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.