Category: Maps



Magnetic north It’s on the move (and so, of course, is magnetic south). Below, a gyrocompass shows navigators the direction of true north.

Photograph © Eugene Sergeev/123rf

Compass roses Every printed map has one of these.

They’re also often seen set into sidewalks.

Photograph © Antonio Balaguer Soler/123rf

A Swedish atlas from the 1960s puts people and animals at their compass positions.

Directional t-shirt
 Redbubble has some attractive compass t-shirts. Dress like a cartographer:

What did we do before we had it? The basis of the Global Positioning System is 24 satellites at an altitude of 12,000 miles (19,300 km), and often supplemented by the Russian GLONASS system for increased accuracy.

Diagram by Paulsava.

entertainment Airlines feed us all kinds of geographical information. This is from an Iberia Airbus A340, flying the JFK to Madrid route.

Subways (2)


Map of the stars By Simon Patterson. Famous, or important, people are the stops. The lines are the categories, from engineers to comedians, and where they intersect, interesting associations occur. The title is a reference to astronomy. Patterson’s description: “…the tube stops can be seen as stars in a constellation, where you imagine the lines that connect the dots.” Detail below.

Web trends By Information Architects.


Movie map The lines are genres. By David Honnorat.


Submarine fiber-optic network Explained by the Oxford Internet Institute.

US highways Cameron Booth gives the U.S. road system the Harry Beck treatment.


US rivers A waterway diagram by Theo Rindos.

Roman Roads Traveling around the Roman Empire, by Sasha Trubetskoy.

Looking for animals Find your favorite creatures in various subway maps.

Subways (1)


New York City Subway Map, 1972 by Massimo Vignelli.

This week’s posts follow on from a recent one about Harry Beck’s seminal Underground map:

New York design classics The Graphics Standards Manual (1970) designed by Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda set the design parameters for modern New York subway signage. A reprinted version, originally funded by a Kickstarter campaign, is available here: (along with a few other gems).

Two years later, the schematic map (shown at the top of this post) was introduced, and there was a lot of criticism. For London’s map, Harry Beck had chosen diagrammatic clarity over geographical accuracy, but a similar approach by Vignelli did not go down well with some of the inhabitants of NYC. After substantial changes (not overseen by its creator), the design was dropped in 1979. However, in 2012, the Metropolitan Transit Authority asked Vignelli to design a similar version for its Weekender app.

NYC today More geographically-correct, less of a design system. I don’t love it, but I understand why it’s the way it is.


The Tokyo trains can get very crowded. However, there are people who’s job is to push everyone in. Click on the image below to see the video.



Circular Max Roberts has redesigned several subway maps using a circular arrangement. Here are New York, London and Paris.

See more maps by Max Roberts here:

Map or diagram? This animation of the Berlin subway first appeared on Reddit, and inspired others to make geographical comparisons with the diagrams of various cities. Some examples below.

By vinnivinnivinni.

By playhouse_animation.

By ninja.

By hlake.

By sweedfishoreo.

Subway world A subway-style map of cities with urban transit systems.

Invisible Netherlands


This is a guest post by Frédérik Ruys, a data journalist who has worked on three seasons of a popular Dutch public television series.

“Invisible Netherlands” (2017) is the sequel to two seasons of “Netherlands From Above”. Those series had over a million viewers.

The aim of “Invisible Netherlands” was to recreate forgotten stories, or secret events, that shaped the country and its people. One such moment was a spectacular blowout (in 1965), during the early era of the search for natural gas. Using various animation techniques, and based on authentic data, the sequence brought that moment back to life, and put it into historical perspective.

The main challenge was the storytelling. To visually merge all the different datasets into one consistent story that could captivate a broad T.V. audience, and without simplifying the facts. As usual, I started by sketching, and searching for reliable data. Below, samples of borehole location and earthquake data.

The drilling site then, and now.

Despite all physical evidence having been erased (the entire installation disappeared deep into the ground), we were able to reconstruct a 3D model of the site with the help of an engineer from that period. This was created in Cinema 4D.

Meanwhile, we processed extensive datasets of all the boreholes ever drilled, all exploited gas fields, and all earthquakes that followed the exploitation. The main challenges: the sensitive nature of the subject, and the necessary collaboration with seismologists, the energy company and the Dutch government.
I worked with director Geert Rozinga to decide the voice-over and camera angles required. Then we briefed the British animation team, 422 South (, who spectacularly animated and rendered the entire sequence.

The 422 South animation. Click on the image to see the video.

Finally the animation was combined with the report that had been filmed on-site, and here’s the final result:

But as always, there was a glitch. Shortly before broadcast, the editor pointed out that one earthquake in the North Sea changed position as the camera moved. You can see it moving in from the right-hand side here.

This effect was caused by the earthquake’s depth: 17.5 miles (28 km) below the surface. As this could be confusing for viewers, the earthquake (which occurred on September 7, 1986), was removed. And will be invisible for ever.



Harry Beck really started something. His elegant map of the London Underground (which is more of a diagram than a map) set the style of the modern subway guide. It’s designed to help people use the network. To show them clearly how to get from A to B, and make the correct connections. Beck aimed to strike a balance between a clear system diagram and the geography. This involved making some compromises with the distances between stations and their relative positions, and enlarging the center area where so many lines intersect. The first map printed in a large quantity (1933) is shown above. It was produced first as a folding, pocket-size map (shown here), and soon followed by a poster-size version. The design allowed for future expansion of the network.

The 1932 map (below) that preceded Beck’s was by F. H. Stingemore who designed the map from 1925 to 1932. The central area in the Stingemore map was slightly exaggerated and the outer stations were listed at the edges of the map. Beck’s redesign was a radical departure.

A rough drawing from 1931 shows Beck’s initial plan for his more diagrammatic map. He was an engineering draughtsman, not a graphic designer, so he looked at the project like an electrical circuit diagram.

A presentation version (1931) was rejected at first, but the following year was the basis for a test run of 500 copies. At this point, Beck was still using circles for most of the stations. He switched to tick marks in the 1933 version.

The current map is a lot more complicated with fare zones and additional subway lines.

The distortion from actual relationships to the diagrammatic map is shown in this animation. By Pham_Trinli.

In 2015, Transport for London released a more geographically-correct map that could be a real help for walkers, bikers etc. It was forced into the public area by a Freedom of Information request. Click on the image for a pdf version.

Earlier this month, Transport for London published a map for people who don’t like to be inside a tunnel, showing where the trains are actually underground. Despite the name of the system, 55% of it is above ground. Click on the image for a pdf version.



Classic comparison By George Woolworth Colton, 1849. Click on the image for a larger version. (From the David Rumsey Map Collection, where a very high resolution image can be downloaded:

Seven summits The tallest peak in each continent, by Audree Lapierre of FFunction.

Mountain charts The peaks and valleys leading up to, and immediately following, the 2008 financial collapse, by Michael Najjar. Real data plots converted into mountainous landscapes. Below, Lehman Brothers share price, 1992–2008.

Mountain charts The peaks and valleys leading up to the 2008 financial collapse, by Michael Najjar. Real data plots made into mountainous landscapes. Above, Lehman Brothers share price, 1992–2008.

Dow Jones Industrial Average, 1980–2009.

Nasdaq Composite, 1980–2009.

Skiing Alpine ski maps are not an exact depiction of a particular area. The view is altered, so although it looks similar to reality, the individual ski trails are clear.

James Niehues has made maps of many U.S. ski resorts. They’re all hand-crafted with paintbrush and airbrush.
Below is an example of his work. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (California), shown without labels.

And with skiing information added.

Florida I stayed at a hotel in Orlando, and from the window of my room on the 20th floor, I could clearly see a snow-capped peak rising above the subtropical greenery. It was Everest Expedition at Disney World. It’s only 199 feet high, but Florida is very flat. The real Mt. Everest reaches 29,029 ft (8,848 meters). Apart from the height, another big difference is that the Everest in the Himalayas does not have a roller coaster ride inside it. The Disney World website states: “Careen through the Himalayan mountains on a speeding train while avoiding the clutches of the mythic Abominable Snowman.”

Above, Expedition Everest. (Photograph by Benjamin D.Esham.)
Below, the real Mount Everest. (Photograph by Pavel Novak.)

The high points compared.


The 42nd Street globe


In the lobby of the Daily News Building, a 1930 art deco classic on New York’s 42nd Street, is a magnificent globe that’s 12 feet (3.7 meters) in diameter and rotates under a black glass ceiling. The building and lobby are sometimes cited as the inspiration for the Daily Planet newspaper in the Superman comic series. This idea was supported by the fact that the building (and the globe) featured in the 1978 Superman movie (below).

However, the source for the Daily Planet headquarters was the Old Toronto Star Building (below). Superman co-creator Joe Shuster once worked for the Toronto Daily Star as a newspaper boy, and in the early Superman comics the newspaper where Clark Kent worked was called The Daily Star.

Back to New York City: The Daily News Building’s lobby has meteorological instruments, and clocks with the time in various international cities. The globe is the center of a vast imaginary diagram. There are statements positioned around it with the distances to planets and stars expressed as the distances to landmarks, if the Sun was shrunk to the same size of the globe. So then the Earth would be at Grand Central Station, just down the street (and quite small), and Alpha Centuari would be 68,000 miles away. I love a solar model, as this previous post pointed out:

The South Pole is reflected in a mirror.

This relative-size graphic of big globes appeared in a post about another (and much bigger) NYC globe, the Unisphere: 

Photographs by Michael Stoll.

Moving borders


The border between Italy and it’s neighbors in the Alps is not fixed. It depends upon the position of glaciers, and they’re shrinking. Our dependence on fixed printed maps, like those in atlases, is challenged by this data visualization. Using ultra-precise GPS sensors, the border can be seen moving in real time.

The “Italian Limes” project was originally designed for an installation at the 2014 Architecture Biennale in Venice, by Studio Folder. The focus is the Grafferner Glacier that borders Austria.

Installing new solar-powered sensors in April 2016 at the base of Mt. Similaun, which is 3,300 meters (10,800 feet) above sea level.

At the installation, changes in the boundary are projected onto a 3D model.

An automated pantograph, controlled by an Arduino board and programmed with Processing, translates the coordinates received from the sensors on the glacier into a real-time representation of the shifts in the border. It produces a real-time map that visitors can take away.

Italian Limes is an ongoing project by Folder (Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual), Delfino Sisto Legnani, Pietro Leoni, Alessandro Mason, Angelo Semeraro, Livia Shamir. All photos are by Delfino Sisto Legnani.

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.)