MapCarte 304/365: They would not take me there by Michael Hermann and Margaret Pearce, 2008

MapCarte304_champlainMaps are used for a wide variety of purposes to show something of a place, to tell a story or perhaps even to provide an insight into our imaginations. They can also be used very effectively to augment other works and materials to bring something new to the table. In this example, Pearce and Hermann have created a map that traces the story of Samuel de Champlain’s journeys in New France in the early 17th Century. It’s an example of a literary geography being brought to life through cartography.

The layout contains a very stark representation of the area of the St Lawrence River and part of the Great Lakes. The otherwise empty space is then filled with a multitude of small insets containing additional maps which act as stages in the journey. The result is both a fairly flat overall image but which contains depth and detail that one begins to see as they enter and explore the map – just as you might a good story.

MapCarte304_champlain_detail1The map isn’t simply a collection of randomly placed map elements which the reader is somehow expected to piece together. The map itself enhances the story so that the travel and the story in the journal is given a spatial context through arrangement. The map provides an additional actor on the stage to give rise to a richer sense of the story as if Champlain is narrating the story through the map.

MapCarte304_champlain_detail2The design incorporates some elements that allow us to see different actors such as the native people’s thoughts and the map author’s comments which make the map an engaging commentary as well as a representation of the original journal. The conversations and incidents are brought alive through the map. Colour is also well played to give rise to an emotional response. Darker colours represents a more foreboding element to reinforce the narrative.

A great example of emotional and narrative cartography; of story telling and of using a map and all the visual stimuli of design to capture the imagination and to convey something more than the journal alone.

You can read more about the map from the author’s here and here and Daniel Huffman has written his own excellent critique here. Thanks to Daniel for suggesting this MapCarte entry.

MapCarte 303/365: London: The Information Capital by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti, 2014

MapCarte303_cheshire1This is likely to be the only entry in MapCarte that can claim to have achieved the standards of design and innovation required to be discussed herein before it’s even been published. This new book of 100 maps of London by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti is actually published today and having seen the pre-press material some weeks ago it was clear that one or two of the maps were special. Indeed, the more one saw of the work in the book, the more it became obvious this entry should celebrate the entire book rather than attempt to select one or two noteworthy examples. It’s an atlas of noteworthy examples and that’s a strong statement before all of the maps have been seen. Some accolade – but this is a book that contains some of the very best of modern cartography which sits at the intersection of information graphics, compelling storytelling and inspiring cartography.

MapCarte303_cheshire2This book is the collaboration of geographer and visual journalist. Geographer Cheshire has produced some fantastic previous work (featured in MapCarte 7) and here, he takes his keen eye for the interesting and obscure and translates the data into simple, clean yet imaginative maps with the help of Uberti. Self-described as a visual journalist, Uberti clearly knows how to shape a story using beautiful graphics. The combination works well and the team have produced a fantastic array of visual treats, each using different graphical approaches but without falling into the trap of making each map different just for the sake of making it different.

MapCarte303_cheshire7For any cartographer, the book contains a plethora of brave and rich design. The unique approaches taken to displaying the data bring something very different to the world of mapping. These are no ordinary thematic maps. They stretch the boundaries of convention and deliver works that engages not only our interest in the themes but our interest in how the design has been constructed and how it works. It’s a coffee table book for the average punter interested in a fascinating look at London but for anyone interested in cartography it offers something much more.

MapCarte303_cheshire8Maps showing the optimal route through the London Underground take the familiar and cast it in such a way that we immediately see the path. The map of football supporter territories is a patchwork of small raster cells. The map showing the number of passport holders in London by nationality brilliantly uses a symbolic round passport stamp as a proportional symbol that contains both label and number and also clusters using colour to represent continents. Overlaps do not matter. It’s a cartogram and the design works wonderfully.

MapCarte303_cheshire6Flow maps of Oyster card tap ins to represent commuter journeys, the distribution of entertainment by type as a strip of tickets and the arrangement of bar charts organised to represent the shape of inner and outer London all play with geography but retain the essential message.MapCarte303_cheshire5 MapCarte303_cheshire4Not all the graphics and map types are entirely original in the sense that it’s impossible to create 100 new map types. The treatment is original though; highly original. And the authors have also plundered the archives to resurrect and make fine use of some arguably under-used techniques like Chernof Faces and Coxcombs.

MapCarte303_cheshire3Altogether a superb illustration of the art of cartography. A masterful appreciation of data and the ability to distil it into meaningful and interesting maps. Each map offers up something new and interesting. They go beyond the mundane and create a portfolio of design to inspire and delight any map nerd and many more besides.

The authors ask interesting questions that they then translate into maps and take their inspiration for mapping the fascinating facts of London from previous pioneers of London mapping such as Harry Beck, Charles Booth and John Snow. It works. This book stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the very best in thematic mapping to paint a portrait of the city.

You can explore the book further at the web site here or via James Cheshire’s web site here.

MapCarte 302/365: The 2002 Australian Total Solar Eclipse by Fred Bruenjes, 2002

MapCarte302_eclipseThe normal way to set about making a map is to obtain some data that represents the shapes and features of the place you’re mapping and then to generalize, classify and symbolize it to suit your map. You then might overlay some thematic detail…again with heavy doses of processing to capture the essence of your message. You may add some textual components and all sorts of marginalia. WHat happens when you throw all of that out the window and approach the making of your map a different way. That’s exactly what Fre Breunjes did in this map of the 2002 Australian Total Solar Eclipse.

There’s no topographic detail, no thematic detail and no typography. There isn’t even a title! All of this accentuates the map rather than detract from it. Breunjes collected images of the solar eclipse at its maximum taken from various parts of Australia and mosaiced them into a grid of small multiples. A total solar eclipse will be observed as the Moon’s orbit passes between Earth and the Sun and if you are located somewhere near the middle of the shadow. Consequently, as the orbits move, a total solar eclipse will occur along a linear path. Either side of this path you’ll see a partial solar eclipse with less shadow the further away you are.

This beautiful map, then, doesn’t even map anything terrestrial, it maps an astronomical view from that location. The small multiples convey the amount of eclipse seen at each location and the grid of small multiples creates a quite spectacular pattern. Concentrating on the area near total eclipse you can see a variety of patterns that occur during the different phases of contact including the so-called Baily’s Beads and diamond ring effects.

You’d probably not teach a student of cartography to remove every conceivable element of a map in order to make a map yet this example proves that it’s possible. There’s absolutely no need for any other component (except perhaps a title but that’s part of the context in which Breunjes describes the map so it’s not totally absent).

You can see more detail of the maps and a version of the same approach for Africa at Breunjes web site here.

MapCarte 301/365: Berlin by Anon, Ca 1964

MapCarte301_berlinMaps have always been used as propagandist or persuasive documents. People’s implicit trust of a map works in favour of the map maker who may have a particular message to communicate either blatantly or subliminally. During times of conflict it’s also common to see maps used for political gain or to exaggerate either a threat or a relative success in battle to illustrate the threat or to garner support for the cause. The Cold War was no different and maps were produced by all parties that attempted to illustrate a situation to their benefit. Here, a map of Berlin that illustrates the wall, constructed in 1961, might be seen as showing the street network and various features but you don’t have to dig very far to see how the design supports the message.

It’s an illustrative map which in it’s own right brings a rather abstract aesthetic to the map which perhaps downplays the real situation. The map shapes the reality of the city with the main element, the wall itself, shown as a dominant wall of red brick slicing its way through the city. The map is planimetric yet the wall is isometric to emphasise it rising from the city, its very height being used to emphasise its function as a barrier. Gates are shown as narrow slices through the wall and in the western part of the map, barbed wire is shown as a further discouragement to anyone who may even think of attempting to get from east to west. Barbed wire encloses the edge of the Western part of the map to make clear the message.

MapCarte301_berlin_detailThe western side is populated with considerable detail whereas the east has very little features and few labels being marked simply as Area IV – East Berlin (which was the Soviet sector). Even the subway lines which are illustrated in detail in the west and which run through the east are shown with stations that are noted as ‘out of service’. The reality was somewhat different – you were not allowed to embark or alight at the stations. There’s even a sense of colour being used as part of the aesthetic with the map border being shown in the flag colours of black, yellow and red.

Of course, this map only tells one side of the story but shows how design can be used to support a particular message. Maps exist that were made for use in East Berlin that showed merely an empty space in the West – a clear message that there was nothing but a void and no particular reason to seek an escape.

MapCarte 300/365: Historical Atlas of Canada by University of Toronto Press, 1987-1993

MapCarte300_canadaAny atlas project will undoubtedly set out to chronicle a place in detail, attempting to leave no stone unturned in its quest to be a definitive, authoritative statement. Not many atlases actually achieve that almost unattainable level but the Historical Atlas of Canada does. Prepared as a three-volume set of print atlases and published between 1987 and 1993 the detail and execution is breathtaking. These are hand-drawn maps, each of which is a masterpiece in its own right but as a collection gives us a picture of the historical development of Canada that few other countries can similarly point to. The themes you would expect to be covered are all there, presented in rich plates with detail and attention to detail.

MapCarte300_canada1The complexity of creating an atlas like this which demonstrates not only a depth of scholarly activity but a craftsmanship of the highest order is mind boggling. Each map is somewhat innovative in its own way whether it be the use of insets that are used to magnify certain areas, or how smaller areas are sometimes greyed out while a larger version takes precedence, or how 2D is mixed with 3D gridded proportional symbols that aids our interpretation of magnitude. Each map brings something unique to cartography and as much as it acts as a record of Canadian history it should be used as a model of cartographic excellence too.

MapCarte300_canada2The atlas has latterly been made available as an online project and while there’s sense in this because it has the potential to reach many more people, the exquisite nature of the cartography and the way in which turning the pages allows you to interact with the maps in a human way is perhaps lost.

MapCarte300_canada3This is an elegant collection of maps deserving of the status of atlas. It’s a compendium of cartographic delights.

You can browse the online version here.



MapCarte 299/365: Oslo Haven by Norwegian Hydrographic Service, 2011

MapCarte299_osloMaps or charts? What’s the difference? Maps tend to show representations of land forms whereas a chart represents the same detail with much greater precision. The reasons are down to the different uses we make of charts, being predominantly for navigation as a working document where the requirement is to plot a course. The need for greater detail and precision of coastlines, obstacles and perhaps hidden obstructions is critical for navigators at sea. Similarly, aeronautical charts also plot very specific details of landscapes in order for aircraft pilots to navigate safely. There simply isn’t the need for such detail on a standard topographic map.

MapCarte299_oslo_detail2Not all charts are created equally though and while the focus for a nautical chart is on the detail at sea that doesn’t mean you can ignore the representation of the land. Getting the balance right on a nautical chart with a limited palette of colours and certain conventions is a challenge but one which the Norwegian Hydrographic Service accomplishes. Here, their 2011 chart of Oslo Harbour demonstrates the clarity they bring to the plotting of detail. The subtle use of blues gives just enough bathymetric information at a glance but there’s a lot of white on the map that gives contrast to the spot depth and other information.

MapCarte299_oslo_detail1They pay particular attention to the land and make use of a palette of buff and sandy colours that give just enough contrast but which doesn’t swamp the map. In this way they have designed the land to complement and not overshadow the main purpose of the map. The linework is crisp and clear and illustrates the best of chart design and production.

MapCarte 298/365: Pin map by multiple people, date unknown


This is a somewhat abstract MapCarte entry in the sense that it doesn’t relate to a specific map, in a specific place or by anyone specific. It’s the sort of map you might find all over the world in various places, made by unknown contributors and whose purpose is also undefined. The physical map of the world, placed on a wall, complete with many map pins stuck in them is a wonderful object and a beautiful piece of collective, cumulative and collaborative design.

Usually found in cafes and coffee shops as a way to demonstrate how such a vendor has a worldly reach, the maps go beyond that objective. They are a physical collection of people, represented in space. The fact that each map pin exhibits a colour suggests a classification of type that simply doesn’t exist. On a conventional map such rainbow colours would cause concern but there’s something unquestioned about the random collection of colours that are positioned across the map.

MapCarte298_pinmap_detailOf course, the areas with densely positioned pins are inevitably those nearest the vendor but that in itself creates a wonderful pattern as people squeeze their contribution onto the map.

Ultimately, these are frivolous maps but which bring delight. We enjoy looking at the maps, each one different yet strangely uniform because they simply show us where people live. In a world of digital cartography it’s pleasing that these personalized renderings still exist. They bring character to many walls and allow us to interact with the map itself, leaving a small mark of where we’ve been to add to those of where everyone is from.


MapCarte 297/365: Canterbury Plains by Irvine International Carpets, 2014

MapCarte297_canterbury1Maps appear in the most unusual places. Our endless fascination with the patterns made by the natural and human landscape are often transferred to all manner of material and used for a wide range of purposes. I saw this example on a recent journey through Canterbury airport, New Zealand. As I wandered through the departure area I naturally thought the patterns on the carpet looked like a map then when you look at the vast expanse rolled out in front of you it becomes obvious it is a map. You are literally walking across a giant abstract map of the Canterbury Plains.

MapCarte297_canterbury4The purpose was to provide visitors to the area with a lasting taste of South Island that mirrored the spectacular views of the Southern Alps from the lounge itself. The carpet has been designed to show the patchwork agricultural shapes of the plains juxtaposed with the rising mountainscape. Satellite imagery was used to re-create the landscape and the carpet is actually a fair representation of the region from Ashburton across the Alps.

MapCarte297_canterbury2In a project such as this it’s as crucial to apply basic tenets of design and omission of extraneous detail such as river beds and buildings enabled the patchwork landscape to emerge. The large textured blocks of colour simulate different crop types to create a dramatic impression. Further, the earth tones actually creates a calming impression in an otherwise hectic environment. As the aircraft takes off you see the landscape for real.

MapCarte297_canterbury3Not so much MapCarte as Map Carpet…with form, material and purpose that takes it beyond a simple artistic endeavour to one that genuinely had intent to create a cartographic experience. On a personal note…I was possibly the only person wandering the lounge taking copious photographs of the floor but I make no apology.


MapCarte 296/365: View of the World from 9th Avenue by Saul Steinberg, 1976


Maps make very evocative and attractive covers for books, magazines and pretty much anything! Done well, they can add a sense of place to say something of the content within. Their composition, density of detail, colours and style often speaks to the audience and will go a large way to attract them to the product. They can be overt marketing tools or they can simply be pleasing on the eye and only later become remembered as something rather unique.

This 1976 cover of The New Yorker is probably instantly recognisable because it holds this special status as a widely viewed ‘classic’ magazine cover. Drawn by Saul Steinberg, the drawing shows the view of the rest of the world from Manhattan (or perhaps an outsiders’ view of New Yorkers’ self image). Unremarkable? Not really. Here is a statement of Manhattan being seen as the centre of the world. It suggests this is the view of the world shared by New Yorkers who know the detail of the centre of their city, just about get to the Hudson River and then see nothing but a vast, rather empty Jersey beyond which is nothing except the Pacific Ocean and China, Japan and Russia on the horizon.

MapCarte296_newyorker_detailIt’s a wonderful illustration that mixes architectural clean lines with typeography that seems an afterthought yet helps the sense of perspective. Steinberg drew many covers and illustrations for The New Yorker of which this is by far the most famous. The proportions of the page used for Manhattan vs the rest of the world and the width of the Hudson River compared with the Pacific are not accidental. The rest of the world is shown about the size of three city blocks. The Pacific is narrower than the Hudson. The ‘Jersey’ label is shown in bold compared to the rest of the labels beyond the river. These are very deliberate design decisions that reinforce the overall message. They are subtle ways in which as an artist Steinberg can shape the way people view the map and form their image.

This is also how cartographers can shape their work with subtle modifications to the design, placement and style of map elements that promote, demote and reinforce a message.


MapCarte 295/365: 7.5 minute Quadrangle sheets by USGS, 1945-1992


National Mapping Authority topographic map series have been the bread and butter of many nations. Each has developed a unique style and brought a particular sense of design to their map sheets. Many of us have grown up with a love of our own national maps having used them in school and on holidays. They become familiar and known. We understand the symbology, the scales and the look and feel they bring to our understanding and appreciation of the environment. We featured one such mapping series by Great Britain’s NMA, Ordnance Survey, in MapCarte 30. Here we focus on the famous quadrangle maps from the United States, specifically the large-scale 7.5 minute series.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) largest (in terms of scale and quantity) and best-known map series is the 7.5-minute or 1:24,000 quadrangle series.  The scale is unique in national mapping being related to the measurement of 1 inch to 2000 feet.  Each of nearly 57,000 maps is bounded by two lines of latitude and longitude covering 64 square miles in southern latitudes but, due to convergence of meridians, only 49 square miles in northern latitudes.  The specification has been applied to many other geographies that the US mapped during military operations which demonstrates a high level of flexibility and versatility in the design.


The example we show here is the Alton Quadrangle (195) that covers part of the Ohio River on the Indiana/Kentucky border. It shows the balanced composition of the sheets perfectly as it encompases considerable elevation change depicted with the signature orange-brown contours as well as the forestry and water bodies.

MapCarte295_quad7_5_detailAs a brand, the series is instantly recognizable and successful.  The content serves both civilian and military purposes and supports varied usage.  Marginalia is well structured and complex information delivered in a succinct, well organised manner.  The series was officially completed in 1992 and while The National Map ( represents a new generation of digital products the impact of the originals persists with new maps arranged in the 7.5-minute quadrangle format as well as retaining the same look and feel.