There was a time not so long ago when newspapers included simple yet dramatic illustrations, often that incorporated maps. That’s not to say that such work doesn’t still exist but it tends to encompass larger scale projects. What perhaps has not changed is the drama that a media illustrator often brings to the subject. Of course, this is by design not only to capture attention but also to perhaps enforce an editorial perspective.
Here is a lovely example of a black and white newspapre graphic (dare we say infographic?) from 1982 by The Sunday Times of London. The Falklands War between Great Britain and Argentina was underway and the British Navy and Military were on their way to battle. This map flips the map to a transverse perspective to fit a horizontal layout. Argentina is at the top – seemingly overbearing as an oppressor, emerging from a dark backdrop. The bottom half shows an ocean in perspective with a foreboding British submarine making a hasty route to the islands. The arrows from Argentina reinforce the invasion. The islands are stuck in the middle!
This is propaganidist cartography. Subtle but effective at rallying the Telegraph’s right-wing readership who file in behind the advancing submarine. Such maps and illustrations had to be rapidly produced but they were often highly dramatic. They told not only the story of where, but were imbued with layers of additional imagery and meaning.
It’s doubtful any collection of cartographic design would be complete without some reference to Marshall Island stick charts. They represent perhaps one of the finest examples of form and function in map design. These navigation charts represent a system of ocean swells and the way in which islands disrupted the swells. They allowed the Marshallese to paddle by canoe between islands using these maps to aid their choice of route.
The charts were made of coconut fronds tied together to create a framework that represented the predominant direction of wave crests. Islands were represented by shells tied to the framework. Of course, there was no uniform system of design or construction but these were an early form of personalised mapping. The map-maker knew the ebb and flow of the seas and created a physical representation of their mental map.
Ironically, though the materials were perfectly suited to the wet conditions, being entirely waterproof, they were not used en route. They were more commonly consulted prior to a journey and committed to memory, with the canoeist laying in their vessel to understand how it was interacting with the swells to determine their course.
Map-making doesn’t have to be complex. Simple tools. Simple representations and a single, uncluttered theme. These charts are the epitome of cartographic simplification. All unwarranted detail is omitted. their form suits their function perfectly.
Given some of the difficulties we seem to have in mapping our own planet, it’s a surprise that we are even able to make maps of other planets in the Solar System. But planetary cartography is a vibrant and thriving activity for many scientists and map-makers. The maps derived from telescopic survey or from radar, ground rovers, deep space craft and satellites gives the planetary cartographer data from which to make their maps. Such maps are normally of the topography or geology.
Venus is the closest planet to Earth but it’s still 162 million miles away. Put another way it’s about the same distance as 50,000 journeys from London to New York.. It’s amazing we can even make a map but not only that, they are beautiful.
Because the maps are predominantly dealing with geology and surface characterisitcs the maps tend to take on the style of a typically earthly geologic map yet the colours vary. they are richer, more saturated and – perhaps a little more un-earthly! Many maps of other planets are simply beautiful abstract works of art. This example is of the northern hemisphere of Venus by USGS using data predominantly from the Russian Venera 15 and 16 orbiters. Colours correspond to discrete features like volcanoes (reds/pinks) and plains (yellows/greens).
Artistic cartography but some of the most scientifically derived. Large versions of this map can be seen on the USGS web site here. Many more can be seen on the Lunar and Planetary Institute web site here.
One of the problems of having an unequally shaped planet, divided by both physical and human borders, for cartographers is how to map it consistently. Individuals, nations and organisations have prepared thousands of different ways of maping based on different projections, datums and coordinate systems. That makes it difficult when moving across the planet and wanting to use a uniform set of mid-large scale maps.
German geographer Albrecht Penck was a proponent of the need for consistent and accurate maps that covered the entire planet. In 1891 he proposed a worldwide system of maps. The International Map of the World would consist of 2,500 maps, each at 1:1,000,000 and representing 4 degrees of latitude and 6 degrees of longitude. Perfect! His schema can be seen in the map above.
In 1913, Penck’s idea came to fruition at a conference to establish standards and symbology. Decisions were taken on use of the Roman alphabet, colours, linework and topographic representation. Unfortunately the idea never really took off despite the ingenious design. With each country responsible for its own mapping it was impossible to coordinate or expect the requisite surveys to be undertaken. By 1914 only 8 maps had been produced following the schema. By 1945 405 sheets had been produced but only half followed the schema and despite being an early adopter, the United States soon decided to go it alone.
The following examples from Bartholomews shows their 1910 proof of the concept that they produced under direction from the International Map Committee. The map sheet specifications and legends are included as a template.
Cartography can be many things to many people. This project was designed to be educational, edifying and philanthropic – a consistent international map of the world for the good of humanity. History shows us it never materialised.
MapCarte tends to feature the work of adults principally because maps created by children generally do not exhibit a strong design philosophy. But children’s maps can have a certain aesthetic all of their own due to the simplicity of the graphics and often unwieldy use of lines and colours. Then there are the maps made by children that provoke thought, perhaps not designed intentionally to do so but which catapult them into our consciousness.
This map by eleven year old Fritz Freudenheim was drawn in 1938. His family escaped Berlin in the late 1930s and this map documents their journey, their homes and the various locations they went along the way. The title says it all – From the old homeland to the new homeland. Germany is the largest European country on his map as you’d expect. It’s a mental map and a picture of the familiar. They reach Hamburg, the main export for fortunate Jewish emigrants. They board the Jamaique and travel via Belgium, France and Portugal. Africa is a brief stopping point but drawn small with only Morocco labelled. They eventually reach Uruguay, their final destination and South America is shown in bright colours, relatively well defined, yet detached from North America.
Mental maps and, children’s mental maps often bring us cartographic treasures. This map, though a tragic pictorial description of escape from oppression shows how illustrating the plight of one person or family can give us a sense of empathy that perhaps mapping hundreds of thousands using aggregate statistics cannot.
While perhaps unintentional this is a well designed map. The familiar is drawn as important, the unfamiliar smaller and less detailed. The layout works well and the linear story is clear and unambiguous.
The form of a map goes a long way to defining whether it is well designed but rarely is a well designed map devoid of function. The balance between the two is likely harmonious if we see beauty in the form and function. Sometimes the simplicity of the function defines the form itself and beauty is derived largely from how the map is designed to work. This is certainly true of the Carte Pisane, the world’s oldest known portolan chart. Derived from the Italian word Portolano, or port, this map is designed to allow mariners to navigate between coastal settlements.
Their construction is simple, being based on the use circles, lines and grids with numerous compass directions. Coastlines and names were added according to known compass directions so the map’s appearance is strictly according to the knowledge of compass and wind direction between two ports. It’s a simple and ingenious approach to making a map to support one function – getting from A to B by sea. The shape of a coastline was accentuated by labelling the ports at 90 degrees to the coastline.
There is little need for any interior geography and the commercial importance of various trading regions is clear given the relatively poor shape and detail of the British Isles.
History can teach us much about map design. The portolan chart and Carte Pisane are exquisite examples of early map-making.
Maps don’t have to look like maps though the further they veer from what we see as a traditional conceptualisation of space, the more people think of them in a different way. Terms such as diagram or infographic are commonly applied to maps that people don’t feel are worthy of the title ‘map’. Even Beck’s fantastic map of the London Underground polarises opinion with as many considering it a diagram.
Stanford Kay’s effort in mapping carbon emissions almost certainly fits this mould. The metaphor is immediate as the shape of two footprints is a wonderful way of exploring the cost of our carbon footprint. The feet are made up of proportional circles showing the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per country. It’s a Dorling cartogram but it’s not entirely devoid of spatiality. The symbols are organised into broad regional areas so you get a sense of how different contries compare on a regional basis by simply recognising the colours. International comparison comes through exploring the different sized symbols and their labels.
Certainly this is at the heavily stylized end of the cartographic spectrum but it maps data represented spatially. The left foot shows us totals and the right foot reorganises the data per capita so we get two feet, each of which shows us a different aspect. Text is fairly limited but a nice touch is the linking of the countries labelled in list form with the symbols of the circles themselves.
The traditional shape of the outlines of projected countries gives way to a more powerful aesthetic. It’s a beautifully organised piece of work.We shouldn’t be afraid to make maps that use strong visual metaphors.
As it is colloquially known, he Minard map was published in 1869 on the subject of Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign of 1812. French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard’s maps and graphics are often cited among the best in information design and this is perhaps the most famous of his works.
The schematic flow approach of this statistical graphic, which is also a map, displays 6 separate variables in a single two-dimensional image: geography, time, temperature, the course and direction of the army’s movement, and the number of troops remaining. The map has been described as one of the most complete statistical maps of all time by Edward Tufte and it’s rare to find a list of classic maps that argues with this commendation.
It is superbly clear in its representation using only two colours with black emphasizing the death toll on the retreat. The horrific human cost is the story of the map as Napoleon entered Russia with 442,000 men and returned with barely 10,000 which included some 6,000 that had rejoined from the north, symbolized as 1mm of line width to 10,000 men. The geography of the battles are marked and the temperature shown across the bottom supports interpretation.
Napoleon underestimated the vastness of Russia and the inhospitable winters. Minard exquisitely mapped the total disaster.
Web maps used to offer little more than the ability to drop a few (thousand) digital push pins onto a pre-defined base map. They rarely suited the purpose yet deman for better maps and the ability to do more with a web map has led to quite a revolution. In only a few short years we’ve gone from having to use canned base maps and symbols and even map types to a wide range of possibilities. It’s now possible to configure pretty much any aspect of your map, be it designing a novel backdrop through restyling options, using bespoke symbology, to leveraging technology to create something entirely new. This rich canvas is being exploited by those who are able to push the boundaries; both cartographers and others who simply want to play with maps, map data or present their ideas spatially in an innocative, fresh way.
Here, Eleanor Lutz provides a great example of the way in which you can re-style OpenStreetMap data, through MapBox, to create a unique map. Space Station Earth harks back to classic viseo games as you hover and fly over a space-themed landscape. The geographies are familiar but the symbology is entirely re-designed. Some names have been changed to give the impression they’re space colonies (e.g. Paris Colony), custom textures are applied throughout and linework for roads and building outlines give us a meatllic, chrome-inspired world. Oversize markers simulate lights with a hazy glow in the depths of dark space.
Water becomes space itself so that land masses seem like artificial space-stations floating in a galaxy. The metaphor of space becoming the water than isolates different land masses works well. The depth and texture Lutz builds into her map within a map scale and between map scales is superb and demonstrates the essence of contrast and hierarchy in map design.
While for demonstration purposes, the map inspires and shows how far we’ve come in a short space of time in terms of designing maps on the web.
You can see the full Space Station Earth map here.
Until recently, the Klencke Atlas was renowned as being the largest atlas in the world (a title now taken by Millenium House’s Platinum Earth atlas) but size alone would not necessarily get the work into a list of great maps. The atlas was presented to Charles II in 1660 by a consortium of Amsterdam merchants led by Johannes Klencke. The 41 maps it contains are largely the work of Joan Blaeu, a master of the Dutch Golden Age of Cartography.
The atlas was conceived, likely by Johan Maurits, Duke of Nassau-Siegen, as an enormous book containing maps of the world and its heavens. It was to collectively contain the world’s knowledge. For that, a truly large atlas was born but it is the maps it contains that make the cartography so enthralling.
Blaeu’s work was meticulous, detailed and of a consistently high quality. His maps are all works of art in their own right and symbolic of the artistry of the Dutch cartographers and engravers of the time. The Klencke atlas is not merely an over-sized book and contains very little white space. Each map fills the large sheets in detail and the borders contain numerous illustrations of cityscapes and persons. Even the seas and oceans are adorned with sailing ships representing exploration and discovery.
A large, beautiful and historic atlas that represents a golden age of map-making. The atlas is large but it’s impressive cartography too.