Big in Japan!

Commission Chair Kenneth Field and Vice-Chair Ian Muehlenhaus attended the 29th International Cartographic Conference and 18th General Assembly in Tokyo, Japan, 15–20 July 2019.


They hosted half a dozen paper sessions with nearly 30 excellent papers on the themes of map design. The papers can be viewed either in full, or as abstracts here, along with all of the other papers presented at the conference:

Field and Muehlenhaus also organised and chaired the judging of the International Cartographic Exhibition which saw nearly 400 maps and map products of all types on display.


One of the products on display as part of the outcomes of the Commission on Map Design’s work in the period 2015-2019 was also recognised with an award. Cartography., authored by Kenneth Field won 1st place in the Educational Products category. We are particularly proud of this award given the Commission’s overarching terms of reference to help educate people in the craft of excellence in cartographic design. All 2019 awards can be seen on the main ICA website here.


After two terms as Chair of the Commission, Kenneth Field is stepping down and is replaced by Ian Muehlenhaus as the new Chair for the period 2019-2024. The Commission’s updated Terms of Reference for the period 2019-2024 were ratified at the General Assembly in Tokyo. Ken will continue to assist Ian as Vice-Chair. This change also means the Commission is now supported through the United States National Committee for the ICA after having been nominally under the United Kingdom Cartographic Committee under Ken’s stewardship.

Here’s Ian presenting a wonderful discussion on banal cartography at the conference…so, one thing’s for certain, you’ll not find any banal map design stuff here for the next four years at least 🙂 Congratulations Ian, and good luck in your new role as Chair of the ICA Commission on Map Design.


Cartography (full stop)

The Commission web site has been a little quiet recently, largely because my main focus has been in the completion of a major new book. I’m delighted to announce that Cartography. (Cartography, period OR Cartography, full stop) was published on June 28th by Esri Press and is available from all good online retailers. While not an official ICA publication it does bear the ICA logo due to the support received from many ICA friends and colleagues during its preparation. It therefore represents one of the main outputs from Commission members for the current period 2016-2019.

Making maps has progressed from filling empty spaces with mythical creatures to trying to unravel the complexities in data to present meaning with clarity. Cartography. sets out to demystify the discipline and promote the idea that thinking is key. Approaching mapmaking by thinking about what you want your map to say, how to build something meaningful from visual ingredients, how people read the graphical signage, and what emotions you want to spark is the magic needed to make a better map.

Data and the tools to make maps have become ubiquitous and so many more people are making maps. Technology has made the mapmaking task fast, simple, and reproducible but thinking what the technology is actually doing helps you make a better map. It is almost incomprehensible to understand how maps were made even 20 years ago. Automation has played a huge role in design and production but in some ways it may have led to a lack of appreciation of what goes into making a good map. Making a map fast does not necessarily lead to a great map.

Cartography doesn’t need to be hard and whilst there’s plenty of what might be called rules, these are just guidelines developed from decades of practice and people working out what works and why. Maps should be objective and have scientific rigor but there’s plenty of scope for creativity. Any design-led field sits at the intersection of science and art, and learning some of the rules means you’ll know when best to break them.

A lot of thought and experience has gone into making this book. It encapsulates the wisdom of many people who have taught me and from whom I have learnt. What I have tried to achieve is a translation of cartography from a specialist domain to one that builds a bridge between cartographer and mapmaker. I’ve tried to make the subject practical and valuable, not only as a reminder to professionals but as a companion to all who need to make a great map. We’ve all been beginners somewhere along our journey, and we’re all amateurs at some things. As a cartographic professional, I hope this supports people in their own cartographic journeys.

The book weighs in at 576 pages. There’s over 180,000 words, and 333 illustrations which mix classic and contemporary maps with original examples and illustrations. Over 100 organisations and individuals have contributed by giving permission for their work to be incorporated. Material is organized alphabetically, providing an accessible, encyclopedic approach rather than presented linearly as a traditional text book. The book, then, is a collection of not just my ideas but that of many, many experts in the wider cartographic, and allied fields. To that end, I believe it brings together the very brightest talent currently involved in both academic and commercial cartography to help me bring this book to life

The Bulletin of the Society of Cartographers has referred to it as a ‘game changing book’. Reviewer Christopher Wesson sums the book up: ‘What Kenneth Field has created here is a brilliant reference book on behalf of our field of cartography. Finally! A book that truly represents Cartography in 2018.’ But don’t take my word for it, you can read the review here. Once you’ve had a look, let me know what you think. I can be found on Twitter @kennethfield and I’m using the hashtag #cartographybook.

Cartography. Is available in softcover (ISBN: 9781589484399, 576 pages, US$94.99) and in hardcover (ISBN: 9781589485020, 576 pages, US$129.99). Both editions can be obtained from most online retailers worldwide. They are available for purchase at or by calling 1-800-447-9778. Outside the United States, visit for complete ordering options, or visit to contact your local Esri distributor. Interested retailers can contact Esri Press book distributor Ingram Publisher Services.


Some praise for the first edition:

“An Impressively creative and useful scholarly contribution.” – Mark Monmonier, author of How to Lie with Maps; Distinguished Professor of Geography, Syracuse University, NY.

“Read the book for pragmatic advice or to braden your horizon; for me, it did both.” – Menno-Jan Kraak, president of the International Cartographic Association (ICA); professor, University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands; author of Mapping Time and coauthor of Cartography, Visualization of Geospatial Data.

“What Kenneth Field has created here is a brilliant reference book on behalf of our field of cartography. Finally! A book that truly represents Cartography in 2018.” – Christopher Wesson, The Bulletin of the Society of Cartographers.

“This beautifully designed book, meant to inspire and lead by creative exemplars, illuminates well-grounded cartographic concepts in a way that emboldens you to implement ideas onto maps.” – Patrick J. Kennelly, Ph.D., professor of geography, Long Island University, NY

“This book actually makes me think that I should teach cartography again, now that there is a decent text” (Assc. Prof. Bernie Jenny, Monash University, Australia)

“I would accept this as a gift.” – Daniel Huffman (

“A work of substance and passion” – Colin Field (my brother)

“who’s going to buy that?” – Amelia Field (my niece)

“I’ve read a little bit and I’m impressed.” – Eleanor Field (my daughter)

“It’s incredible – an amazing publication” – Lauren Tierney (Washington Post)

“It’s not bad” and “a masterpiece” – Ian Sims (Esri, with British humour)

“a real gamechanger in the field” – Steve Chilton (Chair, Society of Cartographers)

“A bit big to take on a plane” – anon reviewer

“A work of creative scholarship, sort of like a painting hanging in a gallery—something about which one is reluctant to question the brush strokes or choice of colors. Art is supposed to make you think, and Ken’s book does that.” – anon reviewer

“a beautifully designed book that highlights important considerations for those interested in map making” – anon reviewer

“the structure is immensely satisfying. Dive as deep or as shallow as needed and in and out of topics as you please. Kudos.” – Warren Davison (via Twitter)

“This edition just blows my mind amazing!!” – Fernando Benitez (via Twitter)


Style Guide Submission template

Thank you for your interest in helping the ICA Commission on Map Design assemble its style guides! Our goal is to provide a series of “quick-start kits” that provide inspiration and examples for mapmakers looking to reference an existing aesthetic.

We need your help finding the materials from which to build these guides! If you have a style you’d like to propose, please submit the following details to A sample guide is provided here so you can see the sort of details we’re trying to collate.

Style Title
A clear, simple title will help people find what they’re looking for.

Style Introduction
A succinct statement of under 50 words that points out the key characteristics of the style.

Provide 3 to 5 adjectives which describe the style.

List 2 or 3 artists, cartographers, or graphic designers whose work demonstrates the style; this will help users of the style guide know where to search for further inspiration.

Map Examples
Attach (or provide links) to 2 or 3 existing maps which exemplify the style. If attaching files, provide full credit information.

Other Inspirations
Attach (or provide links) to 2 or 3 examples of other graphic art (posters, postcards, album covers, book jackets, etc.) which exemplify the style. If attaching files, provide full credit information.

List 3 typefaces which fit with the style. You might consider the typography used in the Map Examples & Other Inspirations sections as a starting point here. At least one of the typefaces should be freely available. Ideally, the three typefaces will show some range, rather than being very similar to each other.

Provide 3 colour palettes, each with 5 colors, that fit with the style. Again, these can be borrowed from the Map Examples & Other Inspirations sections.

Map Design Style Guides

Maps can be stylish. they can also lack style. Style, as in any art form can define fashions which can change over time. Some styles become timeless and some are fleeting. But how do we define this and, more importantly, how can we capture the essence of different styles to support the work of cartographers in general? We shouldn’t need to always begin with a blank canvas and search for coherent ideas.

Based on an original idea by Daniel Huffman, the ICA Commission on Map Design is picking up the baton to develop a crowd-sourced set of cartographic style guides. Each will bring together a set of ideas, examples and links to resources that will enable the reader to learn about and implement that style more easily in their own work. Why? Because the style guides will be based on expert knowledge and prior (c)art. What has gone before that works? How do different elements hang together? What colour palettes work? What fonts are best suited? How do I render my linework in a particular style?

This goes beyond simply colouring in a basemap but, instead, builds a portfolio of materials that can be used to create coherent, well-balanced and impactful maps. Imagine a set of materials that gave you a head start in creating a map in an Art Deco style…or a neon, firefly, steampunk, celtic, pop art aesthetic etc etc. How can we take design cues from art, furniture, architecture, film and build these out to apply to cartography? We’ve already seen examples of some of these styles, some we have yet to see. Bringing them together for the benefit of the wider community is the intent, and crowd-sourcing from the experts who have already thought this through will provide a remarkable set of materials.

During the latter part of 2016, Chair Kenneth Field will be presenting these ideas at a range of conferences. More details will emerge here over time as we define how the project will take shape.

Cartographic Summit: The future of Mapping


The International Cartographic Association and Esri are hoting an invite-only Cartographic Summit in Redlands, CA next week (8-10 Feb). Originally envisioned by ICA Immediate Past-President Georg Gartner and Esri President Jack Dangermond in Dresden during ICC 2014, the purpose is to support and enable discussion on how mapping is changing and what the challenges and opportunities are going forward. Current ICA President Menno-Jan Kraak will outline the shared vision on Day 1 followed by some terrific speakers and discussion.

ICA Map Design Commission Chair Kenneth Field and Vice-Chairs Ian Muehlenhaus and Damien Saunder will attend alongside a number of other Commissions to contribute to the discussions. They will also host a Map Design Commission networking event during the Summit.

Thought-leaders from a range of disciplines will come together to explore their perspectives and to contribute to this meeting. The event goes beyond cartographers talking to cartographers and involves people from academia, media, journalism, design, government and art. Shaping a future research agenda for cartography and establishing future needs from a wide range of people is crucial to building bridges across communities for which mapping (and cartography) are vital elements in enabling communication. Establishing changing needs and expectations is at the heart of a better understanding of how cartography should adapt over the coming years. From our perspective, design and design thinking is a crucial component of this going forward.

While the event itself is invite-only to provide a forum for discussion and sharing of ideas among the group of passionate people, the event acts as a springboard for wider dissemination and discussion. Blogs and a research paper will emerge from the event to support sharing of ideas and to promote further debate. To that end, the Monday and Tuesday are to be live streamed. Details for accessing the live stream:

Dates: February 8th and 9th
Live stream: details available via the agenda
Video link:
Password: carto.summ

After the event, videos of the main presentations will be available via the ICA web site.

MapCarte 370/365: A world of lotus, a world of harmony by Liao Zhi Yuan, 2015


Cartography has always been, in part, an artistic pursuit and in a world where many more maps are now made digitally we see a lot of bland cartography in design terms. Still, hand drawn maps inspire and have something very human about them. The marks of the pen and the shades of the colouring give the map character. Of course, when we’re growing up we routinely draw with pen and paper and the recent entries to the International Cartographic Association’s Barbara Petchenik children’s map competition evidence the imagination and artistry among the world’s youngsters.

This beautiful map from 15 year old Liao Zhi Yuan of China typifies not only a high level of artistry but also in interpretation and use of the map form. Pictorial maps often make heavy use of non-map imagery or combine elements to make up a map form. Here, the use of the aquatic lotus flower, reflecting cultural significance, forms the shape of the landmasses of the world map within an ornamental pond. It’s a simple yet effective idea that communicates a message of harmony using established symbolic visual metaphors. The map itself is a lovely piece of cartographic art and well drawn.

Of course, we don’t all have to have an artistic talent to make maps but if you’re going to make maps like these it certainly helps. It should also act more generally as an inspiration to think creatively and to aspire to make maps that are set apart from the rest.

The next four years

At the International Cartographic Conference recently held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the International Cartographic Association General Assembly voted to re-approve the Map Design Commission for the term 2015-2019. As part of the process, we presented the tangible outputs from the first four years of our collective efforts. We have met, and exceeded our original terms of reference. The following activities (with lead organizer or contributor in parentheses) highlight the work of the Commission to date:

  • Set up a new web site ( and Twitter account (@ICAMapDesign) (Field). At time of writing, 120 web site subscribers.
  • Themed session at the 2011 NACIS conference in Madison Wisconsin (Field, Oct 2011)
  • Co-organised (with ICA Commission on Cog. Viz.) two sessions at Association of American Geographers conference in New York (Field, Feb 2012)
  • Special Issue of The Cartographic Journal based on papers from AAG sessions in February (Griffin, Fabrikant & Kent eds, Nov 2012)
  • Field & Demaj two-part paper arising from Commission research published in The Cartographic Journal Vol 49.1 (subsequently won Henry Johns award for Best Paper in 2013)
  • Presentations at BCS Annual Symposium (Field, Kent Jul 2012)
  • Hosted paper session at GeoCart 2012 in Auckland, New Zealand (Field, Aug 2012)
  • Two-day pre-conference workshop ahead of GeoCart 2012 in Auckland, New Zealand focusing on thematic map design (Field, Aug 2012)
  • Hosted discussion meetings at Esri User Conferences (Field, July 2012, 2013, 2014)
  • One-day ‘Aesthetics of Mapping’ forum at NACIS conference in Portland, Oregon (Jenny, Oct 2012)
  • Series of three paper sessions on Map Design at Association of American Geographers conference in Los Angeles (Field & Turner, co-convened with Commission on NeoCartography, April 2013)
  • Special Issue of Cartographic Perspectives on Aesthetics in Mapping (edited by Jenny with lead article by Kent and further article by Kent, Field, Jenny & Hopfstock, No.73, 2012)
  • ICA Dresden pre-conference workshop (co-convened with ICA Commission on NeoCartography) (Field, Kent, Chilton, Turner Aug 2013)
  • Strong presence at ICC Dresden including paper sessions, business meetings. (Field, Kent, Jenny and Hopfstock all presented papers and chaired sessions, Aug 2013)
  • Organised, co-sponsored and managed the judging and awards for the FOSS4G Map Gallery, Nottingham (Field, Sep 2013)
  • Presentations at Society of Cartographers Summer School (Field, Kent, Chilton Sep 2013)
  • Lead article in GIM International tie-in with ICC Dresden (Field, Aug 2013)
  • MapCarte initiative: a daily blog highlighting and discussing great classic and contemporary cartography (Field, with some additional contributions by Kent, Demaj, Hopfstock, Jenny & others 2014)
  • Pinterest gallery of classic and contemporary cartography (com/icamapdesign/mapcarte) (Field, 2014)
  • Sponsored the world’s first ‘Mapathon’ at BCS Symposium (Field & Sharpe, Jun 2014)
  • Keynote address at GeoCart 2014, Auckland New Zealand (Field, Sep 2014)
  • Keynote at Society of Cartographers 50th Annual Summer School, Glasgow (Kent, Sep 2014)
  • Keynote address at IMIA (Americas) conference in Denver CO, USA (Field, Nov 2014)
  • Lead essay in NACIS Atlas of Design Volume 2 (Field, 2014)
  • Both Kenneth Field and Bernie Jenny have won multiple awards during the period for maps and work in map design including ICA Best Paper map Dresden 2013, BCS Special Commendation 2013, GeoCart 2014 People’s Choice, FOSS4G Best map and People’s Choice 2014
  • Co-hosted a series of paper sessions (with the Commission for Cog. Viz) at the AAG meeting in Chicago, April 2015 (Field, April 2015).
  • Co-organized a pre-conference workshop for ICC Rio 2015 as well as Commission members organizing paper sessions and giving papers (Field, Kent, Muehlenhaus, Aug 2015).

As we look forward to the second four years Bernie Jenny and Anja Hopfstock will be stepping down from their role as vice chairs of the Commission. Alex Kent will also step down as he is keen to pursue the development of a new ICA Commission on Topographic Mapping (approved at ICC 2015). We’re delighted to announce that Dr Ian Muehlenhaus (Geography Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison), who has been actively involved in a number of Commission activities, will become vice-chair for the period 2015-2019. Additionally, Damian Saunder (Esri Inc) will take on the role of vice-chair. Dr Kenneth Field will continue in the role of Chair of the Commission and records his thanks for the work Bernie, Anja and Alex put in to helping make the first four years such a successful one for the Commission.

The terms of reference for the period 2015-2019 will be:

  • To maintain, expand and improve the content on our web site and across our various social media platforms;
  • To add to the MapCarte initiative and develop the content into a book;
  • To prepare a major book that explores the interface of cartography, graphic and information design;
  • To take a leading role in the organization of awards at ICA conferences (at the request of the ICA Executive);
  • To organize sessions at ICA conferences in 2017 and 2019 focused on map design theory and practice;
  • To organize, sponsor or co-host Commission meetings either independent of or in conjunction with other cartographic events to promote map design discourse and practice;
  • To prepare one Special Issue of a leading journal of cartography to explore map design for new mapmakers; and
  • To collaborate with colleagues in other ICA Commissions as appropriate in complementary areas of interest.

Many of these initiatives are already underway. We’ve contributed in the region of 40 written entries to the new book ‘MAP’ by Phaidon Press. Ken and Damien are currently mid-way through writing a new text on cartography and MapCarte will continue as an occasional series.

If you have ideas, papers, blog entries, map critiques or, well, anything that relates to the role of design in cartography, that you wish to share through our web site then please get in touch with either myself, Ian or Damien. Similarly, if you are interested in the Commission sponsoring a workshop of small event focused on map design themes then get in touch!


The legacy of MapCarte

When we embarked upon our MapCarte series last year we wanted to inspire people with examples of beautiful, creative and well designed cartography. Showing people examples of quality was an attempt to counter the tsunami of poor mapping that passes across our digital devices daily. There’s no reason that a general public fascinated with maps can be expected to sift the quality from the quantity. MapCarte was our way of curating a set of maps of all genres that demonstrate the very best in map design. Curated by cartographers for everyone. While we cannot claim credit for a swing in the public desire for better mapping we’d like to think we’ve played a small part and some of the previous offenders are buying into the shift (e.g. here, here, and here for example). It’s what the Commission is designed to do…to promote quality in cartography and be an evangelist for work that showcases the very best in the art and science of map design.

The last year or so have seen the publication of a number of excellent books that perform a similar task. These include Jerry Brotton’s ‘Great Maps‘, Daniel Huffman and Sam Mathews’ ‘Atlas of Design Vol 2‘, Rose Mitchell and Andrew Janes’ ‘Maps: Their untold stories‘ and The Times History of the World in Maps. These all contribute to the canon of work that showcases, describes and promotes cartographic design. Commission Chair Kenneth Field contributed to the Atlas of Design with an introductory essay and to The Times’ publication with a discussion of Google Maps. Ken is also involved in his day job at Esri helping a wider team to curate an online gallery of maps that demonstrate the cartographic potential for people using Esri’s ArcGIS platform. The site’s called Maps We Love and while you may not love them all, it performs a parallel purpose to MapCarte. Indeed, the idea of Maps We Love was inspired by what we did with MapCarte more generally.

The trend of publishing collections or compilations of examples of good quality map design has also been implemented by many other mapping organisations and publishers continue their fascination with great cartography. There’s a new book on the market that continues this trend…’MAP‘ by Phaidon Press (published 28th September).

MAPKen was asked to contribute to this edited collection of 300 maps and this became a great opportunity to use the words we penned for MapCarte in a different way. Ken wrote descriptions for 23 of the maps alongside a huge team of contributors. Edited by John Hessler from the Map Division, U.S. Library of Congress, the maps are given space to shine in the 12″ by 10″ hardback book. Heavy duty paper literally adds weight to the tome and the text is kept to a minimum by simply identifying key characteristics or aspects of importance. Curated content is the key to this and other publications alike. It’s authoritative and provides a terrific window onto cartography and maps more generally. It also includes a timeline of the history of cartography, a glossary of useful cartographic terms and links to further reading.

Much like MapCarte the collection is eclectic and it’s fascinating to see there’s probably only an overlap of 100 or so maps between our own collection and the maps featured in MAP. This is to be expected…any collection of maps chosen by one group of people will include examples not selected by others. That’s part of the beauty and breadth of cartography. On reflection, yes, there’s probably some from MAP that we might have put in MapCarte but if you join the dots in all of the above collections there’s commonality as well as divergence. The simple fact is as a group of academics, practitioners and map experts we’re finally taking what we know to the general public. Taking responsibility to share some of what we know as cartographic experts is vital to informing people about map design. It’s also important that this drives their yearning to become smarter map-makers. Knowing a little of the cartographic design process allows people to better understand what they require for their own work, and how to discern quality from the plethora of rather uninspiring (or plain wrong) work out in our world.

It’s been tremendous to see how MapCarte has both inspired and sat alongside other similar projects. This can only support the dissemination of better mapping and help people to demand more of their maps. We’ll continue to publish infrequent MapCarte entries as and when the whim takes us…and as we look toward the culmination of our first 4 years as an ICA Commission we look forward to our second term.

MapCarte 369/365: Illustrated London by Mike Hall, 2011-present

MapCarte369_hallHigh quality linework and meticulous colouring give rise to clean cartography. In this age of web maps it’s good to see that illustrators still find value in crafting maps by hand to create one-off sheets. Mike Hall has been creating a series of maps of London’s Boroughs since 2011. This example of tower hamlets is an example of the skill with which he fashions beautiful, well balanced maps that combine detailed cartography with marginalia that harks back to historic maps.

The inclusion of crests, shields, illustrations and views of key places along with decorative borders and typography show mastery in layout that displays a keen sense of the importance of form as well as function. The map is intended to delight; to be seen and used as much as an artistic piece as a way of exploring the geography. Maps always did ‘fill in the gaps’ to create a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts and Hall brings the philosophy up to date with his creative cartography.

Each of the maps in the series riffs off particular themes or historical events from the Borough so each has a unique identity. As a set, they bring to life the rich variety of London’s landscapes as a tapestry of maps that reflect their very different characters.

Hall’s work goes beyond this series of maps. His isometric drawings and other map-based illustrations are equally impressive. Modern map-makers can certainly learn a few things about the art and craft of cartography by studying his work.

See this series of maps and Hall’s other work at his web site here.

MapCarte 368/365: PAC-MAN Google Maps by Google, 2015

MapCarte368_pacmanPAC-MAN Google Maps at Taj Mahal, India

Take a classic map and combine it with arguably the world’s most loved video arcade game PAC-MAN. Genius! We’ve highlighted the importance and design credentials of Google Maps in MapCarte already (MapCarte 116) but the ability of Google to take their platform and come up with imaginative ways for us to engage with maps knows no end. Of course, they’re no strangers to using their map as a basis for a game as their Cube game demonstrated in 2012 (MapCarte 90)

You navigate the maze of streets as PAC-MAN, consuming pac dots and other bonus items while avoiding Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde. The bonus items include the typical fruit icons from the original game but added are a Google Maps marker and Peg Man – nice touches. The game play is superb and very faithful to the original as you use cursor keys to move PAC-MAN around. They’ve even managed to get it working nicely on mobile devices using swipe gestures.

The re-styling of streets from Google Maps into the PAC-MAN maze is also faithful to the original with the dark background and neon blue maze structure being applied to street casings. It’s wuite simply a lovely re-imagination of the game and a fun way to repurpose the map to provide an entertainment medium.

Sadly, the game appears to be a temporary fixture for Google Maps but in marrying these two design greats they’ve proven that maps really can afford a template for all manner of purposes.

This video from C:NET illustrates the gameplay


Instructions to play Google Maps PAC-MAN are here.