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.

MapCarte 2/365: Wind Map by, 2012


Click image to view the online web map

Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg (, put together this wind map to illustrate wind patterns for the U.S. It’s as much an art project as it is a mapping effort but the lack of colour, clean UI and efficient interactivity makes this a modern classic. It spawned a more recent global example, Earth Wind Map by Cameron Beccario, but this was the first that used fine resolution animated lines to clearly connotate wind strength and direction. Great pan, zoom and hover controls and an animated legend add to the overall quality.

MapCarte 1/365: London Underground Pocket Railways map by Harry Beck, 1933


A predictable start for the MapCarte series but let’s get it out the way…my personal favourite. A schematic diagram was Beck’s solution by which to map the London underground for navigation.  It’s a simplified and heavily generalised map consisting of stations, colour-coded straight line segments which run vertically, horizontally or at 45 degree diagonals.  Ordinary stations are differentiated from interchanges; the central area is exaggerated and external areas contracted.  The map shows no relationship to above ground geography other than the River Thames.  The same approach is still in use today by Transport for London, though the map has gone through countless revisions and design changes the core characteristics remain. Beauty in simplicity and a model for many transport related maps to this day.

Announcing MapCarte

In 2014 we will be publishing a short daily blog post titled ‘MapCarte’ to showcase examples of map design that we feel represent some of the very best in classic and contemporary cartography.  The intent is to build a repository of 365 maps that cover the breadth of cartographic practice to illustrate and emphasize the importance of map design. We believe there is no other similar repository.

By the end of the year we will have created a compendium that can act as a reference for high quality map design.  Some of the maps you’ll have seen before…some possibly not. We’ll include both traditional print cartography and the very best that the internet has to offer. Each map will be illustrated and accompanied by a brief comment or two on why we feel the map exhibits great design.

Hopefully the maps we’ll showcase will provide a barometer for modern map making, inspiration for those who seek ideas for how to map their data and also to improve the public’s appreciation of and demand for quality in maps.