Archive for the ‘ way finding ’ Category

Maps and legends

An outline map of the world

Maps! –The ultimate in visual information! Once an art-form unto themselves,  with early illustrations of the mappa mundi (world map), maps show us the geography or topography or even the history of a place. The level of detail shown in a map depends upon its scale. Maps reveal landscapes from above, borders, elevation or even weather patterns, depending on their purpose. Shown from above, the aerial view was first made possible by Gaspard Tournachon, also known as ‘Nadar’. While high up in a hot air balloon in the autumn of 1858, Nadar painstakingly took the world’s first aerial ‘photo’: a pale portrait of three houses in a small village on the outskirts of Paris, clear enough that you could actually see a policeman in the street! Maps can represent ‘real’ or even imaginary worlds, like C S Lewis’ Narnia!

Illustration of Nadar taking the world's first aerial image

Maps show you where you are … or where you could go and how to get there. They are tools for navigation, but now they can also represent much more data and interactivity. Google has re-invented the map, with it’s intelligent, ‘big-brother’s watching’ satellite maps.

Interactive Maps:

  • Google Maps provides maps from around the world in various views including: Map, Satellite, Terrain, Traffic, Photos, Videos, Wikipedia, Webcams, and Bicycling! You can ‘create a map’, get directions to a place, or navigate at street level through a neighbourhood with their satellite photo-stitched view. Google Earth goes one step further to give the user the complete experience of flying to a chosen destination in virtual 3D!
  • Panoramio allows users to upload photos from their travels and post them to their corresponding location on a map.
  • amMap provides interactive maps to visualize data, or what they call, map charts. You can choose from ‘heat maps’, ‘drill down maps’ or ‘timeline maps’, and more. The heat map, for example, represents the population density of a country by showing  countries in gradual shades of colour. According to this heat map, when I scroll my mouse over Italy, roughly 59 million people live in Italy, (shown as medium red), compared to Germany, with a population of roughly 83 million (shown as dark red).
  • Strange maps has a great collection of creative maps! You can find a portrait map of Shakespeareville, or the route of ‘four most travelled tales’ and many more quirky maps!

Graphic design is another effective way of depicting information in maps. Consider the famous London Tube map, by graphic designer, Harry Beck. –Beck made this incredible labyrinth look like kids’ play with his world famous map of the London Tube, shown below.

Harry Beck's map of the London Tube


A map’s legend explains elements of a map through icons,  colour and line variation. It unlocks the information contained within a map for the navigator. In short, it helps the navigator read the map. If you are making a map, here are some useful legend icons in vector format: