Category: Maps

The incredible Bollmann map workshop (Part 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 Each map takes a maximum of one year to produce (or it would be out-of-date by the time it is printed), and thousands of aerial and street-level photographs are used as references.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.)



I’ve been looking at this somewhat battered (and not very attractive) Milan artwork of 1988 vintage. It’s going to be in my exhibition next month. (More about that event below.) This is what was known as a “mechanical.” An assembled piece of artwork that would be photographed and converted to a color separation. On top of the line art base, there are twelve overlays, plus a color pencil guide for the pre-press technician. Some layers are inked, some are cut from Rubylith film, with multiple knock outs and surprints. How this all came together to make four printing plates is one of the mysteries of the universe.

When I moved to the U.S in 1987, I was amazed that magazines would spend the money to go through this elaborate process. I mentioned mechanicals in a previous post:…roamed-the-earth/

Below is a composite scan of the mechanical layers, and the CMYK result after a lot of pre-press work. And I mean a lot.

Some of the layers, and the color guide.

It all worked somehow. From thirteen layers to the printed page. The presentation below might fit into the “gratuitous animation” category. If it does, apologies for that. I was just trying something.

See it in Munich A lot of my pre-computer artwork will be on show in Munich from March 9 to 11, at the EDCH and INCH conferences. I will also be giving one of the keynote presentations, and running a workshop.

Design conference:

Infographics conference

Infographic workshop:

The red line


How do you make complex locations easier to navigate? At Condé Nast Traveler magazine we often gave our readers a fixed path, that was carefully chosen by our writers. The aim was to show the user, as clearly as possible, how to get to the selected highlights. Of course, this line didn’t need to be red (and often wasn’t), although red is good for grabbing attention. Remember that this was all before we could track our position accurately on smartphones. I’m not sure that location technology renders this kind of presentation obsolete, although it could definitely augment it.

Cairo’s Khan-al-Khalili souk is a challenging, but rewarding, place to visit. Very crowded, and not easy to see where to go next. We felt that the red line could really help here. The text starts with an instruction to look for the green pedestrian bridge, so I the only place in the graphic that I used green is there. Monochrome photographs separate strongly from the color of the map.

The complete gatefold is shown below.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is a maze of levels and additions, containing millions of objects in 145 galleries, and it is consequently quite difficult to find your way around. So this little booklet was very popular. Brilliantly written by Manuela Hoelterhoff, who also selected the essential exhibits. You would have to keep up a very brisk pace to get round this track in 60 minutes, but the title is fun, like the text, and is really an attention-grabber. (It was part of a series that included the Louvre and New York’s Metropolitan Museum). The series name is more an indication of the fact that it’s possible to see the best parts of a collection in a relatively short time, and not have an exhausting, and unsatisfying, afternoon slogging around looking for the best things to see. Self-contained spreads lead the user from one location to the next. It’s not really necessary to know where you are in the entire museum, but it’s shown with a locator inset.

I produced numerous city guides using the same idea. A writer would research the locations and the path to connect them. I would make a graphic of it. Mine was the easy part, I think.

Reality It might be hard to believe, but I didn’t know about Boston’s Freedom Trail before I started using the red line approach. (Let’s face it, it wasn’t likely to be an idea that no one had thought of before.) I soon discovered that the idea had been made reality way back in 1951. There’s a red brick line that runs through downtown Boston for 2.5 miles (4 km), and leads visitors past 16 significant historical sites. I’d somehow always imagined that there really was a red line in the places that I was drawing, so this just confirmed my delusion.

(Photograph © sam74100/123rf)

(Photograph by Ingfbruno)


Bayer’s masterpiece



This informational gem took five years to produce and contains a few thousand infographic items. I don’t own a copy, but Michael Stoll, who I mentioned in an earlier post ( ), has one (naturally) in his superb collection of historical information design. I was in Augsburg two weeks ago, and was able to examine the real thing, instead of looking at digital images. Seeing design in it’s original format, as opposed to looking at different sizes and variable image quality online (or in this blog, for that matter) is a vastly different experience. Often difficult to achieve, but worth the effort.


The atlas was produced for the Container Corporation of America to commemorate their twenty-fifth anniversary. 30,000 copies were printed. They were distributed to customers as a gift, and given to numerous colleges and universities. It was never produced commercially, or reprinted, so original atlases in good condition are quite rare, and thus expensive to acquire.

A team of three designers worked under Bayer to develop a graphic language for the book, using the color system that had been developed for CCA by Egbert Jacobsen. Bayer did his own research, traveling widely to assemble the information. There are many design influences to be seen in the pages, like the Isotype system of pictograms. I’m struck by how it looks so modern, sixty-three years after publication. It shows the staying power of precise, clear information design.


Herbert Bayer was a Renaissance Man. A graphic designer, typographer, photographer, artist, interior designer and architect who studied and taught at the legendary Bauhaus school. He emigrated to the U.S. before the Second World War, and produced all kinds of impressive design across many fields.




These images are from the David Rumsey Map Collection. See the full atlas in high-res there:

Jaime Serra’s game-changer



Genocide in Rwanda. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

Back in 1996, when Jaime put this graphic on my desk, I could see that the gap had been bridged from the computer-generated graphics of that time back to our rich, artistic infographic heritage. Art and information were brought together in a beautiful form, with function intact. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the milestones of late twentieth-century information design. Jaime went on to produce numerous award-winning graphics at Clarín (see below), and many of you know them very well, but this one is really where it started.

Here are Jaime’s thoughts about the graphic. Written a few weeks ago, with the hindsight of the years in-between.

“Some background to the subject: In 1994 the Rwandan government, controlled by the Hutu community, were responsible for the murder of between 500,000 and one million Tutsis, equivalent to 75% of the population of that ethnic group.

A year after the genocide, a Clarín team traveled to the refugee camps in the area. The infographic contribution to the coverage was just a small locator map. But it grew into a page in the Sunday magazine, mainly because of the graphic treatment. Pre-dating my better-known works such as “La Balena Franca” (Editor’s note: Gold medal winner at the Malofiej Awards.), this map was one of the first examples where I was able to capture my personal graphic style in a complete and radical way.


A year earlier, I had arrived in Argentina to create a graphics department at Clarín, a daily newspaper with the most readers in the Spanish-speaking world. At that time, there were no infographics in Argentine journalism, and although that was on the one hand a serious handicap, it also meant that I had the freedom to rethink the foundations on which we had built the profession in recent years.

Back then, the general style of infographics was always the same, regardless of the subject. A somewhat cold, sterile style created with vector software. I was convinced that we were wasting a primary way to attract readers—aesthetics. So ready to take some risks, I gave Clarín a complete style manual that would be rigidly applied, while also starting a concept which I called “aesthetics and ethics” for the numerous exceptions where the graphic style manual would not be used. This idea was not a style, but rather the absence of it. Each infographic would be treated according to it’s subject matter. Using this approach, the Clarín team created, more or less successfully, each individual infographic, whether it was about rubber, Houdini, or the Anne Frank House.

Looking back, I think that this was the natural evolution of my understanding of the components of infographics (illustration, information and design). Clarín was the place where my previous work and the new path came together. (Click on the infographics for larger versions.)






A clear precursor is the double-page spread (below) on the 1992 Olympic Games for El Periódico de Catalunya (where I had worked before moving to Clarín). It won my first Gold Malofiej medal. The illustrations that explain the sports of the ancient Olympic Games are hand-drawn with a scratchboard technique, using a stroke and color inspired by images of ceramics from ancient Greece. Peter Sullivan had made the point about hand-drawn elements in his book “Information Graphics in Colour” (published by IFRA in 1993), but I don’t think that many people followed the path he was suggesting.

Doble Historica (Converted) copia

While I was using the idea of a stylebook and the option to go outside it, I had another thought that would take me further: Could I use my own style in infographics, the same as I used in my most personal work, without compromising the information, and perhaps even improve it?

So with a graphic style influenced by illustrators like Henrik Drescher (, designer David Carson’s work in the magazine Ray Gun (, and Anselm Kiefer (an artist who still fascinates me today), the strong content of the Rwanda map was an opportunity to explore the answers.


John remembers the time we met in his office in Manhattan. I took a trip there to get a reaction to the work I had done in my first year of Clarín. That was how I met, among others, Charles Blow, graphics director of the New York Times; Joe Zeff, graphics director at Time Magazine and John, graphics director at Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

To be honest, I had never heard of Blow or Zeff. It was how they worked that interested me. But I knew John’s work very well, although I did not really know Condé Nast Traveler, apart from the infographics. If Carson, Dresher and Kiefer were the role models for my style, Grimwade was my main reference for infographics. My objective was to apply my personal aesthetic to the communication skills that I had learned from observing how these graphics directors worked.


At the bottom of the Rwanda map is a hand-drawn date. It’s the year that I made it: 1996. Twenty years later, I wonder (and I asked John this recently), who would be interested in it? His answer: many people, and for me it is more than enough that he thinks it still seems relevant.

(Another editor’s note: I called this blog “Infographics for the People” to draw our attention to the need to add warmth to information presentations, and generally engage the public. Jaime was doing that decades ago.)



In addition to making sketches to plan the layout and content of the infographic, I also made drawings to find the right tone. In my sketchbook, I made this montage with photocopies of two very similar black women. There was no racial difference between Tutsi and Hutu. They are two divisions within the Banyarwanda ethnic group. After the genocide, they were eliminated from a national document which was cut and re-joined with staples. Most of the countless murders that were documented were carried out with machetes. The geographical scale is in French: Rwanda had been a Belgian colony, and this seems to suggest the dimension of human and social costs.”

See more of Jaime’s brilliant work, and the process behind it, here:


Atlas heaven


Quotemark1  I don’t cry often, but when this gem finally arrived on my desk, I nearly did. QuoteMark2


The Atlas to Alexander von Humboldt’s “Kosmos,” by Traugott Bromme. Stuttgart: Krais & Hoffmann, 1851


“It began after I heard a radio discussion about the influential German geographer and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt. Although the publications containing his findings dealt with geographical, botanical and weather related topics, there were very few explanatory graphics. Humboldt clearly didn’t intend “Kosmos” to be a textbook for use in schools and universities, even though it was a summary of the talks he had given over the years. Nevertheless, the public recognized the exceptional content of the book, although they probably didn’t understand the details as well as they might. There was a demand for a more popular and explanatory version. Traugott Bromme’s atlas was a companion volume that responded to that need.

After almost a year of searching (these things can take a while), I stumbled upon a copy that was up for auction. No one (except me) made a bid for it, probably because the listing describing the item contained many spelling errors.”


“The atlas measures only about 13 by 11 inches, is leather bound, and except for the foreword (which was set in movable type), all of the 42 pages have maps, diagrams and charts. They are steel engraved in such impressive detail, that you need a magnifying glass to discover the smallest spills of lava or rocks, thrown out by a volcano. Then you realize that all the engravings were water-colored by hand. You can feel the passion and dedication of the author and the publisher.

These two plates are my favorites”. (For larger images, click on the examples.)


The design of the Earth.

“An elegant symmetrical layout, with integrated descriptive text elements. In the top center of the page, Bromme explains, in two lines of text, the visual effects of a curved surface. A sailor approaching a harbor first sees a mountain peak before he sees the shore, harbor walls etc. The two lines of description curve with the diagram. We know this convention from the way river names are shown on a map, but here it is used to link the words to the image. The colored chart at the bottom tells us immediately how the Earth’s surface divides between land and sea, and how many square miles of land are in each continent”.



A comparative overview of the biggest lakes on Earth, in relation to the Black Sea.

“Each lake is precisely outlined, with its size in square miles, position above sea level, length and width, major inlets, and location so the interested reader can find it on any map. You could almost miss this, but the lakes carry small numbers, which rank them by size, and they are subdivided into Western and Eastern Hemispheres. A nice addition is the small circle, that appears several times, to indicate how far you would be able to see from a ship’s crow’s nest.

I don’t think the slow food movement results in great food all the time, but I do think that, on this occasion, a slow, and well-conceived, design and production process resulted in a wonderful atlas”.


See the full atlas here:

You can even download the whole book as a pdf from this site.


Michael teaches media theory and infographics at the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences, where he is head of the information design study track in the Department of Design. He has amassed a broad collection of historical information design, that is completely made up of original books, maps and posters. In the digital age, with images at all kinds of sizes all over the internet, he feels it is very important to go to the source and see historical infographics in their original context.





The Unisphere was the centerpiece of the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair, and remains the world’s biggest globe. That’s me underneath it, to give a sense of the scale. Michael Stoll* (who took the photo), later sent me some information about other big globes. And to see how they all compare, I made the simple graphic below. Unlike the massive stainless steel Unisphere, which weighs 700,000 lbs (320,000 kilos), and never moved, they all rotate, or once did. (*Examples from his superb collection of historic infographics will be featured in future posts.)


Some additional information about the Unisphere and it’s rivals:


The three rings represent the orbits of the first satellites. The globe suffered considerable (but fictional) damage in the movie Men in Black when a downed alien spaceship crashed into it. The real Unisphere was restored in the 1990s.


At the headquarters of DeLorme, the GPS and mapping company. Installed in 1998. The largest rotating globe in the world.

Globe of Peace

A wooden framework covered with a fiberglass skin. It can hold about 600 people on three floors, and contains information about every country in the world. Shares the name of a totally unrelated (and considerably smaller) globe in Star Wars, which is a revered relic of the Naboo people.

Babson World Globe

Dedicated in 1955, but fell into disrepair by the 1980s. Restored in 1993, although it no longer rotates.

Daily News Earth Globe

The Daily News lobby was featured in the 1978 movie Superman as the lobby of the Daily Planet. The globe was installed in 1930.


This map of the 1965 New York World’s Fair site, with the Unisphere at it’s center, is on the wall of my office. It was produced by the master cartographer, Hermann Bollmann.




It was a gift from Michael Stoll and some of his students at the University of Augsburg. I love it.