MapCarte 106/365: Mapping Connected Places by Ed Manley, 2014


Big data is one thing but Ed Manley describes the dataset he used to create this map as ‘massive data’. It’s the Oyster Card tap ins and tap outs across London’s transport network over a 3 month period in 2012. That’s a log of every single journey made by public transport. trying to make any sort of sense of such data requires a clear head but also the ability to mine the data to get to the crux of a very specific question. Without focus and homing in on a tightly controlled idea then work such as this becomes nothing more than a visual data dump. What Manley has achieved here is to extract meaning from the data and represent it with clarity.

The map shows how associated two places are in the transport network by mapping the most popular destination station for any origin station. It’s a gross generalisation but then that’s the idea…to see what the most likely end-point might be for a traveller from the origin of a journey. Manley only used peak period journeys between 7-10am on weekdays to avoid ‘noise’ caused by bidirectional journeys or the very different patterns of weekend travel. He therefore uses selective omission to great effect as well as a range of generalisation operations on the data to capture the nugget of detail he wants.

At a meta level it gives us a glimpse of the structure of the network by route for the morning commuter influx rather than the real network which might map infrastructure itself rather than the routes people travel. The curved lines emphasise the abstract nature of the concept well. Mapping true geography and a network would assign too much meaning to the actual route which may be inaccurate anyway given the multitude of ways to get from A to B. The saturated colours, clean black backdrop and sensible use of transparency add to the visual appeal of the map as does the fact there isn’t a title. The map stands on its own as abstract art. It demands that you read an associated commentary to understand the complexity. An interesting approach that works well.


The map supports basic knowledge acquisition about interdependencies, key stations, spatial concentrations and stations which act as local hubs in addition to the concentration in central London.  too which are detailed on Manley’s blog about the map.

The old KISS principle of ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’, often taught in cartography classes, is a key tenet of this work. To clarify a complex system, keep it simple. This is exactly what Manley has done in designing not only a piece of data driven map art, but one with a purpose and which can be used to explore questions of the data. A lot of data driven map art is purely for appearances and when explored critically often shows up some serious liberties taken by the designer.

Check Manley’s blog here for more detail and a link to a higher resolution version as well as a version with labels.


MapCarte 105/365: Mount McKinley by Bradford Washburn & Swiss Federal Office of Topography, 1980

MapCarte105_mckinleyDr Bradford Washburn and his wife Barbara dedicated much of their life to exploration of many of the United States’ most extreme, inhospitable and uncharted environments. Their quest to study such landscapes in detail requires many months of effort and the results are brought to life and to the eyes of others through such sublime works as this map of Mount McKinley, Alaska – the highest mountain in the United States.

McKinley and the Washburns hold a number of firsts. Barbara Washburn was the first woman to climb McKinley’s North Peak. Bradford Washburn first climbed McKinley via the Muldrow route in 1942 and again in 1947. He was also the first to ascend the West Buttress in 1951 and led the first flights to capture aerial photographs of McKinley in 1936 for National Geographic Society. He was also the first person to land a helicopter in the mountain in 1949. It is this sort of dedication to understanding a place that gives the Washburn’s an unparalleled understanding. Many maps these days are constructed by people who have never visited the place they are mapping. They use secondary data sources. That’s not to say their work cannot be detailed and accurate yet the fact the Washburn’s spent over 200 days mapping McKinley’s terrain gave them a wealth of first hand knowledge to transfer to the map. That sort of knowledge is priceless in the attention to detail that a truly great map exhibits.


This is a masterpiece of topographic cartography, not just for the detail but also for the artistry in its presentation. Printed by the Swiss Federal Office of Topography the shaded relief is an example of the expertise in relief depiction we have come to expect from Swiss mapping. The relief on this map, though, goes a stage further and combines a range of soft shades of blue that give the map an ethereal feel of cold desolation. It creates an impression of atmospheric haze enveloping the mountain. The same colour palette is used for the contours so they sit within the design rather than becoming too prominent in their own right. The map is supposed to relay some of the realism of the place so the map’s contours are made to appear as much a part of the landscape as they can.

A perfect topographic map that combines artistry with scientific achievement and dedication.

MapCarte 104/365: Angling in Troubled Waters: a Serio-Comic map of Europe by Fred W Rose, 1899


Outside of national mapping agencies, reference and statistical cartography many of the maps we see and enjoy regularly are satirical. They are designed to provoke some emotional response often based on stereotypical imagery and labels. We are meant to see them as light-hearted in the main though, of course, they can be successfully used to make very powerful political or socio-economic statements.

Fred Rose’s pictorial illustration depicts the threat posed to British interests by Russian territorial ambitions during the Balkan crisis in late Imperial Europe.  It falls into the latter category of propaganda mapping though takes a highly artistic approach in an attempt to woo the reader with humour. Rose’s concept is simply to take country boundaries and paint a picture of an individual that represents some particular national identity. The use of maps in this way feature heavily in cartoons and other satirical works where familiar shapes of countries are coupled with images of people or events to make a geopolitical point. Rose makes good use of the fishing metaphor to illustrate which countries are fishing and what their catches (colonial possessions) are.

The title is absolutely critical to this map’s impact. Without it we may wonder what the imagery represents yet the carefully crafted words give us not only a clear key to the metaphor but also lead us to the same impression that the map-maker intends. Certain countries are fishing and being antagonistic or even threatening. Others countries are shown as innocent and under attack. Even the fact the map has a subtitle explaining as a serio-comic map is important – it’s the clear message that this is meant to be taken as satire. Such a statement may be construed as an attempt to avoid accusations from those who may not necessarily appreciate the humour.

It’s a highly illustrative and engaging form of cartography that draws the eye in to explore the interplay between figures and parts of the map.  As a means of stirring debate and controversy, these types of map are a particularly provocative way of capturing the imagination.  The use of map shapes and images as a basis for artistic impression is a good approach to communicate such messages since the outlines of countries are familiar shapes and artists such as Rose successfully play on the familiarity to evoke a response. He provides an exceptional example of the genre with this map.

MapCarte 103/365: OpenStreetMap by Steve Coast, 2004


This series of great maps tends to focus on a single map, its design and success. OpenStreetMap is fundamentally different but equally deserving of inclusion. It isn’t a map as such but the main output is data – map data that anyone can use freely to create their own maps and support their own endeavors. The idea of making a free, open and editable mappable dataset and the movement it has inspired has revolutionised mapping and was very much by design.

At the time of its creation, the United Kingdom in particular was both one of the most detailed and accurately mapped places on earth yet, paradoxically, most of the data was kept locked behind the paywalls of proprietary and national mapping organisations. Inspired, Steve Coast set about creating the phenomenon that is OpenStreetMap by focusing first on the UK itself. Volunteers using GPS receivers undertook ground surveys and collected data which was uploaded and used to populate the first iteration of the map. The idea, and crucially the process of contributing data, was simple. Users collected data using GPS receivers and made notes then uploaded the points of interest and tracklogs to the OpenStreetMap web site ( They could categorise and attribute the data into a consistent schema and edit data submitted by others directly in the browser to improve accuracy and detail. The community driven map was born.

Since its inception, the ways that people can add data have increased including the ability to use aerial photography as a backdrop for data creation (in effect, on-screen digitising). Many other commercial organisations have also allowed the use of their data either directly or as an intermediary step to populate OpenStreetMap.


Click image to go to the current OpenStreetMap web site

Early adopters were mainly those in countries that had relatively poor access to open map data. United States contributors were initially conspicuous by their absence mainly due to the relatively rich and available data they already enjoyed. Contributors are varied culturally, geographically and technically. This, coupled with uneven data coverage, has led to some criticism of the accuracy and consistency of the dataset but in early 2013 the number of registered contributors reached 1 million and growth and data quality continue to improve. Maps can be used directly in the browser or the data can be processed using a number of methods and used in other applications. It is this flexibility and ability to use the data under, formally, a Creative Commons (CC) license and now an Open Database License (ODbL) that has led to its wide uptake. OpenStreetMap is used in many commercial applications but perhaps most importantly it has been critical in the disaster management and response of major natural disasters. For example, volunteers responding to the 2010 Haiti earthquake mapped roads, buildings and refugee camps of Port-au-Prince in just two days. As a way to generate rapid data for crisis mapping and to support disaster response and recovery efforts it’s hard to see a better approach than that which OpenStreetMap supports.

A piece of great design in its own right, ItoWorld’s 2008 animation showed the phenomenal growth of OpenStreetMap edits. Similar examples illustrate the mapping of disaster response.

OSM 2008: A Year of Edits from ItoWorld

ItoWorld’s visualisation paints a fascinating picture as the OpenStreetMap movement captures and publishes new features from single roads to entire countries.  The simple temporal legend gives a sense of the speed at which data was acquired and reflects the impact and speed of OpenStreetMap itself in this era of democratized mapping and citizen science.

An impressive momentum has built amongst the community resulting in more people making and editing the data, making maps from the data, producing new and better software tools for the data and generating new and exciting products. Much of the use has been from non-geographers and non-cartographers which represents a massive departure from those more usually interested in maps. This burgeoning growth has certainly led to massive and often disruptive innovation some of which is truly innovative yet you’re more likely to see a terribly designed map made with OpenStreetMap data than you are a good one. This is in many ways inevitable as far more people who have non-geo backgrounds become users of OpenStreetMap data. That balance will shift as more people come to recognise not only the value of such a resource, but how to see it as more than just a technical challenge and use it effectively in tandem with knowledge and understanding of cartography. As for affecting the way map data is made available, OpenStreetMap has changed the landscape in profound ways. The freeing up of even the most tightly controlled geographical datasets is a work in progress but one from which there is no return.

MapCarte 102/365: Egalitarian Mapping of People in Britain by Jo Wood, Jason Dykes and Aidan Slingsby, 2010

MapCarte102_woodSuccessful and elegant display of large multivariate data is rarely achieved because many attempt to fit their data into geographical space.  Of course, geographical space is often a most inconvenient container for the data because of the constraints of size and shape; and with the smallest areas containing the most diverse and important data.

Cartograms have become a fairly typical way of taking the data outside traditional geography and ordering them in a different visual way to better display the relationships between areas. There are numerous examples but spatial treemaps not only allow you to show relationships across the data but detail within the data at different scales.  Here, Wood et al. show 1,526,404 postcode units in Great Britain, sized by population and arranged so that geographical relationships and postcode geography hierarchy are maintained.  The map is richly coloured according to a socio-economic classification comprising 7 super-groups split into 52 sub-groups that shows data concurrently.


The map is beautifully arranged allowing patterns in the vast amount of information to become clear at local, regional and national scales.  In a single map, they have managed to effectively display detailed information about 60 million people recorded in 40 census variables in over 1 million places. The colour gives the appearance of a stain-glassed window inviting you to explore the information at different distances.  Sans serif type is a good choice to tie in with the clean regular lines of the map itself and transparency allows large labels to be placed unobtrusively.

Higher resolution versions and more explanation are available on the giCentre web site here.

MapCarte 101/365: Silk Map by John Waddington Ltd, 1941

MapCarte101_waddingtonDuring World War II, Germany allowed prisoners access to humanitarian aid. One of the items they were allowed to receive was classed as ‘games and pastimes’. The Allies concocted a plan to pose as charities and send clandestine items hidden inside games such as compasses, money and maps. The most famous example was the use of the board game Monopoly by Waddington’s. Files were disguised as playing pieces. Real money was covered by Monopoly money and the maps were concealed in the boards. These were not board games, they were perfectly designed escape kits.


The maps were crucial to any escape as servicemen in foreign lands would have no other way to get to the safety of a friendly territory. The maps were printed on silk since paper made a noise when folded and unfolded, was harder to secrete on one’s person and neither dissolved nor tore. British Secret Service conspired with the games manufacturer John Waddington Ltd who had mastered a way to print on silk and also happened to be the licensee in Great Britain for production of Monopoly. Silk was the innovative and crucial aspect of the design and plan. The map user in this case could not use a traditional map and neither could it have reached their hands. Servicemen were told that if they were captured they were under orders to escape; and to look for escape packages that held a special edition of the game identifiable by a small red dot printed on the Free Parking space.


It’s estimated that thousands of the games were produced and up to one-third of escapees relied on silk maps but since the instructions demanded the games were destroyed there are very few examples remaining. Further, both escapees and Waddington’s employees were sworn to secrecy until the incredible plan was declassified in 2007. Subsequently, surviving Waddington’s craftsmen and the company have been honoured for their part in the successful escape plan. The design of the escape plan is credited to Christopher Hutton, a prolific inventor of escape gadgets and the maps themselves were based on those published by John Bartholomew, the Scottish cartographer, whose detailed maps of Europe provided excellent detail. Bartholomew waived his copyright fee as a contribution to the war effort.

If there is a better example of matching a map product to the users very specific needs then it should be hard to find. Indeed, it’s not the map’s content that represents great design – it’s the map as a product.

MapCarte 100/365: The Heart of the Grand Canyon by the National Geographic Society, 1978


Bradford and Barbara Washburn were mountaineers, explorers and cartographers.  During an impressive career they were strongly supported by the National Geographic Society and many of Bradford Washburn’s maps are unrivaled in the realm of mountain cartography.

It took seven years and numerous skilled individuals to survey and map the Grand Canyon at 1:24,000.  Washburn’s original maps were combined by Lockwood Mapping, cliff-drawing was by Rudi Dauwalder and Alois Flury in Switzerland and relief-shading crafted by Tibor Toth at National Geographic.  Browns bear similarity with natural wood and textures help immerse readers in the landscape.  The colour transition of the landscape from the vivid green plateaus to the ocher red canyon arms to the deep brown-grey valleys and turquoise waters creates a stunning contrast.  The colour palette is exquisite.


At such a scale, Washburn was able to represent the Canyon in a way never before seen and as a large format poster the map remains a classic National Geographic product for which the Washburns received the Alexander Graham Bell Medal for “unique and notable contributions to geography and cartography.” Maps are simply not made like this any more. It’s the epitome of dedication and commitment to the craft of making a map.

It’s a spectacular map that represents  some of the very best in terms of data acquisition as well as detail, accuracy and cartographic representation. The fact that the map has such a strong aesthetic is the icing on an already impressive cake. If only all maps were made to this standard!

MapCarte 99/365: Music for Airports by Brian Eno, 1978

MapCarte99_enoNot strictly a map but Bran Eno’s seminal work carries a map as the album sleeve and it’s as much a part of the package of the work as simply the music itself. As the first in Eno’s Ambient series (each of which had map-like sleeves) the album was composed to provide a relaxing, soporific counter to the hustle and bustle of the modern airport. From the moment you begin a journey, packing everything yet managing to forget that crucial item; through the battle of merely getting to the airport, parking, checking-in and negotiating the inevitable security line, Eno’s audio is designed as the antidote. As you sit back in your own piece of tiny real estate of the aluminium can the music helps soothe the pain of modern travel. Eno exposes the lack of romance to modern travel as we’re swept away in a world of audible delight but the experience begins with the album sleeve.

The map is a fundamental element of the overall package. It’s simple and plays well as a visual accompaniment to the music. It depicts the hazy out-of-focus view we get from high altitude as we crane our necks to make sense of the vastness below. There are few cities; few urban places that cover the earth; and we tend to use air travel to traverse the voids in between…deserts, plains, mountains and oceans. Here, the cover shows little more than a desolate landscape criss-crossed by rivers. It’s distinctive, abstract cover art designed by Eno himself. There’s a network of tendrils that may be rivers…they may equally be tree branches, or lines on an ancient map. There’s differences in colour that may relate to land use and there’s even lines that suggest a graticule. The palette of colours is equally simple and muted with earth tones that are designed to allude to nature and the peace and tranquility that it provides in contrast to the sterile surroundings of an airport.There’s an uppercase T in the lower right giving a nod to some abstract, un-named place but the map has no labels because, of course, labels do not exist in real life. Instead, we’re left not knowing where we are or what the various features are that we can barely make out.

It’s at the artistic end of the cartographic spectrum for sure, but maps make very good art and this example shows how the design of the imagery for the album creates a package that allows you to listen with your eyes before you even plug the headphones in. Happy Flighting!

MapCarte 98/365: Here and There by Jack Shulze and Matt Webb, 2009


Created as a pair of maps of Manhattan, one looking uptown from 3rd and 7th and one looking downtown from 3rd and 35th, these fantastically curved maps are an exploration of the speculative projections of dense cities.  Conceptually, they are an inverse of the more normal progressive projection that begins in the foreground with a planimetric map and then gently curves to the horizon to reveal an aspect.

The maps shows the viewer as a 3D person standing at the base of the map surrounded by large-scale local detail in perspective and bends to reveal the city stretched out ahead in plan view.  It’s an intriguing and innovative way of representing an environment that would normally be out of sight and Shulze and Webb cleverly take design cues from Google’s map (grey buildings, yellow roads, haloed text) to give the map a sense of familiarity that juxtaposes the unfamiliarity of the warped view.



The gridded streetscape of New York lends itself well to this type of representation, as does the length of the island of Manhattan which creates a tall, narrow, large format poster that emphasizes the approach. A great re-imagination of geography and cartography that challenges us to think about not only place but the way in which we map it.

MapCarte 97/365: Lightning Strikes vs Lottery Wins by 422 South, 2014


Click the image to see the animation on Vimeo

Beautifully crafted cinematic quality visualisations tend to be used to map data that flows. Typically, we see movement of cars, planes, ships, migratory patterns of animals and the development of spatial datasets (e.g. OpenStreetmap) using these techniques. The medium is well suited to flow data and allows us to do what static cartography cannot – actually show the way in which goods, commodities, ideas and a wide range of phenomena traverse space.

Here though, 422 South have taken the same approach and applied it to events that occur at a single point is space but at different times. At first sight a map that shows the location of lottery wins alongside the location of lightning strikes seems obscure. Of course, one bears no relationship with the other and there is very little reason for them to be mapped together. The point, though, is to contrast good luck (lottery wins) against bad luck (lightning strikes). A typical approach for this sort of data would be to just map all the locations at once but instead, the animated approach allows the temporal aspect to be represented.

Lottery wins are displayed as proportional symbols with the circle size relative to the size of the win. The symbols are outlines with a hollow fill so they overlap neatly without obscuring information as events are added to the map cumulatively. Lightning strikes do not persist on the map – they appear as flashes. The life-changing persistence of one event and the fleeting impact of another is well matched by the mapped representation that reflects the character of the events. The satellite image of The Netherlands sits well across the muted basemap and transparency and camera position are used well during the animation.

Animation works well and shows us the regular pulse of lottery wins juxtaposed with the rather more random incidence and prevalence of lightning strikes. Overall, a novel way of animating data that does not in itself move but one wonders if at any point lightning struck twice and resulted in a nearby lottery win!