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.
Ollie O’Brien (@oobr) has been making maps of the data produced by use of the London Barclays Cycle Hire bikeshare scheme since its launch. He’s produced a number of inspiring and beautifully designed maps including an interactive, detailed one featured in MapCarte 28. This, perhaps, represents the opposite in design terms.
O’Brien doesn’t do anything particularly innovative in terms of the thematic mapping but what he does do, he does well and as a static map the visual impression is a powerful one. The map illustrates the volume of bikeshare use based on a year of data from February 2012 to January 2013. The routes mapped are those which are the most likely between paired bike stations (origin and destination) and the line is proportional to volume – a typical way of showing quantity of flow along a linear route. It’s a simple concept yet a striking image. The map was chosen as the cover of Issue 7946 of the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal, an international peer reviewed medical journal).
BMJ used the map as their cover art to highlight a paper that explored the health benefits of the bikeshare scheme compared to other forms of transport. The saturated red of the routes is a clear metaphor for a blood capillary network and resonates well as cover art. O’Brien chose to exclude all other detail except for the iconic River Thames. In so doing, he in effect used the same approach as Harry Beck (London Underground map) in relying on the river as an anchor that helps us see the structure of the city. We do not need road names or legends because deep data mining and data recovery is not the point.. The map’s design is minimalist but hints at detail and gives us a clear impression of the core of use, the most popular routes and the periphery. A lot of data reduced to red lines and a great journal cover that was seen by over 120,000 people who subscribe to the print journal along with 1.3 million monthly unique page hits online. Not a bad way to get your work seen.
See Ollie’s web site here for more details and to see his other work.