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.

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