MapCarte 12/365: Battle of Gettysburg by Esri, 2013


 Click image to view the online web map

The use of preconfigured templates has become one way in which people can author their content as a web map and Esri’s Story maps team has developed a range of approaches that allow people to apply different design metaphors to their work depending on how they would like readers to interact. Here, the Battle of Gettysburg uses a modified template to use the screen in different but complementary ways. The map takes up the main area and is populated by a textured basemap with light colours to act as a background. The highly saturated symbols sitting atop work well by contrast. A timeline down the central area allows people to navigate to key events which are then described in the vertical panel to the left.

Content is rich and immersive and combines a range of media including animated point-of-view panoramas. The links between the panels are clear and unambiguous and there are sensible hover events that provided added context when exploring the map. The marginalia are hidden until opened and there is the ability to switch the map for a satellite view to see the area as it exists today. A simple and effective interface to tell the story of the battle.

MapCarte 11/365: Immigration Explorer by New York Times, 2009


Click image to view the online web map

Beginning with a clear story, user controls allow effortless mining of layers of information across an unobtrusive colour palette with sensibly deployed pop-ups.  The temporal dimension can be explored and the switching between choropleth and proportional symbol maps perfectly marries the map type to the data. Users can select variables and modify their depiction such as changing the relative size of symbols to make the best use of screen size. Using terms like ‘bubbles’, rather than ‘proportional symbols’, simplifies terminology so it makes sense for the average reader.  A simple, neutral basemap supports the overlay detail and zooming is enabled but not beyond levels not supported by the data.  Symbology is transparent, allowing overlapping symbols and base map detail to remain visible.  Fine white outlines around only those symbols that overlap, subtle halos and abbreviated labels at small scales which switch to full names at large scale are examples of a high attention to detail.  This is a well-crafted web map that perfectly blends form with function using the medium appropriately. The devil is always in the detail and it is the details NYT Graphics get right time after time.

MapCarte 10/365: Tongariro National Park by Geographx, 2013


 Click here to view an online zoomable version.

A large format poster provides the media for this map proving that size sometimes does matter in cartography. Sure, this could be presented on the web but the impact would not be as impressive. Sometimes a map deserves space and to be seen in its entirity at once (the irony here being we’re referencing an online version!).

Geographx have become masters at creating 3D maps based on plan oblique and orthographic oblique projections that create a pleasing end product free from some of the distortions the more usual perspective view creates. The techniques create parallel projection lines and places the viewpoint at infinity. Crucially, they allow features in the landscape to remain figural and work particularly well in mountainous regions. Additionally, the photo-realistic textures and colours used give us a sense of place and the natural beauty of the landscape which is used to great effect here to highlight the snow covered slopes of Mounts Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. The addition of more traditional topographic content (vector lines, point symbols and labels) allows it to go beyond merely the artistic and also serve well as a reference map.

MapCarte 9/365: Country Codes of the World by John Yunker, 2008


A map of the world’s top level country code domain names (as of 2008) that efficiently captures a number of pieces of information using some simple cartographic approaches. Locational information is encoded simply through the positioning of each label in the centre of the territory it relates to. There are no lines or boundaries on the map but because of the use of the label in this way we see the familiar shape of the world emerge. The sizing of labels helps this by varying according to relative population totals…with a contraction of China and India to enable them to fit the layout and a grouping of those countries under 10 million residents to avoid infinitesimally small type. The result is a proportional symbol map of population that uses text as both a literal and a scalable symbol. Colour is used to good effect to identify continents and as a visual link to the legend. Simple and abstract concept and a good example of the genre of maps whose form relies heavily on typography.

The map is available to buy as a high quality print here.

MapCarte 8/365: The Next Big Spill by Lauri Vanhala, 2013

Beautiful production on this video of marine traffic in The Baltic Sea gives the map a cinematic quality. The map is the main actor but the supporting cast of captions makes it easy to understand. The map provokes a questioning approach to what you’re seeing as the story unfolds. The zooming, panning and soft-focus gives the map a strong aesthetic and the use of a sensible soundscape adds to the atmosphere.

This map goes beyond simply animating data and expecting the viewer to figure out what’s going on. It asks a question in the title, builds expectation with a series of statements before the map is revealed. A sensible use of satellite imagery to provide the basemap and because of the dark background, highly saturated colour is used to great effect for emphasising the marine traffic colour coded by type.

it would have been easy to speed up the animation like so many online maps of temporal data but the slow speed adds to the overall impact.

MapCarte 7/365: Population Lines by James Cheshire, 2013


 Global population density drawn as horizontal lines…almost like a cardiograph of the pulse of the world’s populus. Not the first map of population that’s ever been made but a compelling, alternative and fresh approach. A map that is also a piece of art and the beauty of its design lies in its simplicity with colour used sparingly and for emphasis. There’s an attention to detail that most will overlook that makes this so pleasing to view. The thickness of line varies to show populated vs non populated areas and although there’s no coastline plotted the coastal emphasis of populated space gives the map its familiar shape. The lines peak to show size of a populated place as a plan oblique vertical graph. Design is implicit. At the time of writing James is selling these as fine art prints.

MapCarte 6/365: British Coal Exports by Charles Minard, 1864


 Charles Joseph Minard, French engineer and maker of maps (not a professional cartographer though) produced many memorable statistical maps. He can reasonably be described as one of the earliest thematic cartographers with a particular interest in plotting the quantity of a phenomena and its movement. Here, he created a distributive flow line map that shows the export of coal from Great Britain represented by line thickness. Each millimeter represents 20,000 tons of coal and as the lines branch off to different ports the ongoing line becomes thinner.

Lines are annotated with actual tonnage and there is a useful graph showing the eventual use of British coal that complements the overall page and tells a richer story than the mapped data alone. Minard’s use of colour is key to the success of the work. Light water, darker land and a contrasting colour for the figural flowlines. Simple and effective. Of course, the flowlines aren’t precise routes but that accuracy is unwarranted on a map such as this where the overall pattern of flow and trade is effectively communicated by a heavily generalised approach.

MapCarte 5/365: NYCHenge by Andrew Hill, 2013


Click image to view the online web map

The Manhattan Solstice occurs twice a year when the setting sun aligns perfectly with the east-west street grid in New York City. This web map could not be any simpler but it captures the phenomena perfectly. Intuitive, interactive controls and a great use of colour allow viewers to explore the way in which the sun splashes across the city throughout the year. The minimalist approach simply places the linear symbols for sunlight across a dark background basemap. There’s no extraneous detail at all. The control of the sun angle can be moved by the map user creating a way to interact with the data to see how it shapes up across a year. Temporal data, perfectly represented with expert use of colour and contrast and a great example of using the web map medium to make a map that couldn’t be produced in other ways to the same effect.

MapCarte 4/365: Europe by Al Lorenz, 1985


Al Lorenz’s maps and illustrations are always fun as he blows scale out of the mapping equation. His many works tend to tilt the map object and then add a curved horizon to create a curved perspective. The foreground is almost planimetric but the background disappears over a false horizon. The map is blocky as if emerging from the water with vertical cliffs and the detail is incredibly intricate as key buildings are dropped onto the landscape. The architectural detail is impressive and provides a great example not only of the panoramic and illustrative map form but also of the principle that detail often provides the interest in a map. You’ll struggle to find many of his works online but some can be viewed through his web site.

MapCarte 3/365: Map by Jasper Johns, 1961


Putting the art squarely into cartography, here Jasper Johns adds to his use of easily recognisable images as a basis for his work by using the map of the United States.  It’s a colourful celebration of both America and the map and which hangs in the MoMA in New York. Johns intent was for viewers to already know an image well enough that they simply ‘see it’ without having to look or examine in depth. This, of course, is one of the fundamental aspects of map design – to create a product whose design is implicit rather than explicit so the map reader doesn’t need to work hard to get the meaning. This example is an imaginary piece that we can use as a metaphor for the abstract nature of mapping itself. Colourful and playful; interesting and immersive.