MapCarte 292/365: The Ways of the Framers by Daniel Huffman, 2011


Typographic maps have become rather popular in the last few years as many different cartographers and map-makers have sought to create a map based entirely of typographic elements. MapCarte has featured a number of these (e.g. Irish Surnames MapCarte 76, Axis Maps Mapcarte 179) because they showcase a different approach to design and communication. Here, Daniel Huffman has created a beautiful historic looking map that recreates the street network of Madison, Wisconsin using the street names.

This sort of approach might be somewhat ordinary for many towns but here is a case of the map content providing detail that elevates the end product to something rather different. The street names have meaning as they are all based on the signers of the U.S. Constitution, so named by James Doty when the street network of Madison was laid out in 1836. The map, then, not only provides a depiction of the names but also a link to history of the city and the country.

MapCarte292_framers_detailHuffman goes further than simply using an historic looking font though – he traced scanned copies of the signatures from the Constitution document itself and shapes the street network accordingly. The mix of size, style and colour gives the map a sepia appearance and creates interest. The signatures add personality to the map and provide a link to the individuals themselves. Each street takes on something of the personality of the signatory and gives it a sense of belonging. It creates distinct patterns and makes each street unique where, conventionally, we’d use standard typeface and treatment to secure uniformity. Huffman shows us that by breaking the rules we can create something both different and meaningful.

As Huffman himself notes the map “aims to reconnect Madison’s modern citizens with the people their city was intended to memorialize”. The design fits that objective, creating not only a lasting memorial but also a beautiful cartographic product.

MapCarte 76/365: Geo-Genealogy of Irish Surnames by Kenneth Field and Linda Beale, 2009

MapCarte76_fieldIn celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, “Geo-Geneology of Irish Surnames” is a map of the spatial incidence of surnames from the 1890 Irish census. It won a few awards at the 2009 Esri International User Conference including special design recognition by the Cartography Special Interest Group as well as the British Cartographic Society’s John C Bartholomew award for small scale thematic mapping.

The use of text as a proportional symbol has become a fairly widely used mechanism for combining a quantitative measure with a symbol that has literal meaning. Here, the size of the surname is proportional to the number of births in the census year. The map also makes considerable use of Irish symbology to give the work a particular cartographic look and feel. The overall colour is predominantly green to reflect the impression of an ‘Emerald isle’ and the use of highly saturated colours was deliberate to attract people in a large gallery space. The celtic typeface and matching border are typically Irish and the work simply wouldn’t have had the same impact if the authors had used alternatives.


The map was designed to work at a map gallery where many would be interested to trace their Irish ancestry. The authors wanted to draw people in; to get them to relate to the detail and to search for their name. It was designed for a very specific audience and purpose. It worked.


You can download a copy of the map here and see an interactive version here.

MapCarte 55/365: What’s in a surname? by Oliver Uberti and Mina Liu, 2011

MapCarte55_ubertiA beautiful example of the use of typography as a literal and communicative multivariate symbol. The map appears incredibly clean and simple yet it is actually conveying several pieces of information. Location is inherent in the positioning of the surnames showing the top 25 surnames in each state. They are sized by their magnitude in the same way as a proportional symbol to show quantitative information. Additionally, colour is used to denote the origin country and so we see patterns of names as a qualitative symbol.

The map, then, gives us an insight into not only the spatial pattern of surnames but an indicator of some of the historical patterns of immigration and settlement. Population density is also implied through the general distribution and size of the names with the most densely packed and largest being located in urban areas and the more populated states.

Published in National Geographic in February 2011, a zoomable version of the map can be seen here.