Month: March 2017

The incredible Bollmann map workshop (2)


(See Part 1 here:

Perspective effect
The maps are obviously not drawn in perspective. They use a modified axonometric projection, invented by Hermann Bollmann. With this kind of parallel projection, the scale is constant across the map. A 45-degree angle gives the best compromise of dimension and clarity, and each map has it’s own unique viewpoint which is chosen to best show that city. The color palette is also selected on a case-by-case basis.

Detail from the Stuttgart map.

The secret of success
Why do Bollmann’s maps seem so much more informative, in terms of being useful navigational aids, than aerial photos and 3D-rendered views like Google Earth? There is a lot of high-tech, data-driven mapping at our disposal, but it is no match for their informational artistry. A key factor is that the Bollmann maps are not drawn in an exact realistic proportion. Otherwise we would mostly see roofs with compressed facades, which would not be useful for helping navigation on the ground. Buildings are adjusted to be more visually descriptive without compromising the character of the structure. A vertical exaggeration of between 120% and 170% is applied, depending on the character of the city. Also, the streets have been considerably widened, so we can clearly see them and their labels. It’s not obvious until you compare one of these maps to an aerial photo. “We draw cities from above, as you see them from below”, says Sven. Like all good informational graphics, the interpretation enhances our understanding. A crucial point. It’s why many 3D-rendered maps are very unsatisfying. Just disappointing pieces of technical wizardry, in terms of wayfinding, without this careful infographic intervention.

Detail of the Wiesbaden map.

Detail of the Hamburg map.

Master mapmaker
Above is Thomas Greve’s workstation, where he spends many hours making hand-drawn map corrections. It’s a mixture of analog and digital. Photos from the street, and from the air, are on the monitor. Areas needing attention are marked in green. The detail below (different from the one shown above) shows the painstaking checking and correction process.

Advertising pays the bills
90% of Bollmann’s income is from companies having their small logo placed on a map. This has been the business model since the company began. Without that source of revenue, they would not have been able to maintain their standards. Well, not without having to charge a very high price for each map. The current cost of a folded city map is 6.90 Euros (about $7.25).

New York City
I mentioned in an earlier post, the classic map of the 1964/65 World’s Fair that I have on the wall in my office:
To mark my visit, the Bollmanns presented me with the best gift imaginable, a specially-printed oversize version of the classic map of New York City. This 1962 tour-de-force was based on 50,000 street-level photographs, and 17,000 from the air. The print is huge and magnificent, and framing it will cost me a very large amount of money, but I’m finding a wall and this is going on it. Here is Michael Stoll* standing near the map, and perhaps wishing it was his.

A big thank you to Sven Bollmann for his invaluable help with these two posts. And for that amazing map!

Bollmann Maps:

(All map images © Bollmann Bildkarten. All photographs by Bollmann Bildkarten, or Michael Stoll.)

*Professor Stoll organized this trip for myself and four of his students from the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences. Michael’s superb collection of classic information design has featured in this blog a number of times already, and will be here in the future.

The incredible Bollmann map workshop (1)


Detail from the 1962 map of New York City.

On the 18th of November last year, I stepped into a time tunnel, and stepped out into the offices of Bollmann Maps in Braunschweig, Germany. And I mean that in the best possible way. These cartographers produce all of their maps with the same methods that have been in use since 1963. Everything is hand-crafted. The production process is completely analogue. They use pen and ink on overlay film, photograph it with a classic 1950s line art camera, and print on their own 1965 printing press. (Bollmann Maps:

Jan at work on a set of map overlays.

Care, craftsmanship, quality. This visit was a unique and memorable experience. Sven Bollmann, and his brother Jan, showed our group around. Their pride in the work was evident everywhere, and so refreshing to see. Whatever they have achieved has been through solid, hard work and by relentlessly applying the highest standards. If I had the Grimwade Gold Award of Informational Graphic Excellence to hand out, they would be getting it by FedEx two-day express shipping.

After the Second World War, Hermann Bollmann (Sven’s grandfather) was looking to record, as part of the rebuilding process, the devastation from the Allied bombing of Braunschweig. So in 1948, he decided to make an aerial-view illustrated map. The 69-year story of Bollmann Maps began right there. The first map was made purely from street-level observations, not from aerial photographs. Today, the company has a catalogue of about 100 maps, most of which they update every five years or so. The list includes many German cities, but also Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Jerusalem, and several other international urban centers. There is a staff of 10, including three artists and cartographers. Each map takes a maximum of one year to produce (or it would be out-of-date by the time it is printed), and thousands of aerial and street-level photographs are used as references.

Map number one: Braunschweig, 1948. The complete map and a detail.

Hermann sketching on location.

The original Street View
In 1958, Hermann bought a Volkswagen taxi that he fitted with a camera, raised on a pole through the sunroof, and triggered by the revolution of the wheels so that it took a photo every 65 feet (20 meters). Now a modern small car (with a sunroof) is used.

Below, the original aircraft camera with it’s model construction kit parts.

In the air and on the ground
I sat in the Bollmann aircraft (shown above). A 1954 Cessna 170B that was also purchased in 1958, and is used to this day for aerial reference, and now flown by Sven. The instrumentation has never been changed, although they’ve added a radio and a transponder. It’s a three-faceted reference-gathering operation. The artists walk the streets making visual notes, with a pencil on paper, a car drives around with a camera taking continual photographs, and the plane flies overhead taking images at the angle of the illustrated maps. This combination leads to a unmatched level of mapping accuracy. As anyone who has used Google Street View for reference knows, the dates of the images are very variable, and there can often be buses, trucks and other objects blocking the view. The Bollmann approach means that they are not dependent on anyone else. In our world of infographics that are too often based on an internet search (for various complicated reasons), the integrity of their information is complete. They can approach any project with complete confidence that it is correct, and their reputation is built on that.

A detail from the Cologne (Köln) map.

To be continued in the next post…


(All map images © Bollmann Bildkarten. All photographs by Bollmann Bildkarten, or Michael Stoll.)


GREG MAXSON’S EXPLANATORY GRAPHICS.When I was the consulting graphics director for Popular Science back in the 1990s, I commissioned Greg to produce many diagrams. Like me, he began in the world of analog graphics, working with technical draughtsman tools, and by the 90s was, of course, working on the computer. Here are some examples of his precise, clear style. These instructional graphics help us with our day-to-day life, and deserve as much respect as the mega-graphics that frequently sweep up the prizes. See more of Greg’s work here:

An example below of one of Greg’s pre-computer graphics. This style was perfect for the transition to computer-based illustration.

The examples below are all digital.

Greg has drawn hundreds of buildings for VanDam’s excellent series of maps. Some examples:

Stephan Van Dam was approached by the National Gallery of Art to create a map (for the 75th anniversary of the museum), and to build a miniature version of the East Wing as a display case. Stephan and his team collaborated with Greg on the project.

The SketchUp model, and a Shaderlight rendering for the map.

The team studied the East Wing, and determined the best way to reflect the architecture in a lucite case that would hold the maps. Using SketchUp, Greg created a 3D model of the shell. Then the dividers and pockets were designed.

Making the complex case, with it’s sharp 18-degree corners was a real challenge. Stephan wasn’t able to find a model manufacturer in the U.S., but eventually a Shanghai-based shop agreed to construct it.

See the range of VanDam maps, and buy them, here:

(All map, building & display images ©VanDamMedia. All rights reserved.)

Malofiej 25


Next week, I’ll be in Pamplona, Spain for the Malofiej conference and workshop (M25). It’s not too late to sign up for this essential infographics and data visualization event. I’m co-hosting the “Show Don’t Tell” workshop with two super-talented and influential infographics people: Fernando Baptista from National Geographic magazine, and Xaquín González, who until very recently led the Guardian Visuals team.


There is no other event in the world that is entirely focused on all forms of explanatory graphics. From the workshop, to the conference, to the awards (which are judged by an impressive roster of international professionals). Then there’s the friendliness and openness of the whole thing. Ask anyone who has been there. It’s a place to learn new things, and to become part of the infographic community. Yes, I am very biased (having been there 22 times), but I highly recommend it.

See the program:

Register for the workshop or conference (or preferably both) using the form here:

I think of Malofiej as the United Nations of Infographics. People from all over the world seem to get on just fine. An encouraging lesson in these difficult times.

Malofiej 1

Out of interest, I’ve been looking at 1993, which was the year of Malofiej 1. The internet existed, but there was only the visually-limited (although leading edge at the time) Mosaic browser, which later became Netscape.

Consequently, Malofiej 1 was entirely about print infographics. Illustrator 5.0 came out that year, and finally we had layers and a preview mode. Photoshop 2.5, however, did not have layers, or multiple undos. The Mac operating system was System 7.

Desktop: Quadra 700 with 8 MB (!) of RAM.

Portable: PowerBook 180c. 4-bit grayscale screen, 80MB hard drive. With a trackball.

And… I have to say that M25, for anyone British (like me), brings to mind the 117-mile (188 km) motorway that surrounds London. It’s one of the busiest roads in the U.K.


Parenting advice


This tongue-in-cheek baby owner‘s manual has a helpful spinner on the cover to determine which parent has the responsibility to look after the baby. Seems fair to me.
Some sample pages are shown below.

On Amazon:

Dave and Kelly Sopp’s online store, Wry Baby (, has some fun baby clothes, and other items.

(All images: © Wry Baby)

Unmanned and overhead


Everyone seems to be buying a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and recording bird’s-eye views of their house, or their town, or something else. Recently, I was at a presentation by Ruben Pater during the IC17 conference in the Netherlands, and he showed this “Drone Survival Guide” from 2013. It can be purchased on a reflective paper that apparently is useful for hiding from drones.
For a more detailed look at the graphic visit:

He also made a 12-inch vinyl record (with composer Gonçalo F. Cardoso) which contains the sounds of various drones.

James Bridle draws actual size outlines of drones in public places to raise awareness of these rarely-seen machines. He also has added drone shadows to Google Maps. (

(Photograph: James Bridle)

Ruben’s project brought back memories of this (rather confused) graphic that I made for Popular Science a mere 21 years ago, when military drones were relatively new on the scene.

A Washington Post graphic, from 2013, explains Amazon’s plans back then to deliver our packages directly to us with drones.

Amazon is currently testing drone delivery in the U.K. (

Here’s what we probably all want as a birthday present: the DJI Phantom 4. (From the user manual.) The basic kit is as low as $1,200.

Good magazine and Column Five found some drone poll results (2012).

And then there’s fantastic drone photography, like this example by Amos Chapple, who gave a presentation at the Schuneman Symposium, here at Ohio University, last year.


Flight visualized


I’m in Munich this week for the EDCH and INCH conferences. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s also an exhibition of my work here that was put together by Professor Michael Stoll. So it seems appropriate that today I should feature a book that is in Michael’s impressive historical information design collection. This 1945 gem is a favorite of mine.

The Graphic Engineering Staff at General Motors (how about that for a department title!) produced this aircraft training manual. The project was directed by Harvey Earl, who was the leader of GM’s automotive styling team. Incidentally, he introduced the idea of the tail fin, which took its inspiration from aircraft design.

(Book photographs by Michael Stoll.)

The 1959 Cadillac’s tail fins. (Photograph by Christer Johansson.)

The P-38 Lightning was a source of inspiration for the original tailfin concept.



An exhibition of my career starts on Thursday in Munich. (See below.) A fair amount of my original artwork from the 70s and 80s is on show there. I’ve put a lot of it in previous posts, but here a few other pieces. And after this I will stop. I promise.

The graphic above was for The Times (1980s), before the new British Library opened. I worked from the architect’s plans. Unfortunately, I ran out of room on the left, and had to tape a piece of artboard on to the side to support the inset. The reduction of 67% was standard for me. I worked at 150% of the final size.

This is a garden for people who use a wheelchair (from the Sunday Times in the late 1970s). The different perspectives seem slightly uncomfortable, and it badly needs a person for scale. I’ve often criticized students for leaving out any trace of humanity, and here I’ve done it myself.

For a feature page on Afghanistan, which has been racked by conflict for a very long time. This is from The Times (1980s).

Heavily influenced by Nigel Holmes’ and Richard Draper’s work in the Radio Times . I loved their dimensional arrows, and I wanted to do some. The headline is not big enough. In fact, there is little hierarchy here.

This kind of artwork is featured in an exhibition this week, at the EDCH and INCH conferences.
I will also be giving one of the keynote presentations at INCH, and running an information graphics workshop called “The Infographic Upgrade”. It will try to make it both informative and fun.

Design conference:

Infographics conference

Infographic workshop:




My exhibition in Munich next month (see below) has been the source of a number of posts recently. I’ve been back through the artwork years, looking at bashed-up “mechanicals” and dubious, yellowing pencil drawings. I can see now that I was always leaning towards infographics, even though I didn’t really know what infographics were. Apart from some handed-down copies of the Eagle comic (post link here), I had acquired a small collection of graphically-inclined publications. I really liked the “Observer’s Books,” which were pocket-sized guides to various subjects with simple profile illustrations. I’ve had this aircraft book since I was 11-years-old, and that was a stupendously long time ago. I’m surprised that it hasn’t crumbled to dust. The butterfly book is another gem from the same series.

School-era drawings. I was not a budding Leonardo da Vinci. Clearly.

Below is my first attempt at graphic design. I wish I could have drawn my nation’s flag correctly, and the type is an interesting choice of font, but hey, I was fifteen. The message contained here might be even more important after Brexit.

Probably my first infographic. Part of a series of “How a telephone works” diagrams. The lead lines are… creative.

Another early attempt at an infographic style.

I had an idea that I could work for a London-based design group and make high-end corporate logos. I was an optimistic person back then.

A very early professional illustration about splitting up the educational districts of Great Britain. I saw myself as an editorial illustrator, until someone told me bluntly that I’d never make it. That person was right. I didn’t really see it clearly then, but my heart was already in informational graphics.

This 1970s graphic, drawn with Rotring Variant pens with Letratone tints, is influenced by those beautiful “Observer’s Books”.

I’ll be in Munich next week, at the EDCH and INCH conferences in the Alte Kongresshalle. There is an exhibition of my work being put on there by Professor Michael Stoll, with the assistance of some of his students from the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences.
I will also be giving one of the keynote presentations at INCH, and running an information graphics workshop called “The Infographic Upgrade”. My aim is to make that both instructional and fun.

Design conference:

Infographics conference

Infographic workshop: