Category: Maps

Small buildings


I have a collection of small metal souvenir buildings, and only ones that I have seen for real, except for the Trylon and Perisphere (the centerpiece of the 1939 New York World’s Fair). For more detailed information on all this, please contact my therapist.

These little architectural caricatures sit on a shelf in my studio, and they‘ve influenced the way that I draw landmarks on maps. I’m trying to capture the key elements of the structures, and a strict aerial view is often not the best way to convey the feeling of a building, especially at a small size. There’s nothing original about this thinking, pictorial map-makers have been doing this kind of thing for a very long time. My two posts about Bollmann Maps showed the work of their illustrated map craftsmen.

I clearly am not in the elevated category of Bollmann, as my maps have buildings that are closer to pictograms than they are to architectural renderings. Here are some examples of the metal buildings’ effect on my projects.

There are plenty of interesting buildings to draw in Rotterdam.

A detail.

The landmarks of Paris. My Eiffel Tower model came in handy here.

Post-2001 plans for Lower Manhattan. This and the previous two maps are from Condé Nast Traveler.

Jogging around Chicago.

And around Tokyo. Both maps are from Runner’s World.

Stick maps


These charts were used by the inhabitants of the Marshall Islands to navigate their canoes. Shells represent islands. The ribs (made from the midribs of coconut fronds) show ocean swell patterns and currents. Often, only the person who made the map understood it, as there was no standardization between charts. The map-making process was handed down from father to son over many generations. A map was studied before a trip and was not referred to during the voyage.

There were three types of maps:
An abstract small chart, used for teaching only.

A close-up of a few islands with the main ocean swells.

Shows a whole chain of islands and the swell patterns.

This mapping system was not revealed to Westerners until 1862, when a missionary reported it in “Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle.”



Color and light The Earth’s surface analyzed by country. By Dirk Aschoff for In Graphics magazine Volume 05, published by Golden Section Graphics, which is now IGG (Infographics Group).
Click on the images for larger versions.
I’ve posted twice before about this excellent infographic magazine:

The Blue Marble Data from NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC).
Download the 
high-resolution file here:

City lights The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite took 312 orbits to get a complete clear shot.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Home I’m sitting here in Ohio writing this post.



Black and white world Nendo’s Corona globe is the one that I want.

Dymaxion This magnetic folding globe uses the projection that was invented by Buckminster Fuller (see below).

The Dymaxion (or Fuller) map projection (1943) portrays land areas without obvious distortion, and it doesn’t split the continents.

Pin it Mark where you’ve traveled with the Here Countries Globe, which comes with 50 red pins. This globe also uses a triangle-based projection.

Bean bags Why not sit on the Earth or on the stars?

Moon lamp A LED ring rotates around a lunar globe to recreate the phases of the moon that we see from Earth. The accurate surface detail is based on topographic data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Square world Download the template and make an Earth cube:

Earth cake Bake an edible depiction of the Earth’s interior:

Previous posts about globes:
The 42nd Street globe:
The globemaker:

Mercator projection


Gerardus Mercator’s world map dates from 1569. The scale is equal in all directions around any point, which keeps the angles and shapes of small objects intact. It worked really well for nautical navigation (which at that time was extremely important) because routes without changes of direction are straight, and consequently this projection became the standard. All map projections obviously distort the globe as they translate it to a flat surface, and the Mercator projection has a serious level of distortion the farther it moves from the equator. Greenland and Antarctica are quite substantial, to put it mildly. Europe is larger than it should be, which suited everyone back then.

Nevertheless, the projection has been a staple component of atlases until relatively recently. This site shows the Mercator-effect scale differences. Try it:

By contrast, the Gall-Peters projection accurately shows the relative size of land areas, but there’s considerable distortion, especially along the equator and at the poles. Also, like the Mercator, distances are not consistent. Consequently, many cartographers are not convinced that this is the way to go either. Nevertheless, UNESCO and UNICEF support this projection as a way of showing a fairer representation of the relative size of the developing countries.

I’ve always liked the Robinson projection. It doesn’t tick all the boxes, but at least the land areas look something like they do on a globe.

Many online applications (like Google Maps and OpenStreetMap) use a variant of the Mercator projection called Web Mercator. Why? Because with it’s parallel longitude and latitude lines, it scales really well from large-scale maps to local views, and north is always vertical. Distortion on a local scale is minimal. (I’ve been to the location below a lot in the last few years.)

Here’s a WordPress map of views of this blog. No readers in super-sized Greenland. So far.

Mercator, Gall-Peters and Robinson images by Strebe.



This post is the result of a conversation with Majo Carrasco, who is going to be a T.A. in my data visualization class next semester. She’s from Quito, Ecuador (which means Equator).

The Mitad Del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument, near Quito, sits on the dividing line between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Well, almost. The real position is about 250 yards (229 meters) away at the Intiñan Solar Museum. GPS has provided a more accurate location than the one that was fixed by a French expedition in 1736. The Prime Meridian in Greenwich is also not in the right spot. It’s really 111 yards (102 meters) away from it’s marked location. Below, at the more accurate site. Photograph by C.T.Johansson.

Some differences between the hemispheres:

I thought that the rotation principal also applies to water draining from a sink, but there seems to be considerable disagreement on this assertion:

Night sky The Southern Cross cannot be seen from most of the Northern Hemisphere, and Polaris, the North Star, cannot be seen from almost all of the Southern Hemisphere. But from the Equator, both are visible.
Below, the Milky Way from the Southern Hemisphere (La Silla Observatory in Chile).

Photograph by ESO/H.Dahle.



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.