MapCarte 233/365: New York’s Carbon Emissions by Carbon Visuals, 2011

Animation can be an extremely effective visual tool because it helps us visualize temporal patterns in a way that time slices cannot. Normally, though, we’re mapping something tangible; something that we can plot at different points in time and whose trace is only really seen once we’ve stitched the different slices together. Here, though, a different approach to cinematic cartography gives us a powerful message.

Carbon Visuals wanted a way of visually expressing the amount of New York’s carbon emissions over an hour, a week, a month and a year. These blocks of time are easy to imagine when we look at the map…but what is it we’re to look at? The data could easily have been presented as a histogram or some other graphical method but they went much further.

A 3D cityscape is used and we move through street level, eventually pulling up and over the top of the city to see it at a much smaller scale. The Carbon emissions are illustrated through inflated balls and as we move through time, more and more balls are added. The cityscape is rendered in light grey…the balls in blue and the contrast helps us easily pick out the two dimensions of the map. Space is simply a placeholder but it gives us scale and as we slowly pull back from the street to the wide view and the balls increase exponentially we see the mass of blue overwhelming the city.

Comparisons are always useful in cartography and Carbon Visuals use it to great effect here. Clean and simple but emotionally charged and undeniably impactful.

More details of this map on the Carbon Visuals web site here.

MapCarte 232/365: Atlas de Cuba by Garardo Canet and Erwin Raisz, 1949



Atlases are designed to set out a social, economic, cultural and physical history of a place. They provide a slice in time that explains a country or a region and are often out-of-date fairly rapidly due to changing circumstances. It’s an inevitable problem for many atlas producers that as soon as one edition is published, work on the next begins in earnest. Of course, that also brings rewards since we can amass a collection of atlases that together paint the changing picture and, as cartographers, show us the changes and altering style of map-making and representation.

The Atlas de Cuba by Canet and Raisz was a little different. It attempted to paint a living picture of Cuba…literally given the hand drawn beauty of the work. They set out to explore problems and how these might manifest as well as what the solutions may be. Raisz’s work is evident. His maps are bold in use of colour and graphically rich as they combine beautiful landform mapping with innovative thematics. The page illustrated here, on agriculture, is typical of the maps. Relief is depicted in oblique ‘molehill’ style and the land use is laid out in a regular grid to create a patchwork of statistical information on the different crops. Simple blocks of complimentary colours give us a clear indication of the crops and the page is adorned with other graphs, legends and illustrations to bring the work to life.



There’s a simplicity in the work of this atlas that belies the effort it takes to make such maps. Keeping things simple is a mainstay of cartography but actually being able to achieve it and bring a subject to life is no simple task. To get it right across an entire atlas is an even more impressive achievement.

You can see many more illustrations from the atlas on John Krygier’s blog here.

MapCarte 231/365: Walt Disney World Resort, 2014

MapCarte231_disneyClick image to view web map

MapCarte 114 focused on the original Disneyland map by Sam McKim from 1958. It was a beautifully drawn map that brought the magic of the Magic Kingdom to life as well as creating a brochure for people to use as a way of getting around the park. Here, we celebrate a web map of Walt Disney World Resort. In many ways it’s the modern counterpart to McKim’s originals but built for a new type of consumer.

The web map is interactive in a way that the paper version cannot possibly be but it retains the sense of style of the originals. It uses the Google Maps framework but with their own content fused into the service so that the resort appears as part of the map itself. As you zoom in, detail is rendered so the map builds in detail. This isn’t just in the addition of more content, but also the detail in the textured landscape of the basemap. There’s even clouds that appear to float over the resort.

At the largest zoom level the buildings and layout of the resort is illustrated using beautifully rendered digital artwork with clean lines but with textures, shadows and depth. Many features are depicted planimetrically but those that are given more importance are drawn obliquely using an axonometric approach so some of their front and side elevations are shown. It’s a useful technique not only to give more detail to the buildings but to distinguish what’s important from the background.

Typical pictorial symbols are used across the map for certain points of interest (gift shops, restaurants etc) and labels sit cleanly. Pleasingly the typeface isn’t too large which can so often detract.

Well composed, clean and clear web mapping.


MapCarte 230/365: Lübeck by Alfred Mahlau, 1934


Maps can be used as powerful promotional pieces. When an artist or illustrator with a very unique aesthetic uses maps as part of their work we often see the map design take on strong elements of their artistic leaning. So it is the case with German painter and graphic artist Alfred Mahlau. Much of his work was in graphic design for advertising, textile patterns, sets and even stained glass windows.

In general, Mahlau’s work was highly illustrative with minimal lines and strong blocks of colour. He was known for his lettering and his particularly clever way of dealing with umlauts as in this poster. Mahlau produced this poster, which has been reproduced in different colours and formats, as a promotional piece for the town of Lübeck in northern Germany which largely sits on an island in the River Trave and acts as one of Germany’s major ports. The island contains the old part of the city and as such has a number of historic buildings amongst a dense network of narrow streets that share the same red tile roofing and architecture.

Mahlau captured the essence of Lübeck in his perspective view. The many buildings are drawn in a similar style and the cathedrals and churches are seen rising above. It’s a simplified drawing but retains something of the character and charm of this small island settlement. The boats surrounding the island give away the fact it’s situated on water yet he cleverly uses subtle shadows to emphasise this aspect.

This view of Lübeck does way more than any aerial photograph or planimetric map could. It gives the town character and evokes a sense of place merely through the illustrative form.

MapCarte 229/365: Divided Islands by Die Zielt, 2012


Sometimes what seems the most insignificant of map topics makes for some of the most intriguing cartography. In fact, the quality of the cartography might be one of the reasons that makes a perhaps uninteresting topic all the more interesting.

Here. Die Zielt magazine has created an illustration of the world’s divided islands. There’s no more explanation needed because the title says it all. In fact, it goes to show how important a title can be in framing the map. Of course, the geography is completely dispensed with as the islands are illustrated from the largest at the top of the page to the smallest giving a good balance. The faux-grid in the background hints at a proximity that doesn’t exist but it helps to group the islands together not just by theme.

The use of colour is exceptional by using blues for all features including the background, white for text and a strong red line to illustrate the borders themselves. The globes at the foot of the page give us a good structure and the overall composition is well crafted.

A simple idea, almost whimsical but which demonstrates the power of high quality cartographic design.



MapCarte 228/365: Milano Congressi (MiCo) by Matteo Riva, 2013



Distilling a complex city like Milan into a map to support a 3-day trip to the city by a tourist unfamiliar with the area means additional constraints for the cartographic processes. The processes of selection and omission become vital, perhaps moreso than for a general purpose map which has the luxury of providing the scope to include more. Here, if you include more than can be reasonably navigated in three days you risk the user becoming frustrated, or perhaps trying to achieve too much.

Matteo Riva’s work in graphic design and illustration sees him use simple geometric shapes and straight lines in much of his work. He uses a lot of saturated block colours and a lot of contrast. Typographic components are key to the overall design and play an important role. All of these facets are seen in his map of Milan. Clean, simple geometries and vivid use of colour creates a collage of the city. Key places are marked but the white space (grey given the background colour) shows how much is missing. The benefit is it gives the selected places space to breath on the map. None of the graphics is competing for space.

At a glance it’s obvious what are buildings or parks or roads or the subway. Underground stations and hotels feature prominently because they are the main hubs people traverse between and through.

The design supports the map’s purpose well and the unconventional graphic approach lends a certain character to the map that shows that different isn’t necessarily a bad thing in cartography.

You can see more of Riva’s illustrations and maps on his web site here.


MapCarte 227/365: U.S. Daily Temperature Anomalies 1964-2013 by Enigma labs, 2013


Click image to view web map

We’re almost drowning in data these days. The impact of the various Open movements is seeing the unlocking and emancipation of so much data from both private and public bodies. This causes difficulties in a sense because there always seems to be a race to do the coolest visualization in the shortest amount of time with any new dataset…and that usually leads to some pretty poor cartography. Quality so often takes second place to speed and the desire to be seen to be the first to have published something. Occasionally though, we see a gem and this web map of U.S. daily temperature anomolies is one such example.

There’s a huge amount of data to be sifted and for an approach to displaying the salient characteristics to be determined. A minimalist map base works well – anything to simplify the experience and give the reader a fighting chance at understanding the patterns is going to help. Colour is also at a minimum with just reds and colds used to signify major temperature trends. A counter keeps us up-to-date with the date and provides a useful visual anchor. The patterns of flashing dots dance across the map and because they tend to appear in waves we don’t get the usual disorienting impact of flashing maps.

The data has been simply categorised to make it clear and instantly recognisable and the chart provides a useful way to position the map in time in relation to the longitudinal data. The user interface is well crafted and everywhere you expect functionality, you get it. The map has basic pan and zoom; the graph slider can be moved. The animation can be paused and you can change the animation speed. The best bit, though, is the map is just the beginning. The data can be explored and scrolling down the page reveals well written, digestible detail, again presented with clear graphics in a strong layout.

Web maps that use defaults tend to suffer. When you go beyond the defaults and really think about each element of your work you develop something that is clearly in a league of its own (carto)graphically.



MapCarte 226/365: Redrawing the Map of Great Britain from a Network of Human Interactions by Carlo Ratti et al., 2010


Regional boundaries defined for the purposes of administration inevitably split a country into arbitrary areas. Such areas are never optimal for every mapping situation so one way to overcome the limitation is to draw your own boundaries. This isn’t an insignificant task and requires a deep understanding of the new geography as well as the data to be able to construct the new boundaries.

Here, Carlo Ratti and colleagues questioned whether traditional existing administrative boundaries respect the natural ways in which people interact by delineating space using an analysis of the network of over 12 billion individual telephone calls.  What they achieved was a beautifully abstract map of Great Britain that shows people interact inside traditional boundaries.

The map base is a grid of squares each comprising 3,042 pixels.  Each pixel is a node and its connection strength to every other pixel is shown by varying opacity.  This creates a strong structural framework for the map with connecting lines showing the strongest 80% of links.  Colours identify regions that emerge through analysis with the dark colour for London allowing lines connecting it with elsewhere to be clearly seen across lighter regions.

The prudent use of labels to identify major cities is just enough to support interpretation and the leader lines tie them well to the map, clearing the map itself of labeling.  The tilted viewing angle allows connections to be seen in a way that a plan view wouldn’t allow and since height of the connections is unimportant the perspective distortions don’t compromise the view.

A stark map in many ways and one that hides the complex conceptual and analytical framework that underpins its construction. It works.

MapCarte 225/365: Is Barack Obama President? By The Guardian, 2012


Infographics are all the rage. In fact, maps have always been information graphics. Sometimes, though, maps and mapping ideas can be used in extremely innovative ways to help create what might be termed a modern infographic.

Take this illustration from The Guardian’s coverage of the 2012 Presidential election. It has the two candidates holding a handful of balloons. At first glance there’s very little map-like about this infographic but the balloons are, in fact, a Dorling cartogram. Each balloon represents a US state, coloured to show strength of vote, with the shared States being held by both candidates in the middle and the more partisan States being held well away from their opponent.

Each balloon is a perfect proportional circle and hovering over the balloon reveals further details.



The combination of illustration and the use of a statistical and highly abstract map form is a great way to present data in a new and interesting way and perfect for journalistic purposes.

The approach is supported by a clean look, effective typography and bold numbers to clearly inform the key facts. The balloons float into the screen and reorganise just as if filled with helium (or a metaphor for hot air perhaps?). There’s very little visual clutter on the page.

Take a look at the interactive version of the Obama map here or, for the sake of being equal, the Romney version here.

MapCarte 224/365: Bangkok by Nancy Chandler, 1974-present



Tourist guides are essential travel companions to help us navigate the unfamiliar.  We trust them implicitly to give us sage advice, to identify the key places to visit in an often constrained amount of time and to present a city or region in a way that supports our quest for discovery. In many ways they represent the view of a place that we perceive rather than the place itself because it’s such a strong filter. It’s also a difficult job for a cartographer to determine what to include or exclude because they’re effectively making choices that thousands and more will follow blindly.

The best maps and guides become well known for their accuracy and utility and the more a product is revered the more we trust it. This applies to Nancy Chandler’s maps of Bangkok. They are unique. They don’t necessarily give you the top attractions but that is entirely the point. Since the first edition in 1974 right up to the current 26th edition they provide a rich window on the quirky and unique places to eat, drink and visit. And they do it in style with a fantastic colour scheme and hand drawn approach. The colours give the map a unique aesthetic that somehow captures the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. They make the map sing and dance and give the reader a sense of colour, vibrancy and excitement. In support of a product for tourists this is great cartography.



The double-sided map splits Bangkok into sections and the central shopping areas. The information is detailed on all sorts of museums, restaurants, hotels, galleries, temples and many other features. There’s copious text which acts to annotate locations. Without the text there would be a great deal of white space but that simply evidences the judicious editing and careful selection of the content. This map highlights a very personal geography but one that many people identify with. The map has become a staple companion for countless people who visit and has become part of the excitement of the city itself.

Making a tourist map that becomes part of the enjoyment of the tourist experience itself is an achievement. This map certainly holds a special place for visitors to Bangkok.

You can see more of Chandler’s work and other maps at her web site here.