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Why Cartography is great!



Have you ever wondered what cartography is? Well now you can find out! Albeit going off on a tangent slightly from our usual web field, cartography is a great means of graphic communication, involved in describing primarily the built environment. So if you want to learn about something that is a combination of design, graphics, representation, architecture and the landscape, read below…

Greek in origin, cartography is the study and research in the designing of maps. In general we never think in detail about maps we see in tourist guides or our A3 AA books sprawled accross the back seats of our cars. However maps are very interesting and have accumulated and been perfected from years of researching and the refining of cartography. It attempts to display elements of reality. The big difference of the two is the fact that cartography doesn’t always communicate what is actually there- i.e. the physical measurable conditions of the landscape that conventional maps do. It can interweave immeasurable values and systems that are not always apparent in the situation of the location studied. They are called ‘soft systems.’ This is just fascinating we think! It is the means of translating an existing scenario into a visual representation, utilising artistic and informative communication devices to do so!

In summary it all revolves around the presentation of spatial information, integrating science, aesthetics, and technique.
Each cartographic piece can have its own agenda whether it is mapping terrain and morphology of a place to social, political or climatic boundaries. They are extremely versatile and can be as complex or simplified as you like. It is a very useful way of layering several sources of information in any way possible really!

Let’s think back to a situation in our lives whereby we may have produced cartography without even realising. Have you have had a tourist approach you in your home town, as you jauntily walk down a regular main road? And has this tourist ever asked you for directions or to describe where a certain place is? Usually people may verbally inform this person, but when a pen and paper is available, it can be enlightening (and much more helpful we find) to draw the area and directions for this stranger.

This drawing is hardly a work of art, but it is describing an existing situation, informed by your own experiences, interpretation of an area and perhaps mapping interesting things you may not have realised you noted down. In this case, you may have drawn a public building noticeably larger than the others on the page, even if in reality, they are of equal size. This could be how you assign a certain element of the area greater significance or portray it as a more potent feature of your daily lifestyle. Whatever it means, it is a way of communicating something that is in fact, an immaterial value. So really we are all in some way capable of producing cartography!

We hope you have found some of the above enlightening and if you haven’t, here are a selection of some great cartographic examples below, ranging from historical entries to present day examples, that we don’t properly take time to reflect on.

And so the latter… is the tube map!


This map lays out the street network of San Francisco and includes parks and buildings of relevance, including schools.


enlarged version.

This is a mapping New Year’s resolutions of Twitter status updates from Dec 31 – Jan 1st by Chris Cantey.


the big boy.

This colorful entry early map on the pre-colonization of the indigenous tribes.


See it enlarged.

And finally…

The quality of life in China in 1982 by zone.

Quality of life in China

More useful informative stuff.

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