MapCarte 265/365: O Mapa do Tráfico by Eduardo Asta, 2014


Occasionally, a map can be tangential to the graphic display…sometimes even a luxury or superfluous in it’s fundamental sense. This scenario tends to happen with very simple data and where a thematic map with no topographic detail is about as detailed as one would need. This example of the global drug trade illustrates this perfectly. The flow lines between regions of origin and consumption are perfectly represented by the lines. The proportional symbology illustrates the mix of drug types. There is little need for the map and it is simply used here for emphasis.

Detail is minimal; and the information could easily have been presented in a series of graphs, yet by using the map Asta has immediately connected people’s view of the trade to places. It is used to good effect since the outline of the world is barely visible and recedes to the background. The vivid colours are visually powerful and the text is there for those wishing to read further, though it’s unnecessary in order to get the idea of the information being presented.

A simple dataset, mapped simply but with good clear design to support ease of use, information recovery and understanding. The map is tangential yet plays a good supporting role.

MapCarte 264/365: Plan oblique relief Europe by Jonas Buddeberg, Bernhard Jenny & Johannes Liem, 2014



Click the image to view the web map

Representation of terrain is as old as cartography itself and there remain numerous ways of creating interesting effects. Plan oblique can be traced back to the work of Xaver Imfeld in 1887 (featured in MapCarte 182). It’s an interesting technique because it uses a planimetric base (thus preserving scale in all directions across the entire map) yet represents terrain in apparent 3D. The trick is that the terrain is effectively stretched in the north/south axis such that the base of the terrain remains static and the peaks move…stretching everything in between. The technique overcomes some of the limitations we inevitably get with panoramic maps where foreshortening and occlusions are potentially problematic.

There are plenty of ways one can create a plan oblique effect using Digital Elevation Models (unless you have a preference for the hand-drawn approach like Imfeld) but the beauty of the map application developed by Buddeberg et al. is it gives the user all the tools to modify the variables that control the appearance on the fly. Azimith and inclination are basic variables to allow the creation of hillshades and 3D relief. Additionally, users can modify hyposmetric tints, the rotation and, crucially, the inclination of the viewing angle that modifies the plan oblique effect. The user controls are intuitive; the effect impressive; and the way in which the application reveals the nuance and beauty of a plan oblique representation unparalleled.

MapCarte 263/365: Map on a cow by anon. date unknown



Integrating maps and map shapes into other designs has been a popular approach in graphic design for decades. This isn’t pure cartography but it’s the use of cartographic design and products to emphasise another design or to create a juxtoposition. This woodcut, possibly from as early as the 1500s though more likely a nineteenth century example due to the angled lines, illustrates a Holstein Fresian with it’s distinctive black and white hide in the design of the British Isles. The northern coastline of France is also included for cartographic completeness!

The beauty of such images is that at first glance they appear perfectly ordinary. The markings have to be ‘seen’ but when they are, they become impossible not to see. Maps are incredibly flexible and their use extends far beyond their cartographic purpose. They are fantastic when used in other art and graphic design projects. They do not have to be complex either…as this wonderful whimsical example shows.

MapCarte 262/365: Map of Venice by Jacopo de’ Barbari, 1500


The very first aerial photograph was taken by French photographer and balloonist Gaspard-Félix Tournacho, in 1858 over Paris. That fact alone makes this map, produced some 350 years earlier even more of a monumental cartographic achievement than its beauty alone suggests. Produced from wood-block printing on several large sheets, this birds-eye map shows the city of Venice with the Alps acting as a distant horizon.

The detail is exquisite with almost no stone unturned – literally. Every building, church and piazza is shown and such is the attention to detail that one could easily use the map then and now to navigate around the city.

Barbari’s skills as a painter and engraver show how mastery of one’s tools is fundamental to great cartography. What the map perhaps fails to convey is the way in which it was constructed. Given Venice is built on water traditional techniques of measurement (physical rods or chains) wouldn’t have been used to gain measurements. Instead, Barbari must have used trigonometry and then applied foreshortening to generate his oblique perspective. These are techniques not adopted for many years to come.

Whatever you use to design and make a map, knowing how to apply the tools to a high standard goes a long way to ensuring the result will be high quality. Painting, engraving and mathematics underpinned Barbari’s work. It resulted in a magnificent map.

MapCarte 261/365: Skintland by The Economist, 2012

MapCarte261_skintlandWe’ve featured a number of fantastic satirical maps in MapCarte as artists, illustrators and commentators make good use of maps to convey a pithy message. Robert Dighton’s Geography Bewitched makes good use of Scotland as a map shape which was featured in MapCarte 43. It was inevitable that today’s referendum on Scottish independence was also going to lead to some examples and The Economist’s 2012 effort shines brightly.

Not without controversy, the map of Skintland shows the familiar shape and topography that hides the labels if you don’t look closely enough. Each city, town and physiographic label takes on a new meaning as a way of expressing the editorial comment of the potential result of Scotland’s economic plight if they vote for independence from the United Kingdom. Glasgow, Edinburgh and the highlands have been replaced by Glasgone, Edinborrow and Highinterestlands. The Shutland Islands have been leased to Norway and the Outer Hebrides are now know as the Outer Cash. In the 18th Century, Edinburgh was referred to as the Athens of the North because of its fine architecture and its Enlightenment role. Now it’s labelled as Twinned with Athens to parody the economic failures in Greece. It’s a well observed addition.

Skintland is shown as an island and the coastal vignette carries on across the land border between England and Scotland to reinforce the message of being economically cast adrift. The map works because it’s well designed, not over-done and the joke is easily understood. The fact the map appears in The Economist makes it sit well and lends a certain gravitas to the ideas it represents rather than the impact it might have had in a tabloid publication.

Of course, the map has received scorn from the proponents of the Yes vote and many others who saw it as a slight on Scotland and it’s people as you’d expect…but that’s the point of satire. Someone will always be offended! What the map, and subsequent reaction, shows is the strength of feeling that places have in our hearts. Names on maps become valubale and if we change them, albeit with the intention of humour, those with a vested interest can easily be hurt. As a way of generating sales the map does wonders. It also shows us that maps are sacred objects and one has to tread carefully with design to avoid such ire…or do it deliberately well precisely to provoke a response!



MapCarte 260/365: Baseball Stadiums ArtMap by World Impressions, 1987


Pictorial maps are often some of the most artistic, combining illustrations of a theme to create a dramatic, attractive poster. They are commonly used to build a picture of a phenomena that perhaps draws people in who have some vested interest in the content…sport being a favourite theme for such maps because of the passion and association people bring to the map.

Here are two examples of maps by World Impressions that showcase the very best of the collage approach that incorporates key imagery from all teams. the first illustrates baseball and the second, American Football. The illustrations vary considerably from paintings of the natural landscape to key historic sportsmen to stadiums and team logos. The lack of uniformity creates interest and the poster allows a viewer of the map to immediately identify their own team as well as their opponents across a map that gives them an equal visual treatment.

MapCarte260_artmap2Textual components are minimal but the borders are well framed using allied imagery. Here we have a map that is designed simply to stimulate our passion for the sport and the teams we support. It shows where the teams are based but the spatial component is secondary to the emotional response the map is intended to invoke.

Done well, as these two maps are, pictorial maps can be attractive as pieces of art. They often adorn our walls and act as a reminder of our team and their place.


MapCarte 259/365: Yosemite Valley by John H, Renshawe, USGS, 1914


As more and more maps are created by digital means it’s easy to forget that many digital techniques still fail to achieve the artistry that a hand drawn map can bring to bear. Cartography has always been heavily populated by artists who have brought considerable graphical skill to the process of design and production but as we search for ever more automated techniques that more people can deploy we perhaps lose a little of that exceptional individual work. Hand drawn maps bring a style that can be as different and unique as a Monet to a Van Gogh or a Turner to a Banksy.

Here, John Renshawe shows us a rich palette of colour with deep browns and earth tones to depict Yosemite Valley. Lush greens and bright blues complement this excellent colour scheme that attempts to show the landscape as rich as one might find it in reality.

MapCarte259_yosemite_detailThe manually developed hill shade is particularly striking and though analytical hillshades have advanced tremendously, the ability of an artist to consider individual elements in the terrain rather than a computer’s approach of applying a technique systematically provides a unique and pleasing result.

The text sits comfortably in the map and the use of a border in a complementary colour completes the overall image. A beautiful, rich and warm map.


MapCarte 258/365: Drugged Culture by Stanford Kay, 2010

MapCarte258_druggedThematic maps can often be somewhat bland if the overall layout isn’t considered. Simply getting the construction of a choropleth or proportional symbol map right only goes half way to creating a successful map that draws people in. Combining the theme of the map with symbology that illustrates and connects to the message can lift the map above the mundane. Of course, the context within which the map sits also plays an important part. In a simple, formal report, mapping the most prescribed psychiatric drugs in the USA might need to be plain. As an accompaniment to a magazine article, a newspaper piece or a poster there’s increased license to be more graphically daring.

This map by Stanford Kay makes great use of the shape of the country as a literal container (tray) for different coloured pills. Each different type of pill acts as a series of small multiples and, overall, a cumulative histogram. It creates a cartogram of sorts and provides an attractive illustrative approach to the map which invites people to investigate the detail. The legend is organised to relate to the different drugs and there’s a good amount of information around the map to provide key facts. The title also leans towards something catchy to lure people in and provide a graphical hook.

Overall, simple, colourful and a nice marriage of thematic map and graphic design.


MapCarte 257/365: Escape the map by Mercedes Benz, 2011

Escape the map was an online advertisement for Mercedes-Benz.  It offers an immersive, interactive experience for the viewer who becomes a participant in the map-based story.  The work has drama, doesn’t overtly force the brand and follows a ‘choose your own adventure’ type plot.  It’s sophisticated, memorable and unique.

The map and map related objects like the falling map pins and address (locator) are key metaphors in the story.  The advert immerses you in the future, how we may use maps in cars and how important location is and will become not just for navigation but as a defining way of living.  The heads up display on the electronic paper map works particularly well.

The work clearly illustrates how popular maps have become in the mass media and there are numerous references to familiar online web map services, virtual globes and their techniques (such as facial blurring on Google Street View) as well as having a sub-plot that references social media such as Twitter.  This familiarity with ubiquitous mapping and social media tools means the advertisement hooks us into a familiar world to tell its futuristic story.

MapCarte 256/365: Babylonian World Map by anon, c. 750-500 BC



The first known map of the world inscribed on a clay tablet and depicting the known world from the perspective of Babylonia. It’s a design classic because it’s the first. Someone had the idea to represent the world around them using marks on a physical object to create a map and as far as inventions goes this has to rank among the most important to humankind.

The map is circular with cuneiform labels. The two circles represent the boundary of a water body, Babylonia is toward the centre and there is an area of marshland labelled to the south. Cities, water bodies, a mountain range and numerous islands are also shown though there is debate over whether these represent real places or mythological entities.

Possibly not quite as detailed or portable as we might prefer our modern maps but for its time this is a remarkable cartographic achievement.