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.

MapCarte 363/365: Buyer Beware by National Post, 2012

MapCarte363_buyerThe rise of the infographic as a form of representation has brought with it some unwanted baggage. In trugh, information graphics have always been around but giving them a label has suddenly brought them into focus. What most people think of as an infographic might be summed up in this fantastic parody from web-comic XKCD…the list-like approach to representing a vaguely connected set of facts using seemingly random graphical approaches. Maps have always been information graphics. They are a specific form that deals with the spatial representation of data. We use design to encode meaning and to create visually interesting graphics that communicate to an audience. Perhaps where we’ve seen a development over recent years is in the use of maps as anchors for a story; where a different visual aesthetic is formed by bringing together maps, strong non-spatialised graphics and other components such as text. This example shows how a modern map-based infographic brings together the elements in a well-composed display.

In effect, the infographic approach to cartography emphasises the role of layout in design. The map is used as the core though in truth it’s really used simply as an image. There’s no information encoded into the map itself. It’s devoid of labels or any meaningful data. Instead, it plays the role of the mechanism that leads to other detail and allows us to use forms that might not be useful in other contexts. Here, two azimuthal projections of the globe are organised to support the use of leader lines to the information encoded using systematic, uniform pictorial graphics. Each is represented using the same general form and pictographs encoded with shape and colour give us the detail. The graphics are easily understood and overall, create an interesting pattern on the page, inviting the inquisitive reader.

MapCarte363_buyer_detailThe overall layout is augmented by panels of text that bring the story to the same page rather than an approach which might have seen the map embedded in a passage of text. This combination of the written passages and an interesting graphic gives us a form of graphical story-telling that integrates many different visual components, including maps into a coherent whole. It’s an infographic…but really, at it’s heart, it’s just well designed thematic cartography.

MapCarte 362/365: The United States of Bacon and Kale by Eric Chemi, 2013

MapCarte364_kaleThe rise of the ‘viral map’ has been something of an anathema to reasoned, considered and accepted principles of cartographic design. Much of what we see across social media and in popular media wouldn’t be considered as representing good design and in most instances there’s every reason to use such maps to highlight the limitations of the map. However, such maps are not all in bad taste and can bring us visually interesting examples of map-making that while not necessarily exhibiting classic cartographic design bring a new aesthetic to the body of cartographic work. This example by Eric Chemi accompanied a short news blog that looked at the spatial distribution of tweets that mentioned kale compared to mentions of bacon. Such subjects seem to be tailor made for the production of quick and dirty maps but this example proves that with a little care and thought, the map can actually become something visually interesting despite the whimsy. In fact, it’s entirely possible that such maps comprise a new form of ‘whimsical cartography’. Done well, like this example, shows us that design has no fixed boundaries and allows us to bring together a rich and varied palette of visual forms.

While a standard choropleth with diverging colour scheme would have been fine, the medium of publication possibly demands something more attention grabbing. Instead, the map-maker has transposed images of kale and bacon onto the palette and varied the opacity of the image to give a sense of magnitude. We can easily see the states with the highest ratio of kale or bacon tweets. We can see the states where there is a closer balance. It’s a simple approach but one which supports the congnitive process required. It’s also visually interesting. The addition of a few key textual components adds to the map by highlighting some useful nuggets of information. In this way, a rather bland choropleth map has been re-invented to give us a far more interesting visual feast…literally.

Done well, the simple map which accompanies relatively trivial media blog posts can bring us something unique and visually interesting. It exemplifies the fact that design is important in so many contexts to ensure that we don’t relegate the map to a pointless supporting role. Here, the map becomes one of the key take-aways, the key visual that people recall and a talking point in itself. That’s design.

 

MapCarte 361/365: Trajectory wall by Christian Tominski et al., 2012

MapCarte361_trajectoryCompexity is often inherent in data but difficult to tease out in a meaningful way when we try and represent it visually. One of the key design tenets for cartography is selection and omission and this is often done to simplify the mapped phenomena to bring some salient characteristics into view. It’s not always an appropriate approach because complexity may very well be the very aspect you wish to convey…but that doesn’t mean that you don’t also want readers to be able to make sense of what it is that’s being mapped. The search for alternative forms of visualization is almost a discrete type of cartography in itself. Beginning with data and a desire to find an appropriate form with which to map it is important for cartographic research and in design terms gives us new ways to represent data. Here, Tominski et al propose a new form of visualization they term a trajectory wall that demonstrates the art perfectly.

Mapping trajectories has always caused difficulties for cartographic representation. The data by its very form requires the mapping of both spatial and temporal information as well as some attribute which can, of course, vary both spatially and temporally. Attempts to resolve some of these visualization issues have been made before but this is the first real solution to accommodating all components in a single approach. The core approach is a stacked representation in a hybrid 2D/3D display. The 2D base gives spatial context while trajectories are stacked in 3D space with attributes encoded through colour. The temporal aspect is encoded through the order of the stacked trajectories as well as a linked graphical time display.

MapCarte361_trajectory2The approach is a development of the space-time cube by Torsten Hagerstrand and which has subsequently found a re-birth with the onset of 3D enabled Web GL browsers that genuinely bring interactivity to the toolbox of the cartographer in a new way. The ability to use 3D and to provide full interaction overcomes many of the limitations of static displays that have hindred proper 3D cartography. Tominski illustrates how we can develop such graphical approaches to make visual sense of complex data. Of course, full interaction and query also gives the user additional ways of exploring the data through visualization.

You can read more about the technique here.

MapCarte 360/365: Hugg-a-planet by Peacetoys, 1982-present

MapCarte360_huggTis the season…so another MapCarte entry that looks at the design of a toy based on a map. Sometimes the simplest ideas turn out to be the best and producing a globe made as a pillow has been a commercial hit for the designers and manufacturers of Hugg-a-Planet. The design is fun, useful and memorable as the central message is we can wrap our arms around the world and give it a hug. It’s an object that supports all sorts of play activities in young children and the map itself is designed to be colourful and attractive. This doesn’t need perfect cartography…just the sense of the shape of the world that children can get to grips with, literally.

Of course, it has a secondary purpose as an educational aid and allows children to begin to learn about geography by using the hugg-a-planet to show where countries and places are. Beyond childhood, hugg-a-planet has become somewhat iconic as a metaphor for global peace. It resonates with those seeking to explore enviromentalism and as pleasing object to have lying around as a cushion with meaning.

MapCarte360_hugg2It’s a fun toy but one which has been used and shared by Presidents as well as global business and political leaders and televison, movie and musical celebrities. It’s even found its way onto the International Space Station where it began it’s orbit in 2009.

You can find out more about Hugg-a-Planet at the website here.

MapCarte 359/365: Europe divided into its Kingdoms by John Spilsbury, 1766

MapCarte359_spilsbury

Merry Christmas map geeks! What better way to celebrate the day than to highlight the use of maps and cartography in toys. Here, not just the earliest map used in a jigsaw but arguably also one of the very first jigsaws. John Spilsbury was an apprentice to Thomas Jefferys, Rotal Geographer to King George III, and believed to be the first commercial manufacturer of the jigsaw puzzle. His earliest jigsaws were referred to as ‘dissected maps’ and this set a trend in jigsaws for many years to come. Indeed, you can still find maps as a common theme in modern jigsaws.

The puzzles were initially produced to be aids in geography teaching. Countries were dissected along national boundaries so piecing the puzzle together allowed children to learn how the different countries connected to one another. Beyond the land, Spilsbury continued the dissection along lines of latitude and longitude.

A great use of maps. A brilliant educational aid and also an early indicator of the commercial value of using maps as a medium for a non-cartographic product. Spilsbury’s dissected puzzles were a commercial success. Spilsbury went on to create many such puzzles and created them in eight themes: the World, Europe, Asia, Africa, America, England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

MapCarte 358/365: Cairo to Khartoum by The Graphic, 1884

MapCarte358_cairokhartoum1MapCarte358_cairokhartoum2Selection and omission is a key cartographic requirement. We make many decisions about the content of the map. One of the more dramatic consequences of this process is omission of all but a single geographic feature and this map of the River Nile from the late 1800s illustrates the principle perfectly. The whole river itself is over 4,000 miles in length and 2 miles in width at it’s widest. It passes through 11 different countries, though this map only illustrates the portion from Khartoum (where the Blue and White Nile meet) to the coast at Cairo.

General reference maps simply wouldn’t suit the purpose of highlighting the settlements and places along a river. The scale wouldn’t allow it and the amount of white space would make the balance of the map inappropriate. You’d be forced into adding all sorts of other topographic detail simply to fill space.

Instead, as a supplement to The Graphic, this map focuses on just the river. It becomes a linear cartogram with some segments straightened and a lack of almost all other topographic detail except for places that directly border the river itself. It’s akin to some of the classic early strip maps used to map roads and it translates well to a river. The river becomes the central anchor to the two page spread and around it are beautifully illustrated vignettes – panoramic scenes of the towns, villages and natural scenery along the river.

Maps can omit so much and still be perfectly suited to telling the story of the form itself. Here, the river and only the river. It makes perfect sense to omit all else.

MapCarte 357/365: Great Polish Map of Scotland by Jan Tomasik, 1974-1979

MapCarte357_scotlandAs far as cartographic curiosities go, the creation of a large concrete scale model of Scotland has to be one of the most bizarre. All the more when you appreciate it was built by a Polish war veteran. The Great Polish Map of Scotland, or Mapa Scotland) measures 50m by 40m and is located in the grounds of Barony Castle Hotel in the village of Eddleston in Scotland. It was constructed between 1974 and 1979 and is arguably the world’s largest terrain model…which makes it’s design somewhat impressive.

MapCarte357_scotland2The map was conceived by General Maczek and Polish companions as a reminder of their part in the defence of Scotland and of Scotlands wartime hospitality during World War II. Maczek had a love of geography and so a giant relief model. The hotel had been used as a base for Polish forces during the war and some years later another Polish war veteran, Jan Tomasik, became owner and his friend, Maczek, stayed there subsequently. Tomasik had by this time set about restoring some of the water features in the grounds and he and Maczek set about creating the giant map.

There probably aren’t many maps made entirely out of concrete and which have water channels and pumps to surround it with fresh sea water. This was a monument on a monumental scale but which took Polish workers only a few weeks to build. The map is at a scale of 1:10,000 and has a 5x vertical exaggeration in line with the standard adopted by allied forces in WWII.

The map has fallen into disrepair though coupled with current owners De Vere hotels, the map is currently undergoing a restoration. You can see more about the map at the web site here.