Interlude: The Journey Project

I’ve decid­ed to revis­it the exer­cise I wrote about pre­vi­ous­ly called the Jour­ney Project as an inter­lude to this brand. I feel I’m immersed in this agency of map mak­ing at the moment that I’d like to branch out and do some­thing even more hypo­thet­i­cal than my hypo­thet­i­cal iden­ti­ty project. Maybe this will just end up being Sojourn, but for now I just want to make things, make maps, and cre­ate some form of jour­ney, both objec­tive­ly and sub­jec­tive­ly.

Some ini­tial thoughts as I begin on the project:

For­mat becomes an imme­di­ate con­cern. For these cre­ative projects in school, there was often the conun­drum of being giv­en free reign on what form the com­plet­ed project would take. Could be a series of posters, a book or a dig­i­tal pre­sen­ta­tion, even inter­ac­tive. In class, a ques­tion like “what for­mat should this project be?” would often be met with an answer like “what for­mat do you think is best?” I don’t resent that kind of spur for cre­ativ­i­ty, but real­is­ti­cal­ly speak­ing, a graph­ic design­er isn’t nor­mal­ly giv­en such a wide open avenue for pro­duc­tion. Regard­less, in the very first moments of brain­storm­ing for this jour­ney project, a real design con­cern will dic­tate how the rest of the piece will be com­plet­ed, and that’s decid­ing what kind of visu­al piece will rep­re­sent this jour­ney.

I’m not exact­ly threat­ened by this prospect since this is a com­plete­ly per­son­al project. To answer the ques­tion I mere­ly have to decide what I want, and although I can some­times have trou­ble decid­ing between choco­late and vanil­la ice cream, a prod­uct like this can become way less tran­sient than desert, and there­fore car­ry some impor­tance. The jour­ney could be a series of posters or plac­ards and I could envi­sion them on my wall (should the visu­als attract me enough), but then per­haps they’re more like paint­ings than a real piece of design. Noth­ing wrong with that of course (see my pre­vi­ous review of Paula Scher’s book). Per­haps the piece is a book; that’s a nat­ur­al choice since it is inher­ent­ly nar­ra­tive and is an age-old prac­tice of keep­ing scraps of a jour­ney bound to remem­ber it fond­ly. Maybe the final prod­uct is as sim­ple as being a map itself; if the geog­ra­phy of the jour­ney is implic­it, then the func­tion­al­i­ty becomes an inher­ent foun­da­tion for the life of the project. I could envi­sion one being able to use the piece to retrace the steps of my for­mer jour­ney, and coin­cide their impres­sions with mine. I feel like this is done all the time with Google Earth—just plop in your own pho­to of the Eif­fel Tow­er on the map and peo­ple can see what you saw. But this project might need more than pho­tographs to con­vey my inter­nal response to the voy­age.

Ref­er­ence is an impor­tant detail that dif­fer­en­ti­ates a map from anoth­er form of design. Maps uti­lize references—a series of indi­ca­tions that help the view­er locate them­selves in the vis­i­ble field. This is, as I’m learn­ing, poten­tial­ly the most basic and fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence between a map and any oth­er form of graph­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Per­haps this is why I’m most drawn to this order of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, per­haps this is the inef­fa­ble aspect to them that draws me in time and again. Of course, it’s dif­fi­cult to invest ful­ly in that con­cept as a full def­i­n­i­tion of car­tog­ra­phy, there are many exam­ples of maps that do not geo­graph­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent a place I am cur­rent­ly in, or can ever be (maps of the moon, fic­tion­al maps, con­cep­tu­al maps). But I do believe it is safe to say that all maps must have a qual­i­ty of ref­er­ence. If a map in the front of a book shows the trav­els of Bil­bo Bag­gins, obvi­ous­ly you can nev­er place your­self in ref­er­ence to that map, the book is a work of fic­tion. But the illus­tra­tions of the book’s geog­ra­phy require a ref­er­ence to the char­ac­ter in that book. With that sim­ple detail cov­ered, so much more infor­ma­tion may be absorbed from the map: how large the world is, where his home is, what fea­tures are there to the land, what parts of the world will he explore and what parts of the world might we nev­er even learn about. Some of these ques­tions might be answered, and some may not, but that sim­ple ref­er­ence point inspires the key qual­i­ty of won­der to maps that make them so enchant­i­ng.

Won­der is found in so many forms of design and art, espe­cial­ly in the nar­ra­tive world. Books are mak­ing you won­der from the very first sen­tence, and the nar­ra­tive pro­ceeds to either answer your inter­nal ques­tions or to leave them untied. For this jour­ney project I def­i­nite­ly want to retain some of that curios­i­ty, but a good map also answers some ques­tions and com­mu­ni­cates an idea. This project is a bit bril­liant because it is com­bin­ing both a map and a nar­ra­tive; it can be both place and time. I sup­pose time could be replaced with impres­sion how­ev­er, as there’s no true need to dic­tate how long one thing takes to get from point A to point B, but it could. Time could also be gen­er­al­ized, just like so many aspects of a map. A sim­ple sequen­tial order is inher­ent, but could be empha­sized to enhance the expe­ri­ence.

A path on a map can sway the view­er with an impres­sion of the geog­ra­phy. It’s near­ly impos­si­ble to omit how­ev­er, even rivers run a spe­cif­ic course, roads and routes were laid long ago, all of which are some of the sim­plest ways to ensure that ref­er­ence is achieved. Even as cours­es are dis­played on any giv­en map, the course of this par­tic­u­lar jour­ney also brings up a few queries: should the course be pre­cise? what kinds of trav­els should be omit­ted? can a course sim­ply indi­cate a con­nec­tion between point A and point B with­out spec­i­fy­ing the actu­al route? On a GPS this would be dis­as­trous. It is strange to me that it los­es so much val­ue in a scrap book though. Recount­ing a jour­ney in the past has lit­tle to do with the course unless that course is mean­ing­ful to the sto­ry of the jour­ney. When I take a plane from Cincin­nati to Seoul I’m pret­ty inclined to sim­ply draw a straight line between the two, even though I clear­ly know the air­plane I took had a spe­cif­ic course. As I recount a jour­ney for this project, I’ve learned that exact course is less impor­tant than com­mu­ni­cat­ing a pro­gres­sion. I’m remind­ed of the Indi­ana Jones movies where Spiel­berg gives us an translu­cent tran­si­tion map when Indy flies from Nepal to Egypt.

IndianaJones_Travel IndianaJones_Travel2
As in any oth­er form of design, dis­cre­tion is the root of sim­plic­i­ty and com­pre­hen­sion. Dis­cre­tion is the qual­i­ty that ensures mean­ing is com­mu­ni­cat­ed, but need­less or point­less infor­ma­tion is left out. I ques­tioned what cours­es should be rep­re­sent­ed in the sec­tion above; show­ing the path I took point A to point B is impor­tant, but from point A to point A.1 to point A.2 would be tedious. Even Google has a thresh­old for how far in you can zoom to their maps, how detailed a map should be, how many place names should be includ­ed and at what degree of per­spec­tive they are revealed. As I con­sid­er design­ing a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of my jour­ney I have to make choic­es for the view­er about what parts of the jour­ney are unnec­es­sary. This goes for the sub­jec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion as well. A good place to start might be deter­min­ing what parts of the jour­ney were most impor­tant, and maybe the lev­el of com­pre­hen­sion will help steer me if more ele­ments are need­ed to find ref­er­ence.

Cartography is Design

This month I’m return­ing to this lit­tle side project here to stretch my brain and draw imag­i­nary logos after a pret­ty long hia­tus. Though Month­ly Brand has decid­ed­ly become any­thing but month­ly, I’d still like to come back and take a jour­ney through the rig­or­ous thought study of the iden­ti­ty design process. I still make no promis­es for final out­comes as every­thing rests out­side of my real life work, but I still like the chi­canery of a garage work­shop when I can inch in some time.

OnTheMapI’ve been think­ing about maps a bit late­ly, most­ly due to the recent Simon Garfield book “On the Map” that’s sit­ting on my cof­fee table remind­ing me of the crazy way peo­ple believed the earth was put togeth­er. Car­tog­ra­phers are not long for this world any­more it would seem, what with tech­nol­o­gy pro­vid­ing a lot of the math­e­mat­i­cal leg­work to cre­ate incred­i­bly accu­rate geog­ra­phy, all in the palm of our hands. Track­ing loca­tions is some­thing that’s been tak­en to an entire­ly new lev­el in the past twen­ty years as we have gone from fol­low­ing coor­di­nates in an appen­dix-style atlas to decide on a route between states to flip­ping open your hand held to see how many ice cream par­lors there are in an exact 3 mile radius of where you’re stand­ing at this exact moment. I won’t even go into my excite­ment about how we’re so done with map­ping the Earth that we’ve hopped over to Mars to get our fix. Curios­i­ty indeed.

But map­ping the Earth is not real­ly the full or true pur­pose of car­tog­ra­phy. Data man­age­ment is not every­thing the field has to offer, and in many ways it is only the bedrock of it’s true val­ue: pro­vid­ing con­di­tion­al­ly accu­rate and appro­pri­ate maps that are both well designed and beau­ti­ful. That’s right, beau­ty is impor­tant. Take a look at car­tog­ra­ph­er Daniel Huffman’s blog, Car­tas­tro­phe, where real maps are scru­ti­nized as poor exam­ples for cri­tique on why aes­thet­ics are piv­otal in their design. He also authored a post on, expert­ly syn­op­siz­ing an oft-won­dered ques­tion for those in the field, Is Car­tog­ra­phy Dead?

I love maps, and per­haps I nev­er tru­ly knew why, but this research has lead me to con­sid­er it more deeply as a seri­ous branch of graph­ic design. It is infor­ma­tion design at its root and it is far more than geog­ra­phy; it is far more than algo­rithms and pro­gram­ming and math­e­mat­ics, it is the trans­la­tion of envi­ron­ment into com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

So I’m invent­ing a car­tog­ra­phy firm. I’m not ful­ly versed in all the skills and soft­ware a mod­ern car­tog­ra­ph­er would retain, but I’m hop­ing to learn what­ev­er I can dur­ing the process. The foun­da­tion of the car­tog­ra­phy firm’s busi­ness would be in cus­tomized maps as a prod­uct that can be com­mis­sioned as prop­er­ty, to edu­cate and high­light infor­ma­tion about spe­cif­ic geo­graph­ic areas, and uti­lize visu­al styles and aes­thet­ics for dif­fer­ent clients or projects.


Jerry’s Map


Jerry’s Map

I’ll digest the actu­al brand a lit­tle more lat­er, I’m still get­ting my feet wet on the sub­ject of mod­ern car­tog­ra­phy. There is a large com­mu­ni­ty I have found called The Cartographer’s Guild which includes pro­fes­sion­als, artists, hob­by­ists and ama­teurs alike that may be a help­ful resource. I’m also look­ing at this blog which is inspir­ing called Mak­ing Maps: DIY Car­tog­ra­phy. As with most sub­jects, I’m wary of DIY design, but I also applaud those who wish to learn more by doing, I only hope that through learn­ing, “doing it your­self” lends to respect for those who do it well.

I’m also look­ing for car­tog­ra­phers who don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly stay the course of a tra­di­tion­al map-mak­er, and am seek­ing exam­ples of car­tog­ra­phy as more than design, but as art. Recent­ly I came upon this short doc­u­men­tary that absolute­ly floored me about a man who sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly paints pan­els of a fic­tion­al place, with fic­tion­al geog­ra­phy and fic­tion­al res­i­dents. His name is Jer­ry, and his map is spe­cial; you can only watch this to ful­ly under­stand the extent and beau­ty of his process.

Any­way, I’m col­lect­ing lots of thoughts and of course, visu­als, and will build my fic­tion­al com­pa­ny who needs an iden­ti­ty here­after. Excel­sior.