MapHugger

Apr 22

Screenshot from: Brian Abelson - Centroids (2014)
A collection of tightly-cropped satellite photos from the geographic center of every country. Charmingly organized by resultant color swatch!
It’s tempting to try to characterize each country based on its color, but be mindful that the images can never be fully representative of the diversity of each country’s physical environment. The season and weather throws off the color, too (you can spot some images where stitching occurs). Nonetheless, the U.S.A.’s sandy-olive scrubland just feels… right.
See the full thing here: http://brianabelson.com/centroids/

Screenshot from: Brian Abelson - Centroids (2014)

A collection of tightly-cropped satellite photos from the geographic center of every country. Charmingly organized by resultant color swatch!

It’s tempting to try to characterize each country based on its color, but be mindful that the images can never be fully representative of the diversity of each country’s physical environment. The season and weather throws off the color, too (you can spot some images where stitching occurs). Nonetheless, the U.S.A.’s sandy-olive scrubland just feels… right.

See the full thing here: http://brianabelson.com/centroids/

Apr 16

[video]

Apr 14

Screenshot from: Ben Schott - The Buck Shops Here (2014)
This piece is just so striking and clever. And really, how cool is it to designate something as an ‘op-chart’?
View the full original here:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/14/opinion/14schott.html

Screenshot from: Ben Schott - The Buck Shops Here (2014)

This piece is just so striking and clever. And really, how cool is it to designate something as an ‘op-chart’?

View the full original here:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/14/opinion/14schott.html

Apr 11

Gareth Wood - Purbeck (2013)
I was introduced to this artist’s highly free-associative, hand-drawn maps through a feature in BBC News: not very often that the word ‘psychogeography’ gets mentioned on the front page.

Gareth Wood - Purbeck (2013)

I was introduced to this artist’s highly free-associative, hand-drawn maps through a feature in BBC News: not very often that the word ‘psychogeography’ gets mentioned on the front page.

Mar 31

Google Maps: Pokemon Challenge -

So, this is happening.

Mar 05

Josh Worth - If the Moon was Only 1 Pixel (2014)
Equal parts hyperliteral map of the solar system and philosophical treatise. You just gotta experience this.
http://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem.html

Josh Worth - If the Moon was Only 1 Pixel (2014)

Equal parts hyperliteral map of the solar system and philosophical treatise. You just gotta experience this.

http://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem.html

Feb 04

[video]

Feb 02

Practical Cartography: Maps and Prose

The other day, I realized that map designers have a really strange blind spot. There’s a certain map element that nearly everyone incorporates, but I may have literally never seen any sort of advice, discussion, research on the role it plays in design. Map Projections? Layout? Typography? Color? Mapmakers know those topics like the back of their hand.

Prose, however, seems to get no attention whatsoever. It’s not that mapmakers are bad writers per se; it’s that we’ve never discussed the considerations of putting text (well, paragraph-or-longer text) into a map.

I think I know the reason why this topic gets glossed over. Maps are a visual medium. So for mapmakers, textual communication takes a backseat to visual communication. This mindset can even result in a kind of anti-prose chauvinism: “If I have to explain the map, doesn’t that mean it’s poorly designed?” … in some cases that may be true, however good prose can benefit even the most well-designed map.

To be specific…

How Prose Gets Used in Maps

For the sake of a cool (albeit informal) list, I’ve identified three common ways prose gets incorporated into maps.

1: The blurb

The blurb might be the most common form of map prose. Used all the time in thematic mapping, the blurb is like a mini-thesis for the map, establishing:

image

Above: Brian Davidson - The AIDS Epidemic (2013). A blurb with a strong focus on call-to-action. Illustrating the power of the blurb, that paragraph is probably the most informative and engaging part of the piece.

When we first glance at a map, we just kinda take it in how it “looks”, then we begin looking deeper and reading it in a more attentive way. The blurb often serves as the first part of that deeper intellectual engagement with the map; reading the blurb is like the map shaking your hand and formally introducing itself. So it oughta be treated as a fundamental component of the map’s message and purpose. Don’t just write it up as an afterthought or slap it in to fill some whitespace.

2: The writeup

This is a type of map prose I’m seeing more and more of, and I think it’s a fantastic trend. The writeup is similar in structure/purpose to the blurb… but it’s much longer in word count and exists ‘outside’ the map. Usually we see writeups when maps are published in blogs, news sites, or journals, and the author wants to provide a full ‘intellectual audit’ of the thing they created.

image

ABOVE: Screenshot from: John Nelson - The Dispersion of Life and Gender in New York (2013). The writeup of these maps are as indispensable as the maps themselves.

Even if a map has the most clear data representation possible, there will be subtle but powerful insights (both large and small) that can be plucked from the visualization. The writeup offers a way to share all those insights, while also separating it all from the map itself. If a casual viewer just wants to look at the map and move on with their day, they can do that; those who want to learn more can read the writeup.

3: The text-focused piece

This is less of a style of prose-in-maps as much as a style of maps-in-prose: there’s no shortage of media that communicate their information and story primarily through prose, with maps and other graphics serving only as supplementary material. New York Times’ Snowfall started a trend of richly multimedia news articles with lots and lots and lots of text. At the same time, tower infographics, which have always had an emphasis on being hyper-laconic, have lost a lot of their cultural capital (after you’ve been mocked by both xkcd and smbc, there’s no going back).

image

ABOVE: Screenshot from: New York Times - Snowfall (2012). You could never tell this story just using maps.

The trend, then, seems to be information designers re-discovering prose as a communication medium. And hey, combining writing and images is a great communication medium at that: it’s how you’re consuming this essay, after all. It seems like a silly epiphany: “hey y’all, you can communicate with words as well as pictures!”. But like I mentioned way back at the start, information designers have spent so much time thinking in terms of visuals that we forget that writing can be one of our tools for communication. When I first made this demographic map of Switzerland, viewers seemed to resonate with the blurb rather than the hefty amounts of data. When I had the opportunity to redesign it, I added a lot of explanatory text and de-emphasized the datavis component, because that’s the way that viewers would learn the most. The maps practically became window dressing.

Leveraging Prose

Good writing is more than just making sure your text is free of grammar and spelling mistakes. Text, as we’ve learned above, is a powerful communication channel that a mapmaker can opt to leverage. So how exactly should we go about that? I’ve touched on a few textual considerations already: the best prose is engaging, informative, and always written with broader communication goals in mind. The last thing I want to touch on is how the style of prose can serve a vital aesthetic purpose.

Images have an aesthetic, which is created by many sub-factors. The content of the image, how that content is organized, and how the content is styled are the main components. Writing is the same way. Just like we design the aesthetic of images to communicate the ‘brand image’ of a piece, we need to ‘design’ our writing to accomplish the same. Contrast these two writeups on mapping/analysis projects, written by Ralph Straumann (about maps of Google Autocomplete queries) and Randall Munroe (about how earth’s ecology would change if the landmasses were rotated 90 degrees).

Go on, open those links and read ‘em. I’ll be right here when you get back.

image

ABOVE: Screenshot from: Ralph Straumann/Mark Graham - The World Through the Eyes of a Search Algorithm (2014).

Straumann’s prose has an academic flavor, right down to organizing content into research-style headers (description/data/findings) and offering further reading at the end. He is careful to catalog the intellectual provenance of his maps (such as what tools and data sources he used) and describe both the strengths and limitations of his data and analysis. Polysyllabic technical language (e.g., “semantic ambiguity”) is the order of the day. The tone of this writeup lends a potent intellectual legitimacy to the mapping of Google Autocomplete queries, which is normally considered a cartographic frivolity.

image

ABOVE: Screenshot from: Randall Munroe - What If? (Cassini) (2012).

Munroe’s writing, by contrast, is designed as much to entertain as to inform. Short paragraphs and plainspoken language, sprinkled with his trademark droll sense of humor. No catalog of data sources or bibliography here: instead we’re treated to jokes about fire ants overtaking Minnesota. The emphasis of this writing is on telling a story and stoking the reader’s imagination.

Both of these writeups excellently suit their purpose, despite being very different stylistically. It’s no revelation that different writing styles are appropriate for different settings, but I want to emphasize how the tone of the copy enhances the information contained within the maps, and prompt the reader about how to interpret them. Imagine if the tone of these writeups were switched: the Google Autocomplete maps nested in breezy/jocular copy, and xkcd’s rotated continents surrounded by clinical science-talk.

Your encounter with those maps would be very different, right? Maybe even moreso than if you switched how their maps were designed.

Feb 01

[video]

Jan 25

-Peardian-: Water Temple (side) (date unknown)
Here’s the most infamous dungeon from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, ripped straight from the game but adapted into an isometric view.
Indoor mapping is an underappreciated subdiscipline of cartography. The water temple might only exist virtually, but players have to wayfind their way through all the same, so identical map design principles apply to both fictional maps and real-world ones. In that sense, this map exemplifies what empirical studies have suggested are the most important factors for a functional indoor map: a 3-dimensional view and a salient representation of landmarks.
More maps from the source.

-Peardian-: Water Temple (side) (date unknown)

Here’s the most infamous dungeon from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, ripped straight from the game but adapted into an isometric view.

Indoor mapping is an underappreciated subdiscipline of cartography. The water temple might only exist virtually, but players have to wayfind their way through all the same, so identical map design principles apply to both fictional maps and real-world ones. In that sense, this map exemplifies what empirical studies have suggested are the most important factors for a functional indoor map: a 3-dimensional view and a salient representation of landmarks.

More maps from the source.