The legacy of MapCarte

When we embarked upon our MapCarte series last year we wanted to inspire people with examples of beautiful, creative and well designed cartography. Showing people examples of quality was an attempt to counter the tsunami of poor mapping that passes across our digital devices daily. There’s no reason that a general public fascinated with maps can be expected to sift the quality from the quantity. MapCarte was our way of curating a set of maps of all genres that demonstrate the very best in map design. Curated by cartographers for everyone. While we cannot claim credit for a swing in the public desire for better mapping we’d like to think we’ve played a small part and some of the previous offenders are buying into the shift (e.g. here, here, and here for example). It’s what the Commission is designed to do…to promote quality in cartography and be an evangelist for work that showcases the very best in the art and science of map design.

The last year or so have seen the publication of a number of excellent books that perform a similar task. These include Jerry Brotton’s ‘Great Maps‘, Daniel Huffman and Sam Mathews’ ‘Atlas of Design Vol 2‘, Rose Mitchell and Andrew Janes’ ‘Maps: Their untold stories‘ and The Times History of the World in Maps. These all contribute to the canon of work that showcases, describes and promotes cartographic design. Commission Chair Kenneth Field contributed to the Atlas of Design with an introductory essay and to The Times’ publication with a discussion of Google Maps. Ken is also involved in his day job at Esri helping a wider team to curate an online gallery of maps that demonstrate the cartographic potential for people using Esri’s ArcGIS platform. The site’s called Maps We Love and while you may not love them all, it performs a parallel purpose to MapCarte. Indeed, the idea of Maps We Love was inspired by what we did with MapCarte more generally.

The trend of publishing collections or compilations of examples of good quality map design has also been implemented by many other mapping organisations and publishers continue their fascination with great cartography. There’s a new book on the market that continues this trend…’MAP‘ by Phaidon Press (published 28th September).

MAPKen was asked to contribute to this edited collection of 300 maps and this became a great opportunity to use the words we penned for MapCarte in a different way. Ken wrote descriptions for 23 of the maps alongside a huge team of contributors. Edited by John Hessler from the Map Division, U.S. Library of Congress, the maps are given space to shine in the 12″ by 10″ hardback book. Heavy duty paper literally adds weight to the tome and the text is kept to a minimum by simply identifying key characteristics or aspects of importance. Curated content is the key to this and other publications alike. It’s authoritative and provides a terrific window onto cartography and maps more generally. It also includes a timeline of the history of cartography, a glossary of useful cartographic terms and links to further reading.

Much like MapCarte the collection is eclectic and it’s fascinating to see there’s probably only an overlap of 100 or so maps between our own collection and the maps featured in MAP. This is to be expected…any collection of maps chosen by one group of people will include examples not selected by others. That’s part of the beauty and breadth of cartography. On reflection, yes, there’s probably some from MAP that we might have put in MapCarte but if you join the dots in all of the above collections there’s commonality as well as divergence. The simple fact is as a group of academics, practitioners and map experts we’re finally taking what we know to the general public. Taking responsibility to share some of what we know as cartographic experts is vital to informing people about map design. It’s also important that this drives their yearning to become smarter map-makers. Knowing a little of the cartographic design process allows people to better understand what they require for their own work, and how to discern quality from the plethora of rather uninspiring (or plain wrong) work out in our world.

It’s been tremendous to see how MapCarte has both inspired and sat alongside other similar projects. This can only support the dissemination of better mapping and help people to demand more of their maps. We’ll continue to publish infrequent MapCarte entries as and when the whim takes us…and as we look toward the culmination of our first 4 years as an ICA Commission we look forward to our second term.

MapCarte 369/365: Illustrated London by Mike Hall, 2011-present

MapCarte369_hallHigh quality linework and meticulous colouring give rise to clean cartography. In this age of web maps it’s good to see that illustrators still find value in crafting maps by hand to create one-off sheets. Mike Hall has been creating a series of maps of London’s Boroughs since 2011. This example of tower hamlets is an example of the skill with which he fashions beautiful, well balanced maps that combine detailed cartography with marginalia that harks back to historic maps.

The inclusion of crests, shields, illustrations and views of key places along with decorative borders and typography show mastery in layout that displays a keen sense of the importance of form as well as function. The map is intended to delight; to be seen and used as much as an artistic piece as a way of exploring the geography. Maps always did ‘fill in the gaps’ to create a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts and Hall brings the philosophy up to date with his creative cartography.

Each of the maps in the series riffs off particular themes or historical events from the Borough so each has a unique identity. As a set, they bring to life the rich variety of London’s landscapes as a tapestry of maps that reflect their very different characters.

Hall’s work goes beyond this series of maps. His isometric drawings and other map-based illustrations are equally impressive. Modern map-makers can certainly learn a few things about the art and craft of cartography by studying his work.

See this series of maps and Hall’s other work at his web site here.

MapCarte 368/365: PAC-MAN Google Maps by Google, 2015

MapCarte368_pacmanPAC-MAN Google Maps at Taj Mahal, India

Take a classic map and combine it with arguably the world’s most loved video arcade game PAC-MAN. Genius! We’ve highlighted the importance and design credentials of Google Maps in MapCarte already (MapCarte 116) but the ability of Google to take their platform and come up with imaginative ways for us to engage with maps knows no end. Of course, they’re no strangers to using their map as a basis for a game as their Cube game demonstrated in 2012 (MapCarte 90)

You navigate the maze of streets as PAC-MAN, consuming pac dots and other bonus items while avoiding Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde. The bonus items include the typical fruit icons from the original game but added are a Google Maps marker and Peg Man – nice touches. The game play is superb and very faithful to the original as you use cursor keys to move PAC-MAN around. They’ve even managed to get it working nicely on mobile devices using swipe gestures.

The re-styling of streets from Google Maps into the PAC-MAN maze is also faithful to the original with the dark background and neon blue maze structure being applied to street casings. It’s wuite simply a lovely re-imagination of the game and a fun way to repurpose the map to provide an entertainment medium.

Sadly, the game appears to be a temporary fixture for Google Maps but in marrying these two design greats they’ve proven that maps really can afford a template for all manner of purposes.

This video from C:NET illustrates the gameplay


 

Instructions to play Google Maps PAC-MAN are here.

MapCarte 367/365: ATP Tennis World Tour Venue Map by Damien Saunder, 2015

MapCarte367_saunderClick on the map to view the web map

We’re currently awash with web maps of this and that which is inevitable as the availability of data and the tools necessary to make maps increases. Quality web maps are still a rare commodity because many still lack the thought required that turns data into something useful and useable. This map is a refreshing highlight. It does one job and does it remarkably well.

Take a dataset of the locations of all the men’s tennis tournaments for the year and present them across a map. Simple yes…the map could just have a dot for every tournament but at small scales it would look ugly and the dots would be lost amongst the background at large scales. Here, Saunder has taken advantage of the tool of production to have locations aggregate at small scales and ‘explode’ to reveal individual tournaments as you zoom in or you click on the numbered symbols. The fact a few always appear gives the user a clear hint of what to expect when you tackle the numbers.

The side panel is unencumbered and presents the taxonomy of tournaments with simple colour motifs that link to the map. Expanding the side panel allows you to access the tournaments by name or location and is sensibly presented in date order. The information panel opens when you click a tournament to reveal consistent information and the pictures go beyond just showing us the main court of play. Across the map, they reveal a pattern of surface types with hard courts, clay and grass tending to occupy discrete regions. These also tend to reflect the seasons in which a tournament takes place. While the panels contain a lot of content, brevity has been achieved using icons to avoid the need for superfluous text and which presents prize money, the current champion etc in a different visual style. This adds interest and breaks up what might otherwise have been a dense panel of text. The large symbols are a bold statement but they work to fill space and to make the theme and function of the map explicitly figural.  They also work well across an imagery basemap and of course, using imagery means we get to zoom into and see the actual venues.

Fundamentally, a simple but detailed dataset that is handled well in a web map. Clean and clear design thinking underpins the map and elevates it beyond many of its contemporaries that simply dump data and expect the map to work.

ICC2015 Pre-Conference Workshop details

The International Cartographic Conference takes place in Rio de Janeiro from 23 to 28 August 2015 (see http://www.icc2015.org/). Decisions on acceptance of papers for the main conference have recently been shared with authors and so you may have started thinking about your travel plans this summer. We hope that in these travel plans there will also be room to participate in the pre-ICC2015 workshops that we are organizing with the Federal University of Paraná in the city of Curitiba, Brazil. These workshops will take place on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 August 2015. This means you will have ample time to travel from Curitiba to Rio de Janeiro, which, by the way, is relatively cheap and only lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Curitiba will host two different one-day workshops through collaborations between ICA Commissions including the Commission on Map Design.

Workshop 1 (on 20 August 2015): Designing and Conducting User Studies
This workshop is co-organized by the ICA Commissions on Use and User Issues and Cognitive Visualization. It is typically a training workshop which is meant for people who want to learn more about how to execute user research. Members of both commissions will moderate a series of teaching modules.

Workshop 2 (on 21 August 2015): Envisioning the Future of Cartographic Research
This workshop is co-organized by four ICA Commissions:  Cognitive Visualization; Use and User Issues; Geovisualization and Map Design. The nature of this interactive workshop is completely different from Workshop 1. It is directed towards making progress on a new research agenda for interactive cartography and geovisualization. Preparations for this workshop have already begun with the involvement of a variety of commission members who made submissions to our call for proposals of what are the current ‘big problems’ in interactive cartography.

We received 19 submissions, some of which had overlaps with others. In the process of narrowing down these topics to what we can reasonably work on in a workshop, the workshop steering committee has decided to see further input from our commissions:

Therefore, whether or not you can come to the workshop, we would like to ask for five minutes of your time before 8 March to rate the topics, which we have distilled into a question or short statement. Please visit our Google Moderator page: https://www.google.com/moderator/#16/e=217c5a (click on the View Ideas button to see the questions) and rate each proposal – whether you like or don’t like it. We will then use this as an input to make a final decision on which three or four topics we will choose. These topics will then be posted on the webpage and those attending the workshop can nominate which one they would most like to work on.

After you have done this, we would like to invite you to visit the webpage  http://www.cartografia.ufpr.br/home/

This webpage contains all the information you may need about the two workshops and also offers facilities to register for one or both workshops in Curitiba. We would like to ask you to register a.s.a.p. but, in any case, before 1 July 2015. Registration for our workshops will only be possible through this website and not through the main ICC2015 website.

You will have to book your own travel and overnight accommodation in Curitiba. The website provides information to help you with this.

We hope to welcome many of you in Curitiba this summer!

MapCarte 366/365: Non-stop by Alberto Lucas López, 2015

MapCarte366_lopezJust when you thought your daily dose of MapCarte from 2014 had finished…here’s the beginnings of a less frequent, intermittent post of great maps on which to feast your cartographic senses.

In an age where flashy, spinning, animated, colourful web maps seem to be all the rage it’s refreshing to see that applying some control on your cartography can still bring to life a fantastic example of the art of map-making. Here, Alberto López has created a simple but graphically effective map showing the non-stop flight paths from Hong Kong. The first aspect that grabs you is the use of RB Fuller’s Dymaxion projection. Visually interesting, it adds something unique to the display. The same data could easily be shown across a cylindrical projection or, if we wanted concentric flight time zones, an azimuthal projection dentred on Hong Kong…but the map would not have been as interesting or stimulating.

Similarly, instead of the usual use of flowlines that arc across the map (on a cylindrical projection) or which would radiate from a point (on the azimuthal), López has chosen instead to use time bands.  The simple two colour approach to showing time also echoes the coastline, graticule, map frame and other components. The use of blues for the destinations and also the outline of the area outside the range of non-stop aircraft is subtle and uses contrast to good effect.

There’s a subtle use of two different typefaces, one for the main map components and descriptions and another for the introductory panel that again creates a visually useful and pleasing contrast. The inverted distance band labels in white situates them well in the visual hierarchy. The simple but useful graphs add to the story by showing us some of the salient aspects of the data in a more useful way.

This is effectively a two-colour map (maybe use the blue for all textual components instead of black?) which creates an interesting and engaging map. There’s a lot of good cartographic design going on here to establish good hierarchy, contrast and balance which when brought together creates a great finished product. It doesn’t need to be anything more than it is and proves that keeping things simple is both an art and an effective solution.

The map was published as part of the South China Morning Post’s infographics feature here including links to a larger version.

ICC 2015 Pre-Conference Workshop

The Commission on Map Design has joined with the Commissions on Cognitive Visualization, Geovisialization, and Use and User Issues for a pre-conference workshop ahead of the International Cartographic Conference in Rio, August 2015. This will take place on August 21, 2015 at the Paraná Federal University (UFPR) in Curitiba, Brazil.

“The leadership of the ICA commissions believes that it is time to consider the cartographic research landscape as a whole, along with its relationships to cognate fields (e.g., computer science, information visualization, user experience research, cognitive science & psychology), in order to identify areas of research that could benefit from our collective efforts. The workshop will take the first step towards producing a research agenda that reflects current challenges and to define how, as a group, we could tackle them.”

Please see the full announcement on the workshop web page and consider getting involved to establish a platform for defining and addressing ‘big problems’ in cartography.

A year of MapCarte

Wow! I did it. This time last year I was getting so disillusioned with the avalanche of bad maps and the criticism, from some, that cartographers do nothing but moan about bad maps that I decided to turn the tables. I committed to writing a daily blog about great maps. We all have our personal favourites but I wanted a broad selection that reflected a diverse view rather than it being my list. I think I just about managed it with a little help from my friends.

The idea was simply to create a repository of maps, along with short commentaries, that exhibit high quality design principles. The collection proves that design can morph and be presented in a multitude of different ways but this is precisely what makes cartography such a wonderful subject. In essence, everything is designed…it’s just that some designs end up being better than others. They may be beautiful to look at; they may support a particular function with clarity and efficiency; and they may become recognised as classics. Many maps are based strongly in science and the display of ‘truth’ so they are constructed in a particular way. But they are also an artistic endeavor and they display their wares according to many influences. As such, they pique our interest as much based on our own likes and dislikes in style. Fashion and trends play a major part in map design and we can also chart the way in which maps have changed in appearance over time. perhaps due to technological change and the instruments we use to make the map; perhaps also as our preferences change in the same way we see genres develop in both art, literature and film.

My hope for this collection is that whenever we are stuck for inspiration, or whenever someone says ‘show me a good map’ then here are 365 examples to whet the appetite. They represent as broad a definition of cartography as you could possibly see in a single collection. They’re authoritative because they’ve been compiled by cartographers. There’s probably some of your own favourites missing. Some of mine are too…but that’s not the point. It’s a collection that illustrates the diverse, rich world of cartographic design from the perspective of the professionals that inhabit that world.

A quick way to get an overview is to visit the accompanying MapCarte Pinterest Board at http://www.pinterest.com/icamapdesign/mapcarte/

So here’s a few thank yous to those who have helped…

I ended up writing all but 5 of the entries. Alex Kent wrote the other 5. I’ve also had maps suggested to me by many people including Damien Saunder, Linda Beale, Daniel Huffman, William Cartwright, Georg Gartner, Anja Hopfstock, Steve Chilton, Bernie Jenny, Manuella Schmidt, David Fairbarin, Craig Molyneux, Roger Smith, Geoff Aitken, Gennady Adrienko, Craig Williams, David Watkins, Peter Jones, Karel Kriz, Keith Clarke, Eric Steiner and Rollo Home. There are likely many others and I am sorry if I have forgotten to mention you personally but your suggestions have been invaluable. I’d also like to thank the many, many people who have sent me messages of support over the year. There’s been the odd evening where the last thing I wanted to do was write about yet another bloody map…but as the series has taken off and more people saw the posts, ‘liked’ them or retweeted them it became clear it was worthwhile. There’s little point starting something like this unless it’s going to be seen so to all of you who have taken the time to read, whether you’ve told me or not, I thank you sincerely and hope you’ve found the examples useful. It was nice that one person has commented that the effort has been ‘legendary’. If nothing else, I’ve had fewer naysayers whinge about a lack of good examples of great cartography this year…they seem to have gone back into their box. Thanks everyone!

What next…well I’m not going to start MapCarte II. Given 99% of it has been done outside work time it’s been a challenging commitment and I’m moving on to other exciting projects in 2015. It’s likely I’ll add to MapCarte as and when fascinating new maps are published that deserve mentioning so you’ll see the series continue albeit infrequently. As for a book on MapCarte – watch this space…

Happy map designing in 2015. I’m off for a lie down.

Ken

MapCarte 365/365: Anson Island by Roger Anson, c.1989

And so to the final map of this year’s blog. 365 entries which form a solid exploration of cartographic design using classic and contemporary examples of the art, science, technology and craft of cartography. And the final map is…not a map. It’s the following description:

MapCarte365_anson_textMental mapping is a natural part of our everyday lives. The maps we form in our own mind help us make sense of the world, picture places and support our navigation. While there is plenty of research to support the notion that modern technology is eroding our spatial cognition, the ability to define our own unseen cartographies remains key to understanding space and place. Our own mental maps are informed by a multitude of factors including education, experience, likes, dislikes, aspirations and desires. Classic studies show us that who we are and where we live play a big part in establishing our own personal spatial order. Our own knowledge allows us to, for instance, draw maps that more closely relate to reality compared to our abilities when imagining unknown places. Mental maps are not devoid of design either. We picture our maps in a variety of ways from simple black and white line drawings to fanciful worlds.

This MapCarte entry is a personal thank you to one of my former mentors, Roger Anson. Roger was Principal Lecturer in Cartography at Oxford Polytechnic. He was the boss and along with his colleagues in the late 1980s and early 90s they taught me all they knew about cartography (and a lot about beer as well – but that’s a different story). As students,one of the earliest practicals we were asked to complete involved the passage of text you see above. I’ve kept it and used it with my own students over the years. It’s a simple description of a place. The task involved drawing this place; building a mental image and then translating it to paper. It was a wonderful exercise in exploring the difficulties of imagining and describing places using words and the importance of maps as ways of seeing and representing space and place.

Unwittingly, we were being taught the importance of mental mapping and learning how to better create a spatial framework in our own minds. The development of our mental mapping capabilities was as important as our abilities to simply make maps using pens or computers. We first had to imagine them. The tools and the buttonology was secondary. They were merely the mechanisms by which we translated what we saw in our mind to a useful tangible product. It’s a principle that still serves well today.

So what of the map that the text describes? Can you imagine what the map looks like? Can you draw the map? Is it a real place or something abstract?

Well, below is my hand drawn effort from all those years ago (yes, I keep everything!).

Mapcarte365_fieldI called the place Anson Island. Can you tell what it is? As Roger said himself in the grading…it’s ‘reasonably convincing’ though when I quickly re-drew the map some years later to show my own students what they were ‘seeing’ (including copious Snowpake!) the map becomes somewhat more obvious in general structure:

Mapcarte365_fieldfootFor some reason that I cannot recall I re-named the island ‘The Undiscovered Foot’. Reading the description back, the answer seems obvious and once seen it’s almost impossible not to ‘see’ the foot in the original passage. But it didn’t at first.

The beauty of mental mapping means it’s neither right nor wrong…it’s one interpretation. There are others! If you follow the basic structure of the description you’ll arrive at, well, a drawing of a footprint or something a little more fanciful like my original effort. Post-exercise we were told by Roger that he got out of the bath one day and stepped onto the bathroom floor whereupon his wet foot made an imprint. He imagined the wet puddle as a map and began describing the puddle as an imaginary island, or set of islands. Where there was more water, he imagined mountains.

It makes for a fantastic exercise to create a fictional topography that shares the same basic structure of a footprint. Of course, many of our maps didn’t look anything like footprints (mine only bears a passing resemblance)…because by the time you’d realized what it was you were drawing you’d already spent a considerable time and you weren’t allowed to start the exercise again. This also taught us the value of time in the cartographic design process…thinking is important. Our use of computers and reliance on defaults tends to bypass that thinking phase for many these days but thinking about your design and sketching it out remains important.

I thought I’d bring my effort up-to-date so here’s a 2014 version which I’ve reverted back to it’s rightful title of ‘Anson Island’. Perhaps interestingly the original version took me possibly a couple of days. This version took me about an hour.

MapCarte365_ansonWe are all mental mappers in the sense that we can all imagine geographies and we translate spatial understanding into pictures using mental cartographies. We design our own maps and they all look different. One other outcome of this exercise has led to a phrase I often come back to…apart from when one makes a constructional error, in map design there’s often no such thing as a correct map and an incorrect map; there’s simply better maps and poorer maps. Following the basic principles of cartographic design gets you some of the way to producing a well formed map. Beyond that, you need a little imagination, a little flair and an ability to bring something innovative and inspiring to your work.

You also need great tutors and Roger and his colleagues inspired me, taught me and nurtured me. This final MapCarte is a dedication to all those great cartography tutors out there who give us the basic cartographic design principles upon which we build our maps. Beyond that, we all bring our own design philosophy, style and influences to our work.

Maps exist in all of us. Some of them turn out to be great, some not so great; but they are all designed in some fashion and all add to the wonderful world of maps.

MapCarte 364/365: Detail of area around the Broad Street pump, by John Snow, 1854

MapCarte365_snowNo-one learns about cartography without studying the map of cholera around the Broad Street pump in Soho, London in the mid 1800s by John Snow. By any measure of importance, Snow’s map has become perhaps the standard-bearer for showing us how a map can say so much more than words alone.

Snow wasn’t a cartographer. In fact many of the maps showcased in MapCarte are by non-cartographers. He was an epidemiologist, a physician and the father of anaesthesia. He was also the personal physician to Queen Victoria. Snow also gave us a classic piece of cartography which resulted in his work in tackling the cholera epidemic of 1854. Knowledge of the disease transmission process was poorly understood. Snow set about trying to make sense of the disease and its spread by plotting all known deaths on a map. It was this instrument that led to his postulating that since most deaths seemed to occur in the vicinity of a water pump on Broad Street then cholera was likely a water borne disease.

“On proceeding to the spot, I found that nearly all the deaths had taken place within a short distance of the [Broad Street] pump. There were only ten deaths in houses situated decidedly nearer to another street-pump. In five of these cases the families of the deceased persons informed me that they always sent to the pump in Broad Street, as they preferred the water to that of the pumps which were nearer. In three other cases, the deceased were children who went to school near the pump in Broad Street…

With regard to the deaths occurring in the locality belonging to the pump, there were 61 instances in which I was informed that the deceased persons used to drink the pump water from Broad Street, either constantly or occasionally…

The result of the inquiry, then, is, that there has been no particular outbreak or prevalence of cholera in this part of London except among the persons who were in the habit of drinking the water of the above-mentioned pump well.

I had an interview with the Board of Guardians of St James’s parish, on the evening of the 7th inst [7 September], and represented the above circumstances to them. In consequence of what I said, the handle of the pump was removed on the following day.
—John Snow, letter to the editor of the Medical Times and Gazette

And so spatial epidemiology was born. Thematic cartography was also brought to the fore as Snow’s overplotting of a phenomena on a street map brought to light new information from the spatial pattern of data.

MapCarte365_snow_detailSnow’s map was ingenious and it’s remarkable that such a simple technique had not become more widely used prior to his efforts. It’s design is so utterly simple that we perhaps ignore its beauty. The simple black and white street network with road labels and the stacked approach to plotting deaths along the roads couldn’t be simpler if we tried to recreate it. The complexity of the study is brought to life through the simple graphical interface of the map. Snow didn’t need any more complex map to interpret his thesis and in so doing, he shows how maps can say so much with so little.

Of course, history tells us that by the time Snow had realized the mode of transmission, and action was taken to remove the handle from the pump, the disease was already abating. That shouldn’t reduce the importance of his work to epidemiology and public health or to his map in relation to cartography. It is rightly one of the most important maps ever made.

You can learn more of Snow’s map through the John Snow Society here or view a digital copy of the book he wrote (which contained the map) here.