not getting noticed, not running, staying cool. No trespassing. Keeping outdoors, avoiding ski tracks, deep snow, thin ice. No parkour. Avoid trouble. Again, these are somewhat obscure but point to the way in which the paths have been classified. Two are picked out for special attention – the first that shows the farthest you can reach in an hour; the second the path most likely to put off anyone pursuing. The detail in the symbology of lines created with dots and other small geometric marks shows clear differentiation in type.

The second map, Meeting Points, shows through increasingly sized circles the various places that one could meet at different times along the one hour journey. Each circle acts as a lens through which the otherwise obscured street network is displayed. This effect guides the eye to only those parts of a complex street network relevant to the theme. It focuses attention and declutters the otherwise noisy image.

An artistic interpretation of map form and function that creates an interesting aesthetic with practical cues which more purposeful cartography might borrow.

More images (but not much more detail) on the artists web site here.