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Maps In Modern Web Design: Showcase and Examples from Smashing Magazine

In a world where digital mapping is exploding, Zach Dunn offers an excellent review of different types of web maps and their various purposes.

His article, Maps In Modern Web Design: Showcase and Examples (Smashing Magazine) explores existing trends, conventions and the possible future of interactive maps online.

This isn’t a lesson in cartography, rather a review of the important purposes that maps can serve in modern web design. Three main areas seem to represent the majority of tasks:

  1. Navigation and directions,
  2. Show relationships and trends geographically,
  3. Show points of interest.

Geared primarily toward a web-designer audience, this article is good review for GIS specialists and cartographers preparing maps for online content. Zach describes the different ways to navigate online maps (drill down for information, timeline, zoom, before-and-after, and points of interest), looks at future trends, and provides a nice showcase of maps for inspiration.

Archive of Artistic Shaded Relief Online

If you love older maps for their uniquely hand-crafted style, you are really going to love this new resource – Shaded Relief Archive.


Through the advancements of modern digital elevation technologies, we are quickly loosing previous generations’ hand-drafted relief maps to new techniques, closing cartography companies, and the trash-bins outside their doors. A few individuals are seeking to preserve these beautiful resources by creating a public digital archive of shaded relief maps for integration with modern cartographic products.

Tom Patterson, US National Park Service, and Bernhard Jenny, Oregon State University, introduced an archive of stunning artistically rendered shaded relief images at the 2010 NACIS Practical Cartography Day.

While digital elevation models and hill shading techniques are common in todays world of digital cartography, these data sets often fall short of communicating the natural relief patterns particularly for small-scale mapping. As is illustrated below, digital relief tends to offer too much detail (image 2). The manually rendered terrain (image 1) provides a sense of the terrain when looking at a large region or world view. Both images are registered to 1:50 million Natural Earth vector drainages.

1. Manual shaded relief by Herwig G. Schutzler of Latin America.

2. Digital shaded relief from downsampled SRTM data.

The images are georeferenced so you can use them with your small-scale mapping projects. Some shaded relief images are georeferenced and adjusted to fit the drainage network of the Natural Earth vector data. Data is stored in the GeoTIFF file format, a world file and reference coast lines in shape format are provided for each georeferenced image.

To add a quality of fine craftsmanship to your next project, check out this amazing resource today. If you know of a source that should be included, contributions are welcomed (please contact the authors).

Hand Drawn Map Association: Oodles of Love for the Hand Drawn Map

An all-time favorite site of mine is the Hand Drawn Map Association. As I dole out love for the hand drawn map, I’d be remiss not to feature this fav.
Hand Drawn Map Association
The Hand Drawn Map Association (HDMA) is an ongoing archive of user submitted maps and other interesting diagrams created by hand. The HDMA website features a clean and easy to explore gallery and collections of maps. In addition, “Connect” provides notable happenings such as the September HDMA lecture and book signing at the New York Public Library.

The HDMA is also about to release From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association a new book available for pre-order (only $11.80 USD) from Amazon. The book features an exclusive collection of maps and will be available this September.

For map lovers young and old, this site is just plain fun.

Atlas of Explorations for the Pacific Railroad: Giving Some Love for the Hand-Drawn Map

Who doesn’t love the artistry of a hand-drawn map? I’ve been looking at some fine examples lately and wanted to share a few of my personal favorites.

I’m starting with Elbie Bentley’s “Atlas of Explorations for the Pacific Railroad” because it represents a mastery of hand-drawn cartographic technique – particularly hachuring – seldom seen today. I’m also a big fan of multi-media when it comes to mapping, and Elbie seems to effortlessly merge her hand-drawn maps and digital cartography with much artistry and clarity.

Akin to the fine tradition in architectural drawing, combining hand-drawn techniques with digital should (in my opinion) be more common practice in modern cartography. I was first introduced to Elbie’s work this fall at NACIS. Elbie was kind enough afterward to share more of her work with me. This talented young cartographer has produced an integrated narrative piece of expedition through a beautilfully illustrated, self-published, “Atlas of Explorations for the Pacific Railroad” (see a preview of the Atlas on sale at Blurb). Okay, I’ve been officially sucked-in by the multi-media maps and narrative approach of the Atlas. I find it refreshing and inspiring, not only by the well designed content and articulation of the narrative, but also the craftsmanship and technique employed.

Here is a summary from the Blurb website: “The Gunnison-Beckwith expedition for the Pacific Railroad (1853-1854) produced a particularly intriguing report containing adventure, illustration, and topographic presentation. The intensity of the stories and the beauty of the artistic products contained within the reports remain, however, largely unknown. This atlas represents this significant historical event in an a set of maps organized to be read like a novel. The cartographic language of the nineteenth century topographic explorers is also mimicked in each map to recreate their world of incorporated illustrations, observation, and text.” Elbie is a recent graduate of Ohio University – Department of Geography.

Role of Sketching in Map Design Layouts

Sketch map figure from Slocum 2005

Hand-drawn sketching plays an important role in the digital arts. The larger a project is, and the more concepts a client will need to see, the more sketching will prove its worth in your design process. Consider using rough sketches for composition or layout options in your next project. Or push yourself to do a handful of thumbnail sketches before firing up your cartography software of choice. Create ten well thought out map design options (not seven to make three look good).  Select three and refine each.  Select one for final design.

In Role of Sketching in the Design Process, Sean Hodge discusses sketching for rapid concept development in traditional design.  This same process should be considered in cartography.

Cartographer as Designer – It’s a Process

Example Map by XNR Productions

Those who design maps for use by others engage in a specialized form of communication.  They create images to represent physical and phenomena in three-dimensional space, but they create them on two-dimensional surfaces. To do this effectively, a cartographer must understand not only the phenomena on which the maps are based, but also how to work with them to communicate information to others.  No amount of skill with computer software can rescue a map that displays a lack of understanding of the cartographic design process. Read more

ScapeToad Cartogram Software

ScapeToad is an interesting, free, stand-alone cartogram software for Mac, Windows (and available platform independent). ScapeToad 1.1 is available for download under a GPL license.

Classical thematic mapping displays spatial patterns of theme or series data depicted on familiar reference maps of standard land-area polygons, which are typically distorted only by the selected projection. A cartogram is a map in which some thematic mapping variable – such as travel time or Gross National Product – is substituted for land area. The geometry or space of the map is distorted in order to convey the information of this alternate variable. There are two main types of cartograms: area and distance cartograms. To see examples, WorldMapper.org provides a nice collection of cartograms.

(from the ScapeToad website) “The visualization of social phenomena through classical thematic mapping often leads to unsatisfying representations… Cartograms are a well-known technique used to compensate for this inconvenience by breaking the link between statistical regions and their topographical areas. Consequently, this liberates one visual variable (that of polygon size) for a more relevant use, such as the representation of the relative social importance of these regions (usually measured by the size of their populations), while leaving intact their topological relations.”