MapCarte 261/365: Skintland by The Economist, 2012

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

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 Glasgow, Edinburgh and the highlands have been replaced by Glasgone, Edinborrow and Highinterestlands.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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


MapCarte 255/365: Lifecycle by Thomas Yang (100 Copies), 2014


Maps are widely used as a basis for purely artistic endeavor. In this example, Thomas Yang has created a series of maps that are made out of bicycle components and then photographed. The components selected are used to denote the sort of features you’d see on a map – roads, buildings and physical features. His ability to make the map appear entirely plausible is down to the careful selection of the components that mimic different line weights and shapes, none of which would look out of place on a real map.


The planimetric map actually looks like a real map from a distance and you only see the components close up. The panoramic view makes excellent use of chain to represent contours, with cities rising above the landscape. Finally, the aspect of a cityscape is perhaps the least map-like but a beautiful image nevertheless.


A simple idea, well executed and which borrows heavily from the artistry of maps to provide a basis for a new art form. More details on the 100 Copies web site here.

MapCarte 254/365: Where Were You on Sept. 11, 2001? By New York Times, 2011


 Click above to view interactive map

It’s often the case that a map with lots of push-pins is considered pretty poor cartography. Most would recommend that the data ascribed to each point be summed, aggregated or reported differently. Sometimes, though, the point of the push-pins goes beyond cartographic purism. This map paints an emotional picture of the response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 and was published on the 10th anniversary as a way of reflecting on the events of the day. Contributors were encouraged to leave a message and to tag their pin with an emotion such as ‘angry’, ‘fearful’, ‘unmoved’, ‘secure’ or ‘hopeful’. Any attempt to look at the responses analytically and come up with a different cartographic representation would detract from the raw emotion.

The very point of this map is to lay bare the data. It’s points on a map that reflect individual reactions to the horror of the attacks. Each person’s contribution is no more or less than any other and so providing a place for the comments to live is the purpose and it needs no more cartographic finessing. This, then, might almost be considered a spatial book of condolence.

There have been hundreds of maps that paint a picture of the attacks showing the detail of the site, the plan of the attack, the social network of the terrorists and the reconstruction but none that simply uses a map to give people a place to share their words. Maps can be divisive and the harsh lines we place on them to demarcate territory often cause conflict. This shows us that they can also be a place for humanity and that brings people together irrespective of boundaries.

MapCarte 253/365: L’arsenal de l’apocalypse by Le Nouvel Observateur, 1991



There’s nothing like conflict to get the cartographic juices of newspaper, magazine and television media flowing. It almost seems to ignite a battle to present the most compelling map or information graphic; one that brings together as much useful information in one dramatic illustration. The art in this is to ensure that clarity remains and to avoid the temptation to over-dramatise or place too much on the map. This is a challenge for cartography generally, but for a map that accompanies a newspaper article which is there as a supporting component to the story, the requirement to be prudent is paramount. The map needs to attract the reader to spend a few moments. It is a complement to the report. It doesn’t need to tell the whole story but it needs to contain the essential facts.

This French example from early in the first Gulf War shows how the balance can be achieved. there’s a tremendous amount of detail yet it’s illustrated in a clear, unimpeded fashion. The tilted block diagram is almost apologetic as the shape of Iraq is laid out amongst simple shapes of water bodies and mountains. But it’s the firepower from above that the article is emphasising as layers of armoury, missiles and satellite technology pour over the landscape. Scale is irrelevant. This is about showing the blanket capabilities of the allies. The illustration of bombs dropping through a clean-cut hole in the sky and those fired from the warship in the gulf itself are clinical. The laser-red of the satellite monitoring gives us a sense of precision. Of course, war is anything but clinical, clean and precise but these sort of illustrations present us with a sanitised version that explains the technology being used.

The maps used in such graphics are merely the canvas upon which a story is told but they are the crucial element. Combined with high quality illustrations, media maps do a good job of putting maps in front of many thousands of people.

MapCarte 252/365: Advert by Holiday Inn, 1985



Maps are routinely used in advertising and they are normally used for one specific reason – to give the impression of just how far the phenomena being advertised has spread. We see numerous examples of maps that show us the spread of Starbucks or Walmart for instance and the map is really just a placeholder for the containment of thousands of points that we’re supposed to interpret as ‘they’re everywhere’. That may be true but sometimes advertisers use maps in far more inventive ways.

This 1985 advert for Holiday Inn gives us the same impression of national coverage. The use of the map of the United States and the imprint of the logo on the pool’s lining gives us the clear message that you can find a Holiday Inn in all corners of the country. But the advert goes further. The pool is sun-lit and inviting. It’s clean and welcoming with the parasols and chairs. The relaxing, carefree couple give us a sense of how we might expect our stay to be.

Of course, all of these messages vary between the blatant and the subliminal but they combine to give us a great graphic that does the job of advertising the brand. Maps can be extremely powerful tools in advertising but that also reminds us of the power they have in more mainstream cartographic use. People believe what they see. Maps are extremely good graphic devices to support a whole range of different messaging.

That said – I’ve never been to a Holiday Inn and seen one of these pools. Wouldn’t it be nice if they actually did exist!