The vast emptiness of Antarctica has long described as one of the last places on earth to be mapped. The maps produced around the time of the expeditions of Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen illustrated the stories, trials and tribulations of their famous treks to reach the South Pole. Most of the maps were not drawn by cartographers, but pieced together from journal entries by others. Here, Amundsen’s expedition is mapped by English landscape artist, writer and illustrator Gordon Home based on telegraph reports and which appeared in Amundsen’s own book of the expedition published after his return.
Home’s pen and ink drawing uses a grossly distorted perspective with a detailed foreground giving way to the mountain ranges, plateaus and empty open ice fields that were negotiated. Scale is inconsistent throughout but that’s an inevitable and immaterial consequence of this style of mapping. Curiously, the south pole is at the top but placed in the more normal orientation the map wouldn’t have looked right since the horizon would have been at the bottom. Home simply rotated the map to fit the need to create a linear route that plotted the journey from start to finish, bottom to top.
Using the map as a device to tell a simple linear story is well executed by Home. There’s actually very little by way of description and detail but that in itself gives the map a quality that allows the reader to imagine the severity of the challenge faced by the expedition teams. The foreboding blackened sky adds to the drama and sense of bleakness.
Artists and illustrators owe as much to cartography as cartography does to them. Here, Richard Edes Harrison’s double page spread in the May 1940 issue of Fortune Magazine shows the world as it exists for Standard Oil. The map owes much to earlier flow maps such as Charles Minard’s such as Export of British Coal map but as a magazine illustration the map-maker can apply a little more artistic license.
Known for his innovative cartographic solutions, Harrison developed a projection that suited the map’s needs. The maps are based on a warped azimuthal equidistant projection centred on the Poles which allows the northern hemisphere to appear at the visual centre. This approach places North America and the main flow lines of oil distribution central in the map layout. The projection gives space for Standard’s key production areas in Texas and Venezuela which supports the pictorial elements.
The map takes on the appearance of a drop of liquid and the overall layout is well supported by flags, drawn proportional to the dead-weight gross tonnage of the tanker fleet, and a well constructed legend in the top right. Text curves according to the projection which supports the overall design aesthetic.
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 color 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 addition of contour lines, coloured to reflect elevation gives additional character to the landscape, as does the various textures suggestive of a terrain littered with rocks and trees and other ‘rough’ features. The map’s use of realistic and natural textures gives it much of its unique appeal. The ubiquitous, custom made,”NatGeo” typeface instantly makes this recognisable as a national Geographic product.
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.”
Click the image to view the online map
It’s the interactivity that makes this web map application by Santiago Ortiz so compelling. The mouse is predominantly used as a device to move across the image with mouseover controls allowing you to ‘brush’ the various components. As you move your mouse across the globe, country outlines or flow lines showing connectivity between countries are highlighted. The associated component in the graph is similarly highlighted so physical connections create visual connections seamlessly.
Clicking countries or graph components re-focuses the globe to the country of choice and refreshes the visual representation to make it country specific. Holding the mouse button provides an intuitive way of rotating the globe and the movement is smooth and pleasing on the eye.
The design is strong, with a heavily generalised map of countries depicted on the otherwise transparent globe that makes for a great visual atop a jet black canvas. The globe and the graph share colours (strengthening the visual links) and also share space with neither being dominant. The application is designed for exploration, to reveal patterns and to see how countries compare. A terrific example of slick, simple and powerful web map design.
Tens of thousands of swirling ocean currents were captured and presented by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in this animated map that creates a cinematic cartographic experience. These are surface currents that cover the period June 2005 to December 2007; the result of physical observation and modelling.
The simplicity of the final map belies the complexity and computing power required to generate the results but rather than creating a detailed and complex graphic to expose how much effort and work went into the map, the work is left to shine and to amaze the viewer.
NASA themselves describe the results as creating a ‘visceral experience’. Indeed, if cartography is about connecting and generating an emotional response then they succeeded. One of the rare animated maps that uses a soundtrack to good effect.
Numerous versions of the animation can be found on NASA’s web site here.
Maps have long provided inspiration for more elaborate artwork. The shapes of countries, in particular, can lend themselves to all manner of design opportunity. The Lion has long been associated with the Low Countries (current Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium) and used in heraldry so it is no surprise that many cartographers as far back as the mid 16th Century have drawn on it for inspiration.
Michael Aitzinger is credited with the earliest depiction of a lion as a way of depicting the area. The lion existed in many of the coats of arms and the arching back of the lion rearing up fits perfectly with the shape of the coastline. Claes Janszoon Visscher, a dutch engraver, mapmaker and publisher worked during the Golden Age of Dutch cartography. He began depicting the area in this way in 1609 and he made perhaps the most famous version. Here, his third version, published in 1648 after the independence of the Dutch Republic, frames the map with panoramas of major Dutch towns and cities as well as incorporating decorative flourishes (cartouches), flags and other imagery.
Beautiful artistry and integration of themes and motifs support the map’s use as a proud statement of independence and territorial dominance. As a tool to learn something of the geography of the land the map might be limited but it certainly gives a clear view of nationhood and tells something of the story of the country. Its densely packed layout contains a wealth of information and with the main map as a central actor, the surrounding detail supports the mains story.
Click the image to view the online map
Simplicity in map design is difficult to achieve but Derek Watkins perfects the art with elegant efficiency in his interactive map of world population density, an interactive rendering of Bill Bunge’s The Continents and Islands of Mankind. Good design is often more about what you leave out than what you include. Avoiding unnecessary interaction and pointless user-controlled options, the map shows a single theme but allows you to control the binary classification (populated or not) to reveal different views of the dataset.
Beautifully generalised, almost amoebic ‘blobs’ are used to show populated areas. The image above shows 5 people per square kilometer but this can be changed using the classification bar to show different classifications up to areas of 500 people per square kilometre. This reveals the most populated areas on earth and where populated places with similar densities exist. The alternative would have been to show different densities as a choropleth but the classification is what gives the map its interaction to create several maps of different densities.
The lack of a coastline focuses attention on the populated places and our ability to recognise the familiar shapes of the world allow us to identify places easily. A subtle toggle to add place names is included but switched off by default – a nice touch.
There are no zoom or pan controls – the map works at one scale and shows that not every online map has to be slippy. Colour is simple – just black on white and with a red flash for the value of the data in the legend…which also acts as a title.
Doing something different is often a good way to bring attention to your design. Here, as a competition entry to design a proposal for an architectural landmark to stand apart from the congestion and intensity of Hong Kong, Zaha Hadid chose to veer away from the familiar approach of traditional elevations and axonometric projections.
The crucial element in her map was to place the water’s edge at approximately 30 degrees to the horizontal and present the buildings as almost vertical in the image. If you rotate the image so that the water and land are horizontal then, of course, the buildings make no sense. To emphasise the architecture and the man-made landscape (i.e. to focus on her design for the landmark buildings), she warped the terrain. This gives focus, but more so, a sense of drama and ‘difference’ because it’s not how we might expect to see Hong Kong harbour. The map reader’s interest is immediate and the challenge of seeing the landscape presented in this way creates interest.
The building design itself was described as ‘suprematist geology’ and required considerable excavation of bedrock. Because of this, the map here was intended to reflect the unique, modern appearance as both integral to the surrounding geology hence similar colours and shades are used for both the landscape and buildings. The club building was intended to represent the ‘high life’ so presenting the map in portrait, squeezing the image width and exaggerating height of the buildings also helped bring that sense of aspiration.
Click the image to view the online map
Maps are one of the oldest devices for telling stories. This fundamental concept seems to have been reinvented in the online realm as web maps provide a canvas for integrating a range of multimedia with maps as well as providing interaction to support user engagement. The ability of a map to invite a reader/user in and provide them with a rich, immersive environment is core to good map design. Web mapping extends the possibilities by providing additional ways to interrogate data. Here, a simple dataset of all locations of the touring history of The Rolling Stones is mapped.
The map itself is stripped of virtually all detail. The colours are limited to a few greys with the splash of highly contrasting red used to great effect in the typographic components. As the user ‘turns the page’ to reveal each tour year the map shows cities and the links between them; location labels are only revealed with a mouse over (not a click!) so they don’t clutter the image. Useful navigation tools are minimalist but intuitive.
Simple story. Simply presented with simple but highly effective design.
View the online map here
Described as an ‘experimental design’, Stamen have thrown away the rule book with this example of styling digital data to the extreme. It’s not so much a map as a work of art taking many aspects of modernism and applying it liberally to the data. It owes much to artists such as Jasper Johns who made the map of the U.S.A. famous when he used it as a basis for his own experiments with abstract map imagery (MapCarte 3/365)
Virtually every aspect of this map is counter to how you would typically style features with bright contrasting colours and angular shapes yet hiararchy of features is preserved, they are recognisable and can be distinguished from one another in the landscape. The map is not especially useful as a backdrop for other thematic detail yet the point of this is to explore ways of re-imagining the map and challenging our preconceptions of map design.
It has a strong aesthetic and although rendered as an online map, the beauty of this work is not necessarily as an online map – as it makes heavy weather of rendering in the browser – but the style it deploys.