MapCarte 362/365: The United States of Bacon and Kale by Eric Chemi, 2013

MapCarte364_kaleThe rise of the ‘viral map’ has been something of an anathema to reasoned, considered and accepted principles of cartographic design. Much of what we see across social media and in popular media wouldn’t be considered as representing good design and in most instances there’s every reason to use such maps to highlight the limitations of the map. However, such maps are not all in bad taste and can bring us visually interesting examples of map-making that while not necessarily exhibiting classic cartographic design bring a new aesthetic to the body of cartographic work. This example by Eric Chemi accompanied a short news blog that looked at the spatial distribution of tweets that mentioned kale compared to mentions of bacon. Such subjects seem to be tailor made for the production of quick and dirty maps but this example proves that with a little care and thought, the map can actually become something visually interesting despite the whimsy. In fact, it’s entirely possible that such maps comprise a new form of ‘whimsical cartography’. Done well, like this example, shows us that design has no fixed boundaries and allows us to bring together a rich and varied palette of visual forms.

While a standard choropleth with diverging colour scheme would have been fine, the medium of publication possibly demands something more attention grabbing. Instead, the map-maker has transposed images of kale and bacon onto the palette and varied the opacity of the image to give a sense of magnitude. We can easily see the states with the highest ratio of kale or bacon tweets. We can see the states where there is a closer balance. It’s a simple approach but one which supports the congnitive process required. It’s also visually interesting. The addition of a few key textual components adds to the map by highlighting some useful nuggets of information. In this way, a rather bland choropleth map has been re-invented to give us a far more interesting visual feast…literally.

Done well, the simple map which accompanies relatively trivial media blog posts can bring us something unique and visually interesting. It exemplifies the fact that design is important in so many contexts to ensure that we don’t relegate the map to a pointless supporting role. Here, the map becomes one of the key take-aways, the key visual that people recall and a talking point in itself. That’s design.


MapCarte 156/365: Map of lovemaking by Seymour Chwast, 1980

MapCarte156_loveMaps are often used to explore places we rarely, if ever, get to see. These may be far away lands or even fictional places. They may equally be much closer to home and medicine has long had a need to create intricate maps of the human body. More formally, these may take the form of slices through an MRI scan that provide us with images that can be seen individually or pieced together to make a 3D picture. Such images are no different to representations of terrain that we create by draping a geography over some surface feature and artists and designers have used maps as inspirational drapes over all manner of surfaces.

Here then, a playful commentary on the fascination we have of viewing inside the human body. The renowned designer Seymour Chwast has used the act of lovemaking as a focus for his map that depicts the topography of the various parts of our anatomy. Chwast founded the famous Push Pin Studios in the 1950s and the influential Push Pin Graphic publication has became known for its bold graphic design. Chwast made a number of images of the human body as part of his work.

Chwast uses contour lines to give a sense of organs and skeletal structures having a mass. He also uses familiar colours that we may find on any number of maps of land use to differentiate between body parts. The subtle difference between the male and female bodies, through different colours, allows him to map two people differently. The darkening of colours for the ‘higher’ countoured peaks also gives a sense of depth. The typography is well crafted and without this component the image would be rather one-dimensional. Using type makes the picture a map-like object.

Strictly playful cartography and definitely whimsical but why can’t we use maps to have some fun from time to time?!