Marvelous Maps

Lately I’ve had a few projects, both at and out of work, that involve creating graphics of custom maps. For the most part I’ve had to do my work digitally, occasionally incorporating a few hand-drawn details in the graphics. Many times, however, the references for the maps are of the historic kind, from a number of different time periods.

Maps are extremely fascinating visual representations of how people saw the world. They also great examples of historic graphic design, showcasing the aesthetic conventions of the period they were created in. The art of map-making is a specific craft, known commonly as Cartography. It is an interesting process that involves a combination of science, aesthetics, and communication. Here are a few interesting and cool examples of maps that show the evolution of cartographic craft.

Celestial Map

Image from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection


This Amazing map from the 17th century shows shows a part of the world that was only beginning to be explored at the time – that is, space. This tile, which is part of a set of maps that shows the position of the constellations, illustrates not only the positions of the stars that make up the constellation, but also the mythical creature or figure for which it is named.

French Map of Japan, 1750

Image from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

This map is fascinating as it shows the old territories of Japan when there was very limited contact with western cultures. It is a representation of a european culture’s perspective of asia at the time.

One of the most interesting features of the map is the naming of the places – especially because most of the names are written phonetically but with spelling that was probably derived from french phonetics. For example, the island of Shikoku today is idenitified as Xicoco on the map.

Engraving Plate

Image from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Most historic maps mae before the industrial revolution were created by master engravers, and were usually accompanied by a nameplate that had their name and the name for whom the map was commissioned. This plate was usually more of an artistic flourish that the engraver used to showcase his skill and mastery of his craft.

Map Postcard

Image from Moody's Collectibles

Maps like this were popular in the 1950’s and commonly used on souvenir postcards. Map postcards are unique in that combine geographic representation with illustrations of culture of a specific place.

Paula Scher Maps

Image from Pentagram

Paula Scher is one of the leading professionals in the field of Graphic Design and a Partner of the renown design firm Pentagram. Most of her work involves the use of typography in very creative and groundbreaking methods and monumental scales.

Image from Paula Scher Maps

In the 1990’s she started painting typographic maps using acrylic on canvas, once again redefining how type can be used as a method of communication as well as considered as an artform. Princeton architectural press published a book of her maps in 2011. This book is definitely on my wishlist!

Maps are compelling, graphic visualizations of the world around us–that communicate stories of where we are coming from, and show the possibilities of where we can go.

Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged ,

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