I don't think it's possible to make a map in isolation of critique. You have to get eyes on your map and listen to people's comments, concerns and (if you're lucky) congratulations. And of course, the closer you are to a deadline the more pressured the situation, and the less likely you are to be able to give people time or to make changes based on feedback.
And so it was when I hurridly finished up my re-imagined version of the London Underground map a few weeks ago. You can read about my original map and a how-to that explains the technical side of its construction. The map needed to be finished and printed in time for me to take it to the Schematic Mapping Conference in Vienna. I was up against it because I was due in Washington D.C. the week before and our production facility also (quite reasonably) needs an amount of time to print it. So I ended up rushing it and didn't have enough time to get enough eyes on it before it would be publicly shared.
I sent it to Cameron Booth who runs the wonderful Transit Maps blog and he provided some extremely helpful comments. Colleagues at work also briefly looked at the map once printed. 'Text is too small' we all cried. Me included. Too late to do anything about it. I went to Vienna where no-one really bothered looking at the map or offered comment. But I've gone back to the map and made changes I believe make it better. So here's the updated map (you can grab a full-sized hi-res version here):
There's larger lettering throughout. The smallest text is now 3pt larger than before. It's more visible and legible. Clarity is improved. I've also introduced text with different treatments to marry to the station functions. Interchange stations have larger text. Stations that connect to National Rail services are both larger and a different colour to match the updated station symbol colour. I've printed it at the same size as the current official London Underground pocket map (22cm wide) and the legibility holds up.
I've avoided the use of a separate symbol to show connections to National Rail services altogether. Originally I wanted to avoid the old British Rail symbol (arguing that international visitors wouldn't have a clue what it was anyway). But despite trying multiple different icons to sit beside the station names it never really worked. Simply encoding the station's different function into the size and colour of the typography and changing the colour of the station symbol itself allows me to do away with the additional symbol altogether.
There's more consistency in terminus symbols where one line folds into another. I just hadn't done a good job in what is quite a unique approach. I'd missed some. These are now corrected.
The previous design was a 'lines first' approach and whilst this second version is by no means a 'labels first' approach there's been quite a lot of moving and reorganising of linework to give better balance and create additional space for the larger labels. I don't think the result deviates too much from my original intent. In fact there's better spacing across the map whereas previously there were a few fairly congested areas.
The Elizabeth Line westward extension stations to Reading now appear in a box rather than on the line itself. I wrestled with this. They can fit into the line but Reading is nowhere near London and it's a fair point to suggest it shouldn't be included on a map that portrays it no further west than Uxbridge or Heathrow Airport. This is a nod to Harry Beck's original designs that used a similar style for edge cases.
I clarified the Barbican/Farringdon/Elizabeth Line interchanges. previously there were two separate Elizabeth Line stations connected to Farringdon and Barbican but this isn't how they operate in situ. Rather, Farringdon and Barbican both link to a new intermediate connected station on the Elizabeth Line.
I repositioned South Tottenham station below Seven Sisters so that those walking between them would be able to at least understand which is north of the other.
Many of the outer extremities of lines and stations have been repositioned and spaced to try and improve the overall appearance.
The station labels have all been tweaked to improve the consistency of their placement with respect to distances between lines and offsets from station symbols.
So, there you go. This is version 2 of the map. I'm quite pleased with it. I've been able to spend more time with it and appreciate the limitations of the first version. I've taken on board comments and made changes where necessary. I still think I've been able to retain what I like about the official map (colours and typeface) that relates it to the 'London look' but it's develops a new graphical language for pretty much everything else. Version 2 is a better map than version 1 because it's had eyes on it.
As with the first version, I invite people to rip version 2 to shreds and offer comments.Thanks.
PS - And yeah, there's now an Easter Egg on the map. Should have added it first time round but ran out of time and forgot.
Last week I went to a schematic mapping workshop in Vienna, Austria. Schematic maps are some of my favourites and I'd used this opportunity to finally get round to developing my own ideas about a redesign of the London Tube Map. I'm by no means the first and won't be the last but after penning a discussion of what I characterised as the over-use, mis-use and abuse of Beck's original style from 1933 (The Cartographic Journal, 51, 4 pp343-359) it really was about time I put my money where my mouth was and had a go. The workshop provided a hard deadline and an impetus to make a map and throw it to the lions.
Me. And my map.
There were about 40 or so people attend the workshop. People came from a wide array of academic backgrounds - psychologists, computer scientists, graphic designers, cartographers and the transport industry itself. I'll be blunt. It was disappointing. While there were some interesting talks there was very little true sharing of ideas or development of collaborative opportunities. The cliques stayed within their own cliques and so the opportunity was lost. I displayed my maps and not one person wanted to actively engage in a discussion, or offer ideas for improvements. Having paid for the trip out of my own pocket that's disappointing. So what we ended up with was another example of academic parochialism at its worst. Niche groups striving headlong up their own small part of a much wider discourse and not really willing to engage beyond what they know or do. There were lots of words but not much else.
We had people focusing on usability, but not really appreciating practical implementation. We had people searching for efficient algorithms for label placement or line arrangement, not appreciating that many software packages already exist to do much of that heavy lifting. We had the idea that a fully automated map is difficult to create but never a real discussion about why you'd want that anyway. After all, maps are always made by humans to a greater or lesser extent. We had the idea that many who make schematic maps do so with design software. There was little from the GIS or data-driven cartographic community and no real appreciation of its existence or value. A lot of it was searching for a solution to a problem that isn't properly defined. It's low-level academic effort. The sort that keeps people busy but doesn't ever actually get anywhere purposeful. I know. I used to live in that world, and the further I get from it the more I recognise it for what it is and the more I am relieved to be out of it.
And the classic examples of 'research results' based on a survey of a group of students who are easy to cajole into research always has me raising my eyebrows. At best it's lazy, at worst, it undermines your work beyond it being useful. Of course students are likely to also be public transport users but they are not a diverse enough set of people if you want to capture the wide variety of people who have many and varied needs. I think we can do better. But there was also something else that made me think about the event in a way that I cannot ever recall feeling before.
I guess what I found most disconcerting is I felt like an outsider. This is a group founded and moulded by Maxwell Roberts who describes himself as "the world’s leading specialist in schematic map design". So, inevitably, there's going to be some disciples of his work in attendance and, as it turns out, all but 4 talks were 'invited'. Dr Roberts even took the floor twice for two 35 minute stints to bookend the event. Except I'm not one of his disciples. I like much of his work but ever since I wrote that journal article, Dr Roberts has made it known he took exception to my characterisation of some of his work as being unhelpful to wider debates about the value of Beck's work. To me, there's value in debate. Just because person A says something, person B does not have to agree. I used the opportunity to write a refereed paper that expressed my views based on the evidence I presented. In normal academic discourse, such views can and should be challenged. Different views expressed and published and so forth. But, it seems, this is not the case and it was unfortunate that Dr Roberts went out of his way to avoid me in Vienna. It's unfortunate but I can live with that. Should I have approached him? Possibly. But when you get bad vibes you tend not to bother in the interests of self-preservation.
Map Gallery at the Vienna Transport Museum.
There was a gallery of work on display at the Vienna transport museum on one evening. My maps were up there and earlier in the day I'd expressed my wish that people tackle them, rip them apart and let me know what they thought. I even wore my London Underground District Line Moquette shoes for some added interest. Maybe Dr Roberts would take the opportunity? Unfortunately not. Again, he went out of his way to avoid me (and my colleague Professor William Cartwright too).
Professor William Cartright and I at the map gallery.
I was going to leave it. If that's how these people want to work and (not) foster collaborative opportunities or, even, have a good old-fashioned academic slanging match then that's up to them. I returned from Vienna glad to have reconnected with some good friends, met a few new people and, once again, to have visited such a beautiful city. Except this morning I woke, to this tweet by @TubeMapCentral (aka Maxwell Roberts)
Any designer can create an attractive schematic map if the lettering is small enough, but it takes a very special designer indeed to create such a questionable schematic map with tiny lettering. Dr. Field should actually read the usability research that he is so quick to dismiss. pic.twitter.com/k8tKfymTCD
So let's get this straight. Dr Roberts had every opportunity to talk to me last week. He had every opportunity to discuss my previous paper as well as my effort at making a map of the London Underground. But no. Instead, he posts a bitchy tweet (without using my twitter handle). It's a shame he didn't say my font was too small to me in Vienna because I totally agree with him. In fact, the prints were the first time I'd seen the work printed and my first reaction was the same - fonts are way too small. WAY too small. And this is the point of critique - to put your work in the gaze of your peers and others and to take on board comments and criticisms. A future iteration will address this limitation.
I wasn't going to write about my experience in Vienna but his tweet has me annoyed simply because he could have spoken to me in person. I should have seen the signs. Last talk on day one. My colleague, Professor Cartwright given less time than the other speakers. It all added up to support the fact that we simply were not wanted at the workshop because 5 years ago we had the audacity, the sheer temerity to offer some critical thoughts on some of his work as part of a wider debate. Yet they took our registration fee quite happily to boost numbers. If you're going to marginalise people then do so with class. But it doesn't achieve much. It narrows your potential for considered debate, albeit some of which might be challenging, but which ultimately strengthens a discipline. I don't like some of his work so therefore he doesn't like me. Makes sense eh? Not to me it doesn't. Tweets are cheap. I know, I send enough of them! But having had the opportunity to tackle me about the 2014 paper, or even chide me for my amateurish effort at tackling a really tricky map he, instead, waited until there was no danger of discussion. Ahh well.
What I did find of immense value at the workshop was listening to a presentation by the train manufacturer Siemens along with those at Wiener Linien who are exploring their cartography in relation to real needs, namely to fashion maps for a new generation of trains. So they are getting on with the job. We weren't allowed to take photos and I should probably not say too much as the work is currently not public and remains confidential. Except to say, they are experimenting with some really innovative animated maps. These go well beyond having a simple animated symbol that shows where you are on the route. There's morphing of the map under particular circumstances, changes to content depending on location and conditions, focusing of detail to serve the needs along the route, and real-time information delivery that goes way beyond simply showing train times and connections. I've honestly not seen anything like it and had a wonderful chat with the people behind it. These are the conversations you enjoy and ones which take you forward. The small-mindedness of a few has not detracted from my experience of this particular work and the potential it offers.
This, to me, also shows where we are in terms of who is driving research these days. Industry has overtaken academia in many fields. Cartography is one such field. Small groups of people doing very niche academic research into aspects of map design are becoming unimportant. And I think that's why these sort of workshops become increasingly frustrating. They aren't really helping move things forward, certainly not with much pace. There's too much reinvention and no real cohesion. They seem to exist to further one or two people's aspirations for relevance, rather than a sustained research agenda that feeds into real implementation. And along comes a train operator who, along with their customers, defines a need, researches it, and develops a solution.
I expressed this view earlier in the day at an 'open mic' slot where I used 10 minutes to play devil's advocate. In 2005 Google both decimated and utterly reinvented cartography. Since then, most transport networks persist with their schematic maps yet I contend that people are more interested in travelling between places of interest, not station names. Of course, this goes against Harry Beck's principles that above-ground geography is unimportant to the traveller but I think times have changed. So, for instance, if I'm in London and I want to travel between the London Eye and Selfridges how do I work out my route? I open Google Maps and I type in directions. I would suggest most people will likely do the same. In fact, I cannot recall the last time I actually saw someone use a pocket London Underground map. And even if I did I have to know where the two points of interest are in the first place and relate them to the location of stations. That's often very difficult with a schematic map. And yet Google Maps returns the optimal route (walk to Westminster station and catch the Jubilee line to Bond street). It gives me real-time train arrivals, journey time, walking routes to bookend the tube journey, as well as bus alternatives, and it now even tells me that a Lime scooter is nearby and could be quicker. The map zooms to become hyper-local. We see the actual location of station entrances so we can relate our geographical surroundings to where we actually need to go. And the map has the geographical tube network overprinted. So, my assertion is that, in 2019 the schematic map as we know it and love it may be dead. People use their smartphones and Google Maps to do their journey planning. It may well be the case that the printed schematic map has been killed by Google. Maybe this is what upset Dr Roberts? I don't know. I don't particularly care.
Unfortunately, in retrospect, the workshop was simply about his self-promoting academic parochialism. I'm glad I'm out of it, and Max, if you're reading this, please be assured I'll not darken your door at the next workshop. But I will be buying your next book on airline schematic maps because I'll likely very much enjoy it.
Professor Georg Gartner and Dr David Fairbairn discuss the Vienna map.
Update: Unfortunately, Dr Roberts has decided to double down on his twitter rant.
Dr. Field's opinions about schematic mapping are questionable because he does not have an intellectually defensible, coherent theory of effective design. You can see that from own creation. In fact, I am not even sure he understands what the issues are and why they are important. pic.twitter.com/jvTNTXeF82
Seems a little unfounded to me but I made the point that the opportunity to discuss, debate, argue even, was last week. Why didn't he take the opportunity to have me on a panel discussion for instance? Or even have a quiet word with me during one of the breakout sessions? It's not unusual for people who are passionate and knowledgeable about a subject to sometimes disagree but the art of academic discourse is to attempt to appreciate other people's perspectives. If you are closed to that, and wrap it in unsubstantiated personal attacks then you are doing yourself a disservice. I am concerned for his students if this is how he fosters discussion and engages in debate. It also reflects poorly on the University of Essex if this sort of approach to academic discourse is in any way supported.
As many of you will know, I have a long-held fascination with the London Underground map and schematic maps in general. And for at least the last decade I have written and presented extensively on an assertion that while Beck’s ideas (though not necessarily new in and of themselves) have become the model for many transit networks, the Beck map also suffers from misuse, abuse and parody. I’ve even gone to the effort to catalog this collection as an interactive tube map of tube maps using a tube map which currently has over 300 entries (stations).
In 2014 I wrote a paper with Professor William Cartwright that was published in The Cartographic Journal entitled 'Becksploitation: The Over-Use of a Cartographic Icon' (preprint here) We played devil’s advocate as an attempt to provoke and promote debate about the legacy and ongoing use of the Beck model for transit mapping. And in conclusion, we summed up our critique by calling for a fresh start, a reset of the London map to overcome many of the problems that the current map faces as it simply tries to update Beck’s ideas:
“We’d like to encourage a return to thought, experimentation, drawing and testing as a way of discovery and the search for the next great map style. Beck made a cartographic icon for one purpose – to navigate the London Underground; a perfect map made at a perfect place and time. We need new, fresh and challenging maps.” (Field and Cartwright, 2014 p358)
And that problem begins with the current London Underground map which has become a model of how not to iterate a map which had its day nearly 90 years ago. The original map is a piece of perfect cartographic design and undeniably useful for navigation and wayfinding. It’s debatable whether the current version is useful any more. Beck's brilliance was to omit above ground detail, creating a schematicised map with huge distortions in scale and real-world location. The colours were coded to fit the wider corporate design aesthetic and he used straight lines for curved railways – horizontal, vertical, 45° which were also indicative of speed and efficiency of the network. A practical outcome as much as a brilliant design statement.
And this is the current map (link to TfL maps) showing the massively increased network of interlinked services but which still retains the same basic principles that Beck brought to the map.
In my view (and that of many others) it’s lost its way. It’s full of clutter. There’s still elements that need to be retained – the typeface and colours are intrinsic to the look and feel of the London map in my opinion. But the lines are disorganized. The amount of detail overbearing. The station tick marks might be due for retirement and the interchange symbols might be modified. Representing accessibility has become a preoccupation for Transport for London but it may be better off the map, in a list of stations. And what of the British Rail symbol? – is this really so useful for foreign tourists for instance? Can that be redesigned? Do we have to show intermittent services on the map? After all, there’s a separate map for night services now and there's no sign of those services on the main map. Some interchanges have become terribly congested.
In summary – it was about time I put my money where my mouth was and had a go at a redesign rather than just moaning at the map and what it has become, not to mention some of the redesigns I've not warmed to particularly. And it's worth noting at this stage I'm not the first and I won't be the last.
The idea was simple, start from scratch, and if you're making a schematic, it's a diagrammatic approach and you need a grid to start with to give the map order. A grid that tessellates such as squares, triangles or hexagons. I’ve experimented before and was almost settled on a hexagonal grid but there was just something aesthetically that I didn’t particularly like. Too messy.
So I settled back on using squares because it just seems to fit London quite well. And because I wanted to begin by physically ‘sketching’ I built a peg board. A piece of board with 800 nails at 3cm intervals to create my scaffolding.
And I bought some thread and began to make my tube map from scratch. The beauty of this was that the physical process meant I could rapidly re-route as I encountered issues and difficulties, but I was trying to be a little more geographical so, for instance, the Northern Line actually doesn’t go vertically north as it does on the official map, and many others. So I began with that as an anchor, but it moves more north-westerly. And the Central line remains quite well served by remaining broadly horizontal. One of the key differences I wanted to establish was a better relationship between the above and below ground. Yes, this would be a schematic, but I wondered if I could keep the key physical feature, the River Thames geographical. I was also trying to build a map that could support an experimental 3D version where I could fit above ground detail into the intervening spaces.
And this is what I ended up with, about 30hrs later.
As I was building the map I became aware of something interesting that began to excite me – there’s diamonds everywhere. And, of course, Beck’s initial map used diamonds as interchange symbols, and the Johnston typeface is renowned for the diamonds atop the lowercase I. So I liked the nod to his legacy even though I was trying to make something new.
I won’t bore you with the process of generating the digital version but I effectively brought digital photograph of the peg board into ArcGIS Pro, georeferenced it, then build a digital peg board and traced my map. I wrote a blog about that whole process as part of my day job if you're interested in how to make this yourself.
Of course, dealing with digital thread that used the same nails as vertices was the next challenge so there was plenty of offsetting lines. But I ended up with this basic layout:
There’s significantly fewer changes of line direction compared to the official map. There’s a similar density of linework but I feel the strong central diamond of the Northern Line within which others nest in and around brings the eye back to the core area of the map. In my opinion it’s a cleaner network. Less spaghetti. Crisper perhaps? Yes it’s still intrinsically diagrammatic but perhaps better balanced. The central area is a little more rectangular in overall appearance.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the design decisions. I retained the horizontal, vertical and 45° lines; TfL colours. Johnston typeface, but now in a more muted 70% black. These are all decisions that give the map 'the London look'. I omitted river services, accessibility detail, limited services, and fare zones which to my mind are simply clutter. They just do not need to be on THIS map and can be better presented in other companion products. At some point you have to make the decision about what MUST go on the map. Omission is the most under-used cartographic tenet yet it is vital to deliver clarity in a final product.
I changed the line symbols which are now cased which helps with establishing separation between adjacent lines and for where lines cross. The British Rail symbol replaced by a different national rail interchange symbol. Station symbols are replaced by white (negative) space and within the line to leave more space for labels and other content. Interchange symbols follow the same basic structure but with an internal 70% black symbol. Interconnectedness is implied by adjacent symbols ‘touching’.
Walking symbols replace the pecked lines on the official map which I think are more intuitive. I also simplified many of the junctions with fewer overlaid symbols, for instance here at Earl’s Court. I also used line folds into a single symbol at terminal junctions. In some respects this new map respects geography a little better. The wayward northerly direction of the western edge of the Central Line has always bothered me. Yes, it veers north a little but I managed to straighten it out and return it back to the horizontal line on Beck’s original 1933 map.
I would also argue that my mainline London station connections are far more streamlined than the official map’s counterparts (comparison for Paddington below).
Though early critique of my use of a different way to represent national rail connections proves how iconic embedded symbols can be in our minds eye. I was trying to avoid the old British Rail symbol but I may end up going back to it, or something else. Simple connectors are used for complex interchange stations like Bank/Monument.
I think this comparison, perhaps more than any shows that I think the time has come to dispense with large, bulky, black cased interchange symbols. We can make a more elegant map. And I managed to get a geographical River Thames into the design which I believe gives the map a sense of realism rather than the stark schematic. It’s tapered – like Beck’s original and a feature that has also been lost in the mists of time. I carried the diamond motifs to the four corners of the map which helped tidy up bits of line going off in all directions – a bit contrived in places but, well, why not. After all, it is a 'diagrammatic map' And here's the final (first iteration) of my effort:
You can download a copy of the map here as an A2 poster. It’s designed for paper because…paper.
The basic form of the new map takes a traditional planimetric form that I think gives it a cleaner result, with less map furniture to get in the way of the basic task of getting from one place to another through the network. I firmly believe that omitting a lot of extraneous information, that can be better delivered in other forms, frees the map up, lets it breathe and reduces the need for seriously thinking about having to make the map A3 or A2 simply to fit detail on. The idea of a pocket map can be retained with this omission of detail.
But the intent was always to go beyond this and experiment and for that we go 3D. Now let me be clear, I’m a 3D sceptic and I firmly believe that there needs to be a good reason to go to 3D that simply cannot be supported by 2D. But my assertion here is that Beck's original idea of omitting above ground detail on the basis that the traveler doesn't need to know it seems a weak argument. Do I intrinsically know that to go from the London Eye to Stamford Bridge, I need to go from Waterloo to Fulham Broadway?
And I’ve always been fascinated with this sort of map:
It explicitly lays out the line but manages to incorporate the above ground. This was created by a small mapping firm, Global Vision Mapping in 1995. The original is 8ft tall. This, to me, is a magical map because we have ways to relate the below with the above-ground. But there are still issues because the use of perspective means that the foreground is in the foreground and illustrated far more prominently. This is how we see reality, things nearer to us are more prominent in our field of vision. Things in the background are distant and smaller. And of course, this map and many like it are laid out geographically as the Piccadilly Line meanders into the distance. And so, when I flip the schematic we see the same problem.
Here, viewed from the south west, Heathrow is prominent, the central area becomes congested once more and the north east is way off in the distance. This simply doesn’t work, and I’ve not even tried to add any detail. But there is a potential solution and that involves taking a cue from this map.
It's the View and Map of New York City by Herman Bollmann, 1962. The map exaggerates widths of streets to create a perfect amount of white space in which buildings sit. The dense fabric of the city is represented at the same time as giving clarity to individual buildings. Vertical exaggeration is used to give a sense of the skyscrapers soaring. In many respects it’s also a schematic. So what if we apply this idea to the tube map?
Here's my planimetric map flipped into an axonometric 'parallel' projection. Weird? Zooming in gives a sense of how the lines, which are now represented as tubes in 3D, sit.
In this configuration it makes sense for the labels to now sit at a 45° angle. This idea is not without some obvious difficulties such as where lines that previously had vertical separation now cross one another. It’s OK where there’s an interchange but not where there’s not. But we can begin to populate the map with points of above ground interest. After all, people often want to go between real-world features and not just (often) abstract place names.
And here's the final version of the map, well, a first iteration at the very least.
You can grab a larger version of the map here. It's not perfect I know. It's a bit of an experiment.
In summary, the new planimetric map undoubtedly shares some characteristics with Beck’s original and also with many other versions. This is largely due to the fact that it’s the same underlying network. Any solution that seeks to create a diagrammatic version of a transport network will share characteristics and a lineage that extends back to Beck, and others.
Physically sketching (via the peg board) has allowed the planimetric map to form organically which I believe overcomes some of the limitations we may have if we over-prescribe graphical demands on structure.
Finally, I believe I've made a map that adds a new approach by borrowing from other cartographic work that lends a different aesthetic to the mapping of a transport network. The axonometric form of the map portrays the network in a way we’ve not seen. It needs work but it's just...
Couple of thank yous...firstly to Elliott Hartley from Garsdale Design who supplied the building models for the 3D version of the map. A map is only as good as the data and the buildings are key to my approach for the 3D version (Thanks Elliott!). Also, to Cameron Booth who has written a useful and fair critique of the 2D map on his Transit Maps site. He offers some great advice which I'll look to include. Critique is vital. It improves your work. Thanks for reading!
Just some things that peaked my interest this year, in no particular order. And please do go to the links to see larger and higher-res versions posted by the authors.
Evolution of China's subway system by Peter Dovak. So technically this was from 2017 but I didn't see it until 2018 so I'm giving it a bump here. I love the mini-subway maps on their own but the animation works well too.
The evolution of the metro system in China. - YouTube
Island of Iturup by Heather Smith Mixing digital techniques with some old school hand drawn terrain gives this map a wonderful aesthetic, not to mention that white on black is both stunning and difficult to do well.
Typewriter Cartography by Daniel Huffman Many people are shying away from digital and experimenting with more human mechanisms for map creation. Here, Daniel gets out his father's old typewriter and does some experimenting. I just like it. There's a few different examples on his blog, linked above.
España by Mike Hall This is just a beautiful map. mike's taken design cues from a number of historic styles and blended them into this composition to perfection. I could write paragraphs about the colour, typography, cityscapes, cartouche etc. but, the whole piece is cartographic elegance personified.
Equal Earth Projection by Bojan Šavrič, Tom Patterson and Bernhard Jenny It's not every day that a new map projection gets people excited but this year we had such a day. A new projection showing the land masses at true sizes relative to one another. An antidote to that bloody Mercator thing, and far more useful as a wall map.
The D-Day Story logo Combining the map of the south coast of England and the north west coast of France, broken by the English Channel, with the letter D makes this a fantastic, if not poignant, expression of the focus of this museum.
The Times Comprehensive Atlas (15th edition) by HarperCollins You don't need a new atlas but you can certainly want one and this would be it. The 'greatest book on earth' gets a facelift as well as the many content updates. Beautiful cover, but I always like the giant bookmark because it doubles as a legend for all the maps, and there are 320 pages of them. Cartographic consistency and coverage at its finest. Authoritative? Of course.
Tracking Harvey’s Destructive Path Through Texas and Louisiana by The New York Times (Gregor Aisch et al.) A feast of animated and static maps tell the story of this destructive hurricane. i particularly liked the lead map that showed the rainfall intensity by hour as proportional circles, with cumulative rainfall denoted by colour. Again, no rainbows! And as you hover over the map you get a graph of the rainfall across the week for wherever you hover (go to the animated version using the link above). Superb.
Earth at Night by Jacob Wasilkowski Normally, I'm not a fan of spiky digital globes but this tends to the artistic rather than analytic so it works. Height of the globe's surface modified by luminance from nighttime light.
Victoria Peak (Hong Kong) carved into duct tape by Takahiro Iwasaki This is insane. It's a miniature sculpture cut into the tape. Who needs 3D printers!
Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father (map by Gabriel Dance et al.) 'A tiny, little, beautiful company' is a great piece of cinematic cartography embedded in this article on Trump's proclamations about his finances. Uses a monochrome grey palette for the map, punctuated by splashes of colour for notable buildings and assets, all accompanied by a soundtrack of Trump statements by the man himself and a cumulative total of his alleged worth.
Shetland in a box by Alan McConchie The year was marked by a right kerfuffle over the nonsense proclamation that The Shetland Isles should no longer be placed in an inset box. This provoked much humour and cartographic satire. Alan nailed it with this xkcd inspired solution.
West World by Andrew Degraff and AD Drew Dzwonkowski A terrific cartoon styled map commenting on the shift in balance in the NBA as LeBron James moves to the LA Lakers. Perfect for the kids edition of Sports Illustrated but adults can appreciate the cartographic worth too.
Streetscapes by Zeit Online Anyone and everyone interested in thematic mapping should bookmark Zeit Online. they consistently set the bar for great cartography of a diverse and rich spread of data. Here, an analysis of German street names reveals the legacy of times past and the impact of composers to dictators. Great example of marrying maps with scrollytelling too and proof that the hex-bin is alive and well.
U.S. house Election Results 2018 by New York Times A hat-trick of favourite maps for NYT this year. Also, a great twist on the cartogram with white space used very effectively to create a non-contiguous version of the map of House Seats. There's also a geographic version if you prefer, a good trend to offer both which many news organisations are going with. And, of course, if you hover over each square you get the results (go to the link above). High quality interactive cartography.
And if I may beg your indulgence, I don't normally include my own work in my end of year favourite's list but I'm kind of proud of a few projects from this year so I'm just going to put them here for your enjoyment...or you can stop reading now. You've had fair warning.
MOOC map Together with my colleagues Edie Punt, John Nelson, Wes Jones, Nathan Shephard and an army of people behind the scenes it's been amazing to deliver a Massive Open Online Course to over 80,000 people this year. Who would have thought there were that many people interested in learning about making maps! And here's a map of a good portion of those students, who come from all over the globe. I think it's the best map of a large online class of cartographers this year.
Cheese map I made a map, from wood, and used as a cheese board. Accompanied a Geomob event in London in September and is the cover map for the 2019 GeoHipster calendar. I think it's the best map of cheese this year.
Lego globe Based on a design by Dirk I built my very own Lego globe. Because...Lego AND maps. I think it's the best Lego globe this year.
Cartography. book. I wrote a book that was published this year...I know, I've been quite quiet about it. I'm bloody well proud of it and immensely grateful for my talented colleagues and the company I work for, for giving me the space, scope, help and freedom to write it. I think it's the best book on Cartography this year.
OK - so my entries are a little cheeky but I hope you found them of passing interest in the list of your own maps and map-related products of 2018. Here's to a mappy 2019!
So many large format coffee-table map books are written by map experts, map librarians or map historians. They carefully select the maps based on a criteria that generally relates to some cartographic measure of their worth. Betsy Mason and Greg Miller are not cartographic experts, well, at least not by training, though they are fast demonstrating a deep understanding of what makes great maps tick. Mason and Miller are journalists, award-winning journalists in fact. More specifically they have a background in science (earth science, geology, biological, behavioural, social and neurological science!), and the reporting of science in some of the most august publications and came to cartography via their excellent blog from Wired which they launched in 2013. They now co-author the blog All Over the Map at National Geographic. Is this background on the authors at all relevant? Yes, because what they bring to their interest in cartography is a fresh perspective. They aren’t burdened by having a list of maps that have to go in their collection (you know the ones…we all know them). They have chosen what they want to go in, and so their list is, in the main, a fresh list and contains many maps you’re unlikely to have seen. Of course, there’s some absolute classics such as Mount Everest (1988), published by National Geographic. It appears early on but it’s a book published by National Geographic and they would be remiss not to include such stunning work. But the book goes far beyond the vaults of National Geographic and presents well-known maps side-by-side with lesser known examples. I’m pretty sure even if they had a classic map in mind it’d not make the cut if they couldn’t find something interesting and fresh to say about it.
The book is broadly divided into nine sections that group the maps by theme: waterways; cities; conflict and crisis; landscapes; economies; science; human experiences; worlds; and art and imagination. Think of any map and you can probably position it in one of these broad topics and it gives the book a pleasing structure. It makes it non-linear and that allows a certain element of randomness when you turn the page. Within each section we see both historical examples and contemporary maps. Maps made by government, commercial companies and also individuals just experimenting with some data. I found myself actually ignoring the groups and just going page-to-page from one delightful map to another, sometimes flicking and stopping as if you were thumbing through a pack of cards and stopping randomly. Each page is different and captures the map in rich printed form but it’s the writing that elevates this from just a collection of maps and their makers. Mason and Miller dig into the personal stories of the maps, and the people who made them. They explore the contexts and environments of the maps; and often the trials and tribulations of their circumstance. They reveal far more than the map as a captivating and arresting image. They reveal the often intriguing and personal stories behind the maps. So, in this sense, the book is more of a collection about maps than it is a book of maps. The fact that the maps are beautiful makes it simply a superbly illustrated story book. And it’s important that many of these stories are told because for many, maps just appear, devoid of context. Sure, people may like them but a general audience will unlikely not care one bit about the people who made them and the work that went into them. For instance, we learn of the incredible lengths that Bradford and Barbara Washburn went to create their utterly stupendous 1978 map of the Heart of Grand Canyon. Eight years of planning, fieldwork, analysis, drafting, painting and negotiating to create one map. Every trail in the canyon surveyed several times by multiple people using a measuring wheel to check and check accuracy again and again. Assistants were sent to check Bradford Washburn’s own measurements with strict instructions “if you make a bad mistake, never back up, as the wheel won’t reverse. Just stop and cuss a reasonable amount. Then go back to where you know you made your last reliable measurement.” Even the map’s main relief artist, the inimitable Tibor Toth reckoned he spent 1,074.5 hours to paint the map. I love these stories. They show the very human nature of cartography and the fact that everything on a map is somehow touched by a human whether it’s in data collection, decision-making, design or production. Every mark has the impact of the maker and the craft of their expertise and this book is at pains to reflect that in each piece of writing that accompanies the maps.
As any good reporter will know, the story isn’t about them but it’s about what they are reporting and while there’s clear evidence of Mason and Miller’s love of the subject and the maps they write about, they have gone to great lengths to interview cartographers, curators and scholars linked to the maps and who can provide authoritative knowledge and insight. They’ve gone to the best and, so we are often treated to critique and comment from some of todays most experienced and respected cartographers and map experts. This brings a whole new level of character to the writing because we’re not merely reading descriptions, we’re reading a reflective piece that draws many pieces of information and views together. They’ve marshalled their interviews into consistent reportage as if they are simply the eyewitnesses to the stories. They write in an accessible and engaging style for a general audience. While there’s plenty to delight the knowledgable cartographic expert, the book will also reach a wider audience merely interested in some of the stories which they can access without having to interpret cartojargon. The layout of the book is also appealing with a loose structure combining maps and text as appropriate. Each illustration is provided with a detailed description so you’re guided through each entry by the main text and the annotations.
There are around 300 illustrations in the book and it’s hard to provide a definitive list of the type of content but there’s maps (obviously), diagrams, photographs, postcards, illustrations, paintings, posters, globes, atlases, examples of work under construction and so much else that helps paint a picture of the context of the maps. For instance, how many have seen the magnificent world ocean floor map by Austrian artist Heinrich Berann? Plenty. But the six pages devoted to this map includes photographs of the map’s scientific authors Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen hard at work plotting soundings, transect profiles of the Atlantic Ocean, a wonderful physiographic diagram of the Atlantic drawn by Tharp herself which demonstrates the plan oblique approach then painted by Berann. Together the illustrations help tell the story of the famous map. There’s a nod to the work of Minard though with a focus on some of his less famous but equally wonderful statistical thematic cartography. And there’s even one of my colleague John Nelson’s maps: his lights on/lights out map showing the changes in nighttime illumination between 2012-2016. This fact alone demonstrates the efforts Mason and Miller have gone to in order to represent the full gamut of cartography which is no mean feat in 320 pages. Since the book is organized thematically there isn’t the usual old to new flow either. We see historic examples intermingled with contemporary and vice versa. It works well and you can pretty much just flick open a page and dive straight in. No, lose yourself just exploring and saying to yourself, oh go on then…just one more page.
It'd be pretty difficult to review the breadth of maps in the book to give you a flavor even. Let’s just say Mason and Miller have got you covered whatever your map vice is. So whether you like the painstaking detail of beautiful topographic maps, the imagination of celestial charts, the analytical representation of statistical data or the fantasy of the map of Westeros or the Death Star then there’s plenty in this book to feast on. Hand-drawn, pixel pushed, sewn or plotted from the smell of a place, I’m struggling to think of a phase of cartographic history, design aesthetic or production method that isn’t covered somewhere in the book. That’s quite some achievement and it makes this a really comprehensive compilation that reflects the rich variety of cartographic work. I’d like to say that the book is a bit U.S. centric but it isn’t really and anyway, who would care if it is? I mean, London A-Z is well represented just as much as Soviet maps of Washington D.C. There’s plenty of great maps of the US but there’s maps of pretty much every part of the world as well. So they’ve even made a book that covers the world geographically too.
I’ve worked with Betsy and Greg on a few of their projects over the last few years and come to know them as hard working, meticulous and honest people. Reporters often get a bad name for being a bit lackadaisical and missing those crucial details that the experts of the content sweat over. But that’s not my experience with these two passionate reporters who want to find and deliver quality in their work. They have a knack of finding a story and what they bring to this book is a new perspective on the maps they’ve chosen. Even familiar maps are given fresh life and their style gives a modern take on the process and practice of cartography and the maps we make. I guess my only real surprise, rather than a criticism, is that the book wasn’t subtitled ‘Volume 1’ because I, for one, hope that they are already delving through National Geographic’s archives as well as the wider world of cartography to bring us a second collection at the very least. Maybe next time I’ll get a map in because that’d be a huge privilege and it’s possibly the biggest acclaim I can give to the book that I’m jealous that I haven’t yet made anything worthy enough to be considered. That makes me want to try harder as I hope for the next installment of their cartographic odyssey.
Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book for review from the publisher though there was no requirement to write a review, positive, negative or indifferent. I also acted as an advisor to the book albeit I can’t recall precisely what and am sure it was a miniscule contribution, a fleetingly brief conversation and pretty much irrelevant to the final product anyway. But you’ll find my name in the acknowledgments so it’s best to mention this.
A year ago I saw a lovely map entitled 'Biscuits' (cookies, but way way better, for my American friends). Made by friend and talented cartographer Chris Wesson, it was a quirky but really interesting way to look at 'a very British obsession', to geo-locate classic products and provide a little explanation. I liked it. And, as tends to happen when I peruse map galleries an idea popped into my mind.
Since I've lived in the US, whenever people ask me what I miss about the UK my standard retort has always been 'cheese and electricity'. (actually, the real answer is my family and friends but that seems boring and wouldn't get a laugh). Cheese, because, let's be frank...cheese in the US is utterly awful. Tasteless plastic nonsense. And the electricity - at 120V is half-powered. Almost impossible to toast a piece of bread in anything under 10 minutes and the only benefit being you really don't need to switch off the mains to do home repairs. I forgot once in the UK and got thrown off a ladder with a charred forearm...proper 240V electricity. I digress.
So, I love English cheese and although I've seen occasional maps showing the location of English cheese I wanted to do something altogether more interesting. I decided right there and then to make a large edible real-life map exhibit. A cheese board of UK cheese. But let's not stop there. Let's get a cheese board in the shape of the UK. And let's fill it with geo-located cheese
I decided to give myself a year to plan the project. It turned out this was a necessity. The first problem was sourcing a cheese board in the shape of the UK. They don't exist despite extensive searching. So I decided to just make one. I made the map in ArcGIS Pro using data representing the ceremonial counties of the UK (that's the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). I was targeting it as an exhibit at the UK Mapping Festival in September 2018 so the map had to be the UK.
The original idea was to make a jigsaw out of cheese on top of the map. Each county represented by a piece of cheese that would be cut into the shape of the county. As the cheese is eaten, the map underneath emerges. Except, despite there being over 770 different UK cheeses the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem and boundary lines stymied my idea. There were some very large areas with little or no cheese production (particularly in Scotland and the East of England). Some cheeses, being very soft, would not be easily cut to shape. And the modern administrative map of the UK contains all sorts of weird and wonderful counties and Unitary Authorities. Ugh! So I went with ceremonial counties. The jigsaw of real cheese idea still wasn't going to work as there would have been over 136 tiny pieces of cheese on the board and a hell of a lot of waste considering most cheese is sold in a minimum 250g size.
Design for the United Kingdom of Cheese on a Board
The map was designed and I was originally going to make it myself but it soon became clear I didn't have the correct tools. I found Andrew Abbott, an experienced artisan woodworker who had the required tools - a CNC router and a laser engraver - and the willingness to help me with my crazy idea. Over a period of several months I worked closely with him here in California to make the cheese board. We discussed wood types and settled on Maple. I iterated the design and gave me good advice on what would and wouldn't work. He glued laminate maple blocks together and set to work. He worked from svg output from ArcGIS Pro to drive the machinery and he finished the product by hand, and stained the Maple wood to a beautiful finish. Here's a few pictures of the board in various stages of production. It's a metre tall and about 80cm wide at its widest. it's a big board capable of holding a lot of cheese!
Laminated block of Maple waiting for their first cut
There weren't too many design decisions because the map is really just administrative boundaries and labels. But a couple of fun dilemmas. What to do with the Isle of Man for instance? It's a self-governing Crown dependency and not part of the UK yet it would be silly to leave it off the map. I was going to get a hole cut in the board in its shape but the potential for cheese to fall through the hole was too much. In the end I just didn't label it. And what of boundaries in the Republic of Ireland? Well - I chose to remove them as the Republic is also not part of the UK and, instead, used the space as a perfect place for the title cartouche. I didn't label it either. I have had one person get somewhat annoyed about my apparent ignorance for the Republic but that was my cartographic editorial decision. Tough.
And the biggie...at a time when debates were raging about the position of Shetland and Orkney in inset maps what the hell should I do? They are too far removed from the mainland to be cut in their real position. the wood would not have held and it would have necessitated a large expanse of nothing. Yeah, there's some very small local cheese producers on Shetland but not enough to warrant a huge proportion of Maple all for itself. So I opted for an inset and the islands now occupy the coastal area off eastern Scotland. A pragmatic decision but one which was preferred to the only other viable option - leaving them off the map altogether! Actually, after the cheese board was produced John Nelson suggested Shetland and Orkney could have been a floating olive dish. I still might get my jigsaw out and set them loose. John has a strange relationship with olives. You should ask him some time.
So, turning attention to the cheese. The criteria was simple...fill the board, make the cheese as geographically located as possible, and get a good mix of the classics and the rare, and of different styles. There were also a small set of around a dozen cheeses with European Union 'Protected Geographical Indication' and 'Protected Destination of Origin' designations. These were important and should be sourced. Whittling down a list of over 700 cheeses and sourcing the cheese became a challenge. I had an initial list of around 60 and was aiming for around 30-40 cheeses. And here's my top tip for anyone thinking of doing this...phone suppliers, work closely with them. Ensure that they will have product and can ship it to arrive on a particular day. Don't get too wedded to having a specific cheese as it may be only available seasonally. I eventually settled on a list of 30 cheeses, sourced from six different suppliers that met the criteria, were available, and would fill the board fairly well.
Dart Mountain Dusk
Dorset Blue Vinney*
Isle of Wight Blue
Isle of Wight
Isle of Mull
Isle of Mull
*cheese of 'Protected Geographical Indication' or 'Protected Destination of Origin'
I'll not bore you with detailed logistics but given I live in California the cheese had to be delivered to my brother Colin's house in Lincolnshire and he (and my wonderful nieces Isabella, Amelia and Eloise) then drove the cheese down to London ahead of the conference event at which it was going to be displayed and devoured. Keeping it cool and fresh was paramount. My hotel room then began to get a little whiffy for a day or so and the mini-bar fridge was somewhat rammed with around £400 worth of cheese. And how did the cheese board get from California to London? That'll be British Airways allowing me an additional bag as part of my frequent flyer status. Very handy, thanks!
So the United Kingdom on a Cheese Board was then transported and set up at the #geomob event on Thursday 7th September at the Geovation hub in Clerkenwell, London. Each piece of cheese was topped with a small sign indicating its origin and history. Unfortunately 7 pieces didn't make it. They had been delivered to my brother's house simply too early and were no longer in an edible state. We ended up with 24 cheeses all told and that turned out to be just about right to fill the board. Around 50-60 geogeeks and map nerds were in attendance for the evening talks and the cheese board was very much a star attraction. With wine supplied by friend and colleague Ben Flanagan (and thanks to Esri UK) we had a glorious spread of cheese, biscuits and wine to wash down the geotalks and a good evening was had by all.
The United Kingdom of Cheese on a Board at #geomob, Thursday 7th September 2018
Here's a selection of photographs from the evening itself.
Awaiting the cheese
Labelling the cheese
The first cut
The end result
I had a lot of fun with this project, combining my day job of map design using ArcGIS with the ability to turn digital maps into a physical product beyond a piece of paper by collaborating with people with the right skills and tools to put my thoughts into action. My goal of creating a one-off edible map exhibit was achieved and, so, the cheese board was washed and packed ready for its return journey to my kitchen in the US. Will it appear again? Quite possibly. In the meantime, it'll remain empty because provolone, sharp cheddar and pepperjack are simply not cheese. I'd rather poke my fingers in an electrical outlet socket :-)
Footnote...I'd contracted a gastrointestinal 'issue' in Tanzania the week before and so I didn't actually get to try any of the cheese myself. Very disappointing. And what's that you ask? My favourite cheese? Gotta be Stilton from Cropwell Bishop or Colston Bassett in my home county of Nottinghamshire. Perfect!
I recently had the privilege of attending a couple of geo conferences and thought I'd jot down some thoughts. There's also one I didn't attend...but it's relevant to the discussion and it'll get a few comments too.
FOSS4G, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 29-31 August I've been to a few FOSS events. It's not my wheelhouse, so to speak, given I largely use Esri products due to the nature of my employment BUT, and it's a big BUT, it's crucial that all sectors of geo play a role in supporting the work of those in the FOSS community. We share values. We actually share an awful lot, and attending these sort of events allows exchange of ideas and an opportunity to perhaps foster relationships and contacts across communities. I've long held the belief that the tools you use to do your 'geo' make no difference to how you should be perceived. Proprietary or Free - it's just a different business model to get the tools in your hands. It's what you do with it that counts. Some of my closest friends in geo are FOSS advocates. We get along fine. Others should too.
FOSS stalwarts and good friends Steven Feldman and Mark Iliffe
There was the usual tribal minority who seem to revel in their almost religious hatred of others but I have to say this seems to be a dwindling faction. It was a really valuable few days discussing a multitude of projects and ideas, plotting the spark of a few new ideas and taking the opportunity to reconnect with people I rarely see at other geo events. There was considerable interest in my recently released book Cartography and, also, the MOOC on Cartography that I built along with my colleagues at Esri. Community focused projects, ultimately vendor neutral, that I helped bring to the fore to support the wider community.
This was only the second time FOSS4G had been to anywhere in Africa (2008 was in Cape Town). It attracted over 1,000 attendees, including over 150 young professionals and students who were able to take advantage of an innovative travel grant programme that supports them with a financial contribution to help them attend. But what amazed me more than anything was here we were, in a part of the world with many significant barriers to the successful organisation of a large, major, international conference and it appeared to go with out a hitch (I know it didn't, but that delegates were unaware is the success). This is no small feat by the organisers. The web site was populated early, the programme was put together professionally. There was a good mix of work on show, and people from all walks of geo: academic, professional, big business, NGOs, startups and pretty much all the major players such as OSGeo (obviously) but also Esri, Mapbox, Carto, and Google were on board as sponsors.
The conference was run professionally. It was dynamic, interesting, vibrant. The social programme was carefully designed to facilitate delegate interaction. There were all manner of meetups. Water, tea, coffee and food was copious and always on tap. There were film crews and a professional team doing the AV. There was professional signage everywhere from booth graphics to directions and room information. The organisers sweated over the small stuff. If you pay attention to the detail you bring together a coherent whole.
But here's the thing. It's a serious undertaking trying to organise a conference, any conference, and in this part of the world the challenges are numerous. I was privy to some of the behind-the-scenes issues and to say that some were huge is an understatement. Kudos to the entire LOC for overcoming often very acute problems and delivering a superb event. People left with smiles and I only heard positive comments.
UK Mapping Festival, London, England 2-7 September After FOSS4G I hopped to the UK for the inaugural UK Mapping Festival. In past years I've been critical of the model used by the British Cartographic Society whose preference for their conference to be a one day event at a hotel (often in a remote area, often undergoing refurbishment), a single track of presentations (often including product pitches from sponsors), and very little more than an old boys reunion. Now don't get me wrong, the opportunity to reconnect with people you possibly only see once a year at such an event is important (particularly for an ex-pat like me), but it shouldn't be the raison d'être.
So I was delighted that the organisers of the annual BCS conference were changing things and going for a week long celebration of UK mapping. Brilliant! Flights and travel booked. Looking forward to it. Unfortunately, after the wonders of FOSS4G I have to say that it was one of the biggest letdowns I've experienced on my 25yrs on the conference circuit.
There were signs well ahead of the event. The web site was late being populated with way too much placeholder text and I was hearing murmurings on various backchannels. The booking system was unclear and unwieldy. Speakers and, crucially, keynotes, were being added right up to the event itself.
There were supposed to be three main conference days run by various UK geo societies and bodies co-located yet, strangely, with separate registration fees. The Association of Geographic Information went on the 4th, BCS, in conjunction with the Society of Cartographers, on the 5th and the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies (BARSC) on the 6th. OK, so there's no way I'm paying for three separate days so the 5th was it for me. This was a real opportunity missed to support cross-pollination of communities. I'd certainly have been interested in some of the stuff from the other days but not for separate registration fees. I went to the exhibition on the 4th and 6th and numbers were not healthy. This strategy must have hurt attendance.
And on the 5th, there were workshops that delegates may very well have gone to but the one-track presentation session was on all day. Why weren't workshops on another day to encourage people to attend for longer? I'm sure there's arguments for all of this by the organisers but it's a baffling approach for delegates shoe-horned into making a choice when there would appear to have been alternatives to avoid that problem. It's not like the conference had parallel tracks so you effectively had to choose between a bit of hands-on training or listening to the talks which, on the whole, were very interesting it must be said.
The exhibition was odd - a so-called London street scene which comprised some wooden huts, a London bus and a huge British Army truck. The latter got some interest. The bus got no use at all from what I can make out and the exhibitors...hardly any traffic because it's the same companies that exhibit year on year to the same small group of attendees. I tried to get a coffee on the 4th when I only had an exhibitor pass and was charged £2. If the exhibition was free, where was everyone? Is this an apathetic British population? Is it poor advertising? Is it poor location? Timing? Well, possibly all of these. Holding the conference the week that children went back to school after the summer holidays wasn't smart. Charging a lot for exhibition space didn't help. Locating in London (8 million people) should have yielded a large population of potential visitors but where were they? I've heard a few people say that the accommodation and travel costs to London are too expensive to make it worthwhile but I do wonder whether they are assessing it against the value of the event itself. Make it worth every penny to attend and people WILL attend. I was bemused about the idea of creating a so-called London street scene. I mean, honestly, there was a London street right outside the front door. The conference was actually in London!!! Everyone knows what a London bus looks like!
Chair of the Society of Cartographers, Steve Chilton, who taught me
everything I know about guerilla t-shirt marketing
And herein lies the problem - the UK Mapping Festival ended up being a BCS conference in disguise. Same organisation behind the scenes. Same structure. Same exhibition. Same faces. Sure, there were a few variations around the edges but not much. It was stale, unimaginative and, frankly, rather dull. And let me be clear - this is not just me saying this. Many others voiced similar concerns during the day. It cannot continue like this because UK cartographic societies are dying, fast. The Society of Cartographers AGM resulted in a formal winding up process because the Society cannot continue on a shoestring. This is dreadfully sad. SOC has at least tried to move with the pace of change in modern cartography over the last few years where BCS has stood rather still. I sincerely hope some of the smart people involved in the running of SOC are given positions on the BCS Council as SOC members are encouraged to move their membership fees over.
The UK Mapping Festival web site was difficult to navigate. Ideas that I know were proposed to the programme committee (and even by those on the programme committee) were either ignored or never followed up. A series of potential high profile cartographic experts as keynotes was replaced by a minor celebrity whose talk was poorly targeted. Ken Hames (who?) was not a motivational speaker. Anything but. Anecdotes from army days and friendships with the late Princess of Wales really aren't what people want from a modern mapping conference. Oh - and it was an additional tenner to attend if you hadn't got a pass for that day. Even the choice of beer at the nearest hotel bar came down to Corona, Budweiser or Becks. And there wasn't even a single complementary beverage. The so-called comedy night was also poorly thought-through as well. Much of the material may have worked in a dimly lit comedy club with a tanked up crowd but only a couple of the acts even bothered weaving in some map-related material. I understand they were cheap to hire. That probably says it all. It's simply not good enough! There is far better out there. People expect far more.
Advertised as part of the UK Mapping Festival, the #geomob event on the evening of the 6th was, at least, a little more forward thinking. It was held at the geovation hub. It was free to attend and that garnered nearly as many people as had attended the BCS/SOC conference on the 4th. Event space is given for free. Sponsors help buy beer, nibbles and wine. The atmosphere is one of mutual interest and genuinely, people had a good time and, en masse, decamped to the bar where conversations continued. Organising events is not rocket science and the stuffiness of the days evaporated with the freshness of this particular evening. But why...WHY were only a handful (maybe 3 or 4) people who had attended any of the day's events also at the #geomob event? It's simple. Events that are put on in the UK, unlike the way FOSS4G was organised are targeted to a very very niche group. This is why they fail. There's no real attempt to foster integration. As I said earlier, this attitude has to change.
Some cheese at #geomob
I was also due to present at a Better Mapping seminar on the 4th but it was cancelled with a few days notice due to lack of interest. Only a few people had signed up and the event space (the Royal Geographic Society) needed 12 attendees to make it viable. Now I do not know the finances and the fees structure for the event but it strikes me as astonishing that we cannibalize our own group of core societies by charging for space in this way (if, indeed, that's the case, I only assume it is) and holding it on a day when another competing activity was taking place. The organiser, Chris Wesson, had done a great job putting the event together but it was advertised late, it was a paid-for event (£75 sounds steep to me, though it was free to BCS members) AND put on against a day's event at the main conference site (all sadly out of his control). You can get so much training for free these days that these events have to look at alternative models if they are going to succeed. Cut out venue costs and speaker expenses (they should offer their services and costs for free to contribute...they get exposure for their ideas and companies for a start) and then look at ways to get people interested. This is valuable outreach for BCS and it's another failed opportunity to place some of the UK's prominent cartographic experts at the fore, sharing ideas and espousing the value of a wider community.
There were events for children to get involved with at the exhibition. I didn't see a single child involved with any of the mapping activities. I felt sorry for all the hard work that the organiser of that component (Alice Gadney) put in to make a fantastic event space but it was ultimately poorly used.
Even the BCS awards dinner descended into minor farce with none of the awards certificates being signed and one award (the Henry Johns award) not even judged by the time of the evening ceremony. This may seem a terribly minor issue and it is, in many ways. But it's not the first time it's happened and it's just symptomatic of the issues that bubbled to the surface once more.
And what of the attendees - yes, many of the usual faces but perhaps surprisingly, some very notable absentees who you'd ordinarily see at these events. Again, it's unclear why but I'd have thought the Chair of the UK Cartographic Committee, also on the Executive Committee of the International Cartographic Association, might have attended. UKCC represents UK cartography on the international stage. Some sort of report, review, or statement would be useful. In that person's absence, surely some sort of acknowledgement of how the UK is shaping up for the International Cartographic Conference in Tokyo in 2019 might have been forthcoming? Nope.
Anyway, to many of the people I spoke to at the event, it was simply a letdown and the promise of something fresh and different simply did not materialise. Back to the drawing board for next year but I feel there's more than simply a change of city and venue and tinkering with the model that needs to change.
GeoCart 2018, Wellington, New Zealand 5-7 September I didn't go, but I know someone who did. I had to make a choice earlier in the year whether to go to the UK Mapping Festival or GeoCart. I've been to the last four events (they're every other year rather than annual events). They attract a similarly sized crowd to UK events (around 100 people). I plumped for the UK but regret my decision. By all accounts GeoCart was vibrant and fascinating.
With a similar amount of people (from a population of around 4 million - half that of London!!!) they manage to encourage not only attendance but participation. Instead of a single track with 12 presentations there were well advertised pre-con workshops and two tracks offering over 100 presentations. There's ice breakers with free wine. There's a relaxed gala dinner where you don't have to decide your menu choice months in advance. All in all - a similar conference yet the difference with the UK Mapping Festival could not be more profound. And my simple question is this...if a society like the New Zealand Cartographic Society can develop something really rather magnificent, why do we continually fail to do so in the UK?
Wither UK cartographic events? As people who know me appreciate, I make these sort of observations and comments out of a love for the societies that I have grown up belonging to. I hate to see them, and the events they stage, wasting away. While some (like the New Zealand conference and, also, the hugely enjoyable NACIS conference in North America) seem to have moved with the times, adapted, and worked hard to develop a model that works, the UK efforts are sorely flagging. They are tired, generally expensive to attend, and disappointing.
There are so many geo events that people are making hard decisions on what to attend and, currently, events staged by the British Cartographic Society, their preferred organsing company and the like are suffering. they're actually making decisions much easier to make! Heck, I even sent an email and get a private visit to Bellerby Globemakers arranged with no effort at all. It can't be that difficult to arrange events that actually interest people, take advantage of a locality and make them WANT to visit. Everyone knows what a London bus looks like so having one parked in an exhibition hall isn't going to be much of a draw. But what an opportunity missed - London. There are so many fascinating map-related places and people in and around the capital and none were harnessed.
A visit to Bellerby Globemakers - not a UK Mapping Festival event
And I have left the biggest issue of them all until last. The UK Mapping Festival was scheduled for 2-7th September. It still says that on the web site. Some (me, and a few others at least) booked flights and London-based accommodation on that basis. It turns out that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, on the 2nd, 3rd, or 7th at all. I was told that the intent had been for other events to take place but they didn't emerge. Why? And when it became clear that the 6 days was fast shrinking to 3, and just a single day if the other two conference days weren't of particular interest to you, the organisers should probably should have been a little more honest with your potential delegates. I made the best of my time by arranging meetings, visits to places like Bellerby, the Imperial War Museum and the Design Museum to explore their cartographic collections but I wanted to enjoy a week's festival, as advertised...not have to build my own festival.
Two UK Mapping Festival delegates (me and Bill Cartwright) who, between them
traveled nearly 45,000 miles and stayed 16 hotel nights in London.
So what now? Will the BCS conference revert to type? Will anyone actually review what happened and put in place mechanisms for change? Does anyone have the will? I fear there's a long way to go. There's a number of good, young people who have tried to get involved to affect change. My understanding is it's a challenging environment in a volunteer society that has many longstanding officers. But I wonder what their experience is beyond that of their own conference? I don't see them anywhere else so it makes you wonder. They cannot simply live in a bubble forever. Others have to pop it and force change to reinvigorate UK events. I hope for better, I really do. But let's be honest, this is not simply an accusation I'm leveling at the UK and its various geo societies. Many societies and many conferences are stale. They have relied on the same approach for far too long, often underpinned by the same team of people who just rinse and repeat. People aren't stupid and they are getting wiser when deciding where to spend their shrinking conference budgets.
I tried my best to help this year by bringing my Lego globe (no-one really commented about it), by making sure we had book giveaways, and by proposing my edible map exhibit...an idea that became too difficult to arrange anywhere in space and time on the 5th that I switched it to the #geomob event where it was devoured. Conferences these days have t-shirts, stickers and badges. I made some of my own as giveaways. Tote bags full of corporate brochures is so 1980 and they only go to landfill.
If a small organising committee of volunteers can make a large international conference work in Dar es Salaam, and a similarly sized conference can work with a much smaller population in New Zealand to put on a stimulating event, why can't we get it right in the UK? Hopefully 2019 will see some progress. I live in hope at least.
Just when you think we've exhausted mapping the 2016 Presidential election maps along comes another. New York Times' 'Extremely Detailed Map' presents precinct level data from the work undertaken by Ryne Rohla.
And thus, my Twitter feed went into a late night tail spin as I saw, in equal measure, exasperated cartographers bemoaning the map and political commentators and everyone else and their dog exclaiming it's sheer wonder. I offered a few comments which drew plenty of agreement, but which also had others telling me that the map wasn't made for master cartographers etc etc. No, Nate Cohn, the map is not 'as I've never seen it before'. It's not 'amazing' or 'Incredible'. No, James Fallows, the map is not 'great'. Such hyperbole simply reinforces people's beliefs because they take their lead from the sort of comments you make. Who cares what a few expert cartographers might have to say on the topic...you know, those people who are actually qualified and experienced in ways that make their perspective worthy.
So what's my beef? First off, the map is not 'wrong'. The data is more detailed than many others (including virtually all I made) by being at the precinct level and not the county, or state level. So you have smaller geographical areas. Detailed, yes. Accurate, certainly. Useful? Absolutely not because of the way the map was made. The very fact that it's made for a public not versed in cartographic wizardry is precisely why maps like this need strong cartographic editorial control. The general public is drawn in by the headline, they are told detail matters and they infer that the map must be bloody great because they are told it is.
It's a straight-up choropleth showing share of vote. Darker shades of red for a higher Republican share and Darker shades of blue for higher Democrat share. It uses a standard diverging colour scheme. Again, not fundamentally 'wrong' but the choice of map type and symbol type lead to a very particular map. A map that, visually, over-emphasizes geography.
You see, there are hundreds of small areas on the map with ridiculously low population counts which are given equal (and sometimes greater) visual prominence as other far more densely populated areas. An area that has 100 voters and 90 of them voted Republican is shown as dark red and a 90% share. Exactly the same symbol would be used for an area that has 100,000 voters, 90,000 of whom voted Republican. The differences between the number of people who live, work, and vote in each area is fundamental to the impact the resulting map has on our senses because we end up seeing a shit load of red. That much red distorts our perception of the result. It exaggerates the election results by persuading our eyes that more red equals more votes and a larger winning margin. That simply isn't true. Many small areas with a lot of people carry far more importance, electorally, than many large areas that have small population counts. And so, the map misleads, it reflects more of the geography of the country than it does of the people of the country. That huge swathe of red down the middle of the country is not a huge crowd of Trump voters, distributed as evenly as people on the two coasts, but simply where sparsely scattered people preferred Trump's pitch.
This map takes the very same data yet is designed to ameliorate the form. It considers the underlying problems of its distribution and the geographies it is bound by. It then reflects on how best to show the same data in a way that a person needs not to have a degree in cartography or electoral geography to disentangle the reality form the mapped form. In short, they thought about how to rid the map of misleading symbols and present a more truthful version. This, is good cartography. Where a cartographer has actively considered the impact of his or her design choices on the map, the message imbued in their choices, and the way the map will be perceived and cognitively processed.
The Washington Post map scales point symbols and uses subtle transparency shifts to take account of geographical and population distribution disparities. Same data. Fantastic map. Still plenty of red but, now, in visual balance with the rest of the map. And comparisons are what maps like this are all about. We see one place and we visually compare with another. That's how we assess our understanding of spatial patterns and the simple processing of where there is less compared with more.
Back to the NYT map for a moment because there are other problems that I honestly cannot believe we're still talking about. The map uses Web Mercator as its projection. This is flat out wrong for a map where you want, sorry, NEED, equal area to be maintained. Just dumping the map across a Web Mercator basemap is downright lazy. Alaska...
And the 3D view...holy crap map. It flips the map to an oblique angle but the map is flat. Flat as a bloody pancake. There's nothing 3D about it whatsoever. A gimmick. A pointless, and mis-labelled gimmick that ends up distorting the relative coverage of colour even more. Foreground gets visual prominence. Background recedes.
So there we have it, the latest election map. Not the best by any stretch but another clear demonstration of the vital role cartographers have in educating people to understand that what they are seeing is as much a function of the choices in map design (and laziness in not doing anything to prepare or display the data) than it is the actual data. Making maps for mass public consumption demands good cartography, not technical gimmicks. It demands you reflect on what the map will tell people through your design choices. Cartography mediates understanding. The lens of the map-maker is fundamental to how we see the world. If you choose, actively, or through ignorance, not to bother with cartography then your map is doing your viewers a huge disservice and reinforces the already pathetically poor appreciation of geography that exists in society. Think about it. Do better, and end the nonsensical cartographic hyperbole that this sort of map crap feeds.
I'll end with this...Nate Cohn trolling any and all of us who make comments on the problems of the default choropleth.
Let me be clear...I love a good choropleth map. Modify the map by adding in an alpha channel to visually mute areas with smaller populations and you've got a good choropleth. Put it on an Albers Equal Area projection and you've got a great choropleth. Alternatively, modify the geography to account for population and you've got any number of different cartograms all with choroplethic symbolisation. Do your due diligence and make the map right.
I've always really enjoyed building things. As a kid I had a lot of Lego: a huge box of the stuff. I also made dozens of Airfix kits and recall a giant Millenium Falcon that for some bizarre reason I once decided to see how far it would fly from my bedroom window. It didn't but that's another story altogether.
I have long held the notion that Lego is more of an adult plaything than a children's toy. It's expensive. The kits get larger and more extravagant every year. There's little chance I'd have been gifted many of the kits my adult solvency has enabled me to buy and enjoy building. I know many adults who enjoy building Lego. But there's always been a set that's eluded me...a globe. Lego, to my knowledge, have never made a globe as a set. And yet if you go to one of their parks you'll see them. Here, a giant at Legoland California:
A sphere is a technically challenging build. It has to look like a sphere for a start, which is a major difficulty when your basic building blocks are cuboid in shape. I am also nowhere nearly proficient enough to design a globe myself. Thankfully there are master builders who do have the necessary chops. After many years exploring all of the various builds you can find online I went with this one by Dirk:
(animated gif from Dirk's site)
It's a 48-brick wide monster but, beyond the engineering, he made a real effort to get the cartography correct. For me, that was vital (obviously).
Dirk offers the plans for sale for an extremely modest price and so my adventure began. It took around 60 separate orders from Bricklink to collect the >3,800 bricks needed for the build. Some of the bricks are pretty rare and my globe was made from bricks from around 10 different countries as I had to scour the globe to find them all. Our postie wanted to know what the hell I was ordering with all the small parcels arriving, and at one point the mailbox was too stuffed full to fit any more in.
It took probably around 30 hours to build in total and dominated the dining room table for over a month...but it's finished and it is mighty impressive. I customised my globe a little differently from Dirk's original but it's ostensibly the same build. I'll leave a few images below of the build but Dirk goes into a lot of detail about the model on his page. It's his work and I'm grateful that he spent the time and effort to make such a wonderful model. I'd refer you to Dirk's page if you want to find out more.
Maps and Lego...so much fun! So why don't Lego make a globe set? I've no idea!
PS. If you're attending the Esri User Conference in San Diego July 2018 then my Lego globe will be on display as part of a Creative Cartography exhibit. Stop by and take a look. There may even be a special Lego minifigure appearance.