Review: Atlas of Design, Vol. 6

Late last year I received, as a review copy, the sixth volume of the Atlas of Design. Things being what they are around here, there has been somewhat of a gap between receiving it, reading it, and saying something about it. But it’s worth saying something about that volume now, and the Atlas of Design in general, for at least one small reason I’ll get to in a moment.

I’ve mentioned the Atlas of Design series before, but it’s worth introducing it properly. Published every two years since 2012 by the North American Cartographic Information Society, the Atlas of Design is powered by volunteer editors and contributor submissions. Nobody’s getting paid for working on or appearing in these volumes—though it must be said that many of these maps are commercial ventures (posters available for sale at the mapper’s website) or works for hire (National Geographic and the Washington Post are represented in volume six), so the mapmakers aren’t doing this just for the exposure.

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Tien Shan and Other Panoramic Maps by Eric Knight

Eric Knight, “Tien Shan” (2022).

Eric Knight’s amazing panoramic maps aren’t the mountain panoramas you’re used to (if, that is, your point of reference is Berann or Niehues). Knight, who’s produced detailed relief and panoramic maps for National Geographic (see this page for examples of his work) gives us maps of vast regions, viewed in some cases from such a height that the Earth’s curvature is visible: see for example the Alps, the Caucasus, and Tien Shan (above). Available in online zoomable versions and for sale as prints. [Cartoblography]

Confused by Cartographic Conventions

Daniel Huffman writes that “there are certain cartographic conventions out there for which I don’t understand the logic.” (Such as that thematic or choropleth maps should be on equal-area projections.) “I do not suggest that these conventions are wrong; only that I lack a clear, intuitive rationale for following them, and so haven’t always incorporated them into my own practice. Maybe you can help explain them, or maybe you’re confused, too.”

In Praise of Dot Grid Maps

Historical FEWS NET Data

Mikel Maron is a fan of dot grid maps:

Dot grids are a clear, informative, multidimensional and flexible cartographic technique. They effectively leverage patterns of human perception to present information dense but readily comprehensible maps. Compared to choropleth maps, dots retain the base map context, and invite us to fill in the gaps. They emphasize the limits of data sampling. Dot grids can be joined together across different boundaries flexibly. The density of a dot grid can be varied depending on the scale. And that visual regularity … it just looks so cool.

He offers some examples of dot grid maps from his work at Earth Genome (see e.g above), and elsewhere, and gives some history of the format.

Ordnance Survey Soliciting Ideas for New Map Symbols

The Ordnance Survey is asking its users to propose new symbols for its paper and digital maps, the Sunday Times reports [paywalled;  News+]. “The national mapping agency is suggesting a list of potential updates, such as cafés, dog-waste bins and bicycle repair shops, as well as annotations to alert wheelchair and pushchair users about paths that have stiles. It may also include defibrillators once there is a reliable register.” Symbols were last updated in 2015. The Times article quotes a number of people who point out that the OS map could stand more radical change: among other things, there are still no separate symbols for non-Christian places of worship. See also the Guardian’s coverage.

‘One Bad Map a Day in February’

#mapfailbruarychallenge: a list of categories to create one bad map a day in February.

It’s like the #30daymapchallenge in November, in which mapmakers are challenged to make a map a day on a given daily theme, only the reverse: the MapFailbruaryChallenge is about making a bad map on a given daily theme. “The idea is to create the worst map possible.” Bad maps happen; will a deliberately bad map be better or worse? Either way, it’s probably worth stocking up on popcorn for when maps with the #mapfailbruarychallenge hashtag start showing up on our timelines.

(Failbruary. Fai-EL-bru-AIR-y. Say that ten times. And resign yourselves to the fact that Reddit is probably going to kick everyone’s ass on this.)

Update, 19 Jan: There’s an official website now.

Projection Connections: A Genealogy of Map Projections

Projection Connections: a diagram showing the relationships between various map projections by Daniel Huffman
Daniel Huffman

Fresh off of producing a (now sold-out) line of map projection trading cards, Daniel Huffman has produced a 16×24-inch poster showing the surprisingly close and entangled relationships between the various map projections.

I first learned about a couple of these connections several years ago. I don’t quite remember how or where, but I found out that the Mercator projection was equivalent to a Lambert Conformal Conic with the standard parallels set opposite each other across the Equator. And that if you moved both those parallels up to a pole, you got a Stereographic. My mind was suitably blown, and I saved it as a fun fact to share with people. This year, while working on The Projection Collection, I spent a lot of time on daan Strebe’s site looking up details, and I often saw his notes (usually derived from Snyder/Voxland) about how projections were related to each other. I started to realize there were a lot of these connections out there, and I thought it might be fun to diagram them in some way.

The diagram is digital-only (PDF) and donationware.

Will Using Fuller’s Projection Get You in Trouble?

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion map: is the projection it uses patented, trademarked or copyrighted to the extent that you have to pay a licencing fee or face a lawsuit? Daniel Huffman digs into this very question, which apparently has been circulating around the cartographic world for some time. “Here’s the summary of what I’ve concluded: if you don’t pay a license fee before you publish a map that uses the Fuller projection, you may find yourself hearing from the projection’s ‘owner.’ At the same time, I don’t think that the owner (the Buckminster Fuller Institute) has any rights that would actually hold up in court.”

What Do You Mean, Three Norths?

The Ordnance Survey is making a small deal over a so-called “triple alignment” of true north, magnetic north and grid north early this month: “the historic triple alignment will make landfall at the little village of Langton Matravers just west of Swanage in early November and will stay converged on Great Britain for three and a half years as it slowly travels up the country.”

Now, grid north is an artifact of a map projection’s grid lines. On a map grid there’s always some difference between true north and grid north except along the central meridian, which in Ordnance Survey maps is two degrees west of Greenwich. The further away from that central meridian, the greater the difference.

What the Ordnance Survey is hyping is that magnetic north, which is constantly shifting, has moved to a point where magnetic declination (the difference between true north and magnetic north) is zero along that central meridian. Kind of neat—if you’re using an Ordnance Survey map. Because this particular triple alignment only exists for Ordnance Survey maps. It’s all a bit anglocentric, really (especially the bit in the video that describes true north as “the line which runs through Britain to the North Pole”).

From Analemma to Zodiac: Bellerby’s Glossary of Globe Terminology

Globemaker Bellerby & Co. has posted a glossary of globe terminology that covers more general geographical terms and concepts (equator, hemisphere) as well as things that are mainly found on globes, covering the various mount types, to common features like time dials and analemmas, to calottes (which are the little circles that cover the poles, where the gore points meet; oddly enough “gore” doesn’t get its own listing).

McPhee’s Maps of Alberta and Saskatchewan

Thumbnails of Alex McPhee's maps of Alberta and SaskatchewanAlex McPhee’s ridiculously detailed map of Alberta, which included things like the area burned in the 2016 Fort McMurray fire and the province’s Hutterite colonies, came out in print form—specifically, in the form of a 42″×68″ wall map—last year. Now he’s done it again: a similarly detailed 36″×66″ wall map of his home province of Saskatchewan, which he’s just sent to the printer. Each map starts at $60.

Mercator: Extreme

To follow-up on xkcd’s Madagascator cartoon (previously), I missed the fact that clicking on the cartoon at the xkcd website actually did something, but Keir caught it: it links to Drew Roos’s Mercator: Extreme, an online tool that allows you to have some fun with the Mercator projection’s excessive polar distortion by making any point on the planet the North Pole and which clearly served as Randall’s inspiration.

The Design Choices Behind Maps of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

In Geographical magazine, Doug Specht and Alexander Kent examine some of the design choices made by media organizations mapping the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Cartographic design choices over colour, layout, lettering and symbology, for example, all influence our attitudes and feelings towards the war in Ukraine. […] [B]y understanding how these choices (e.g., regarding the selection and classification of features as well as their colour and symbology) mask the nuances of reality, we can be better at reading the stories they are trying to tell.”

Relatedly, in a Twitter thread, Le Monde’s cartographic team explores the decisions behind one of their print maps (in French).

Previously: How Maps of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine Can Mislead; Mapping the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Roundup #3.