Alternative Mapping

Worldmapper: Absolute Poverty (up to $2 a day) (Territory size shows the proportion of all people living on less than or equal to US$2 in purchasing power parity a day.)

by Renard Teipelke

This article is about maps. If you are thinking back to geography classes in school or your last trip with a roadmap, you will be misled. There has always been more to maps, more in maps, and more about maps than ‘standard map bureaucrats’ would ever want to admit. Let us start with a simple question:

What do maps show?

On a ‘typical’ map, we will see sketches of a particular environment with names on it for streets, places, or other landmarks. A map can show us or at least help us to find out where we are, where we could be, and how we could get there.

What do maps not show?

In most maps, we will not be given much more information about a landmark/object than its name (possibly other geophysical facts like its height, but not more). Often, a lot of knowledge and/or interpreting work are necessary to understand the relation between various landmarks/objects shown on a map. We hardly ever see on a ‘typical’ map, how a landmark/object is situated in its adjacent environment. Normally, the ‘typical’ map will also not provide any hint why we should see/go to a particular place.

Examples for alternative mapping

If we look at the following two examples of alternative mapping, we can easily understand how information-rich these maps can be:

 Strange Maps: 533 – Next Stop Beaujolais: A Metro Map of French Wines (click here for larger image)

  • Wines of France (The Regions & Major Appellations)

This map shows us the different wines and their placement in particular French regions and cities. Considering the most common images of France, I would briefly summarize: the map shows us this country how it is experienced by many of its people and visitors. Regions in France are differentiated by wine and cheese. Thus, understanding the geographical distribution of various wines in France tells a lot about their corresponding region.

The Guardian (2006): Dorian Lynskey: Going underground (click here for lager image)

  • 100 Years of Music Using the London Underground Map

This tremendous work by Dorian Lynskey pictures different music genres and their major representatives. Has it something to do with London? Not really, though the design of this map – as well as the Wines of France map – are based on the original first map of the London Underground by Harry Back (1933). Nevertheless, this map also gives many insights: In this case, it shows the evolution of music genres and their relation to another (constituted by bands that played multiple music genres).

Why use alternative mapping?

Alternative mapping is related to more serious concepts like counter mapping or perceptual mapping, though it does not purposefully share the others’ political or economic focus. First of all, alternative mapping is a lot of fun. Furthermore, it offers viewpoints that are very much different from the common perspective on regions or topics. It is not only a creative task to produce and design but also to read and interpret these maps.

In contrast to ‘typical’ maps, alternative maps seem to have a soul or want to tell a story. They ask us to critically reflect on our opinions, ideas, or understandings of places, landmarks, or other objects. They go far beyond the factual meaning of geophysical maps. And most important: These maps inspire us to (re)think and/or (re)experience places and spaces – let it be landmarks, wine, music, or people – they all constitute and make a space or a place special.


For further fun and information, visit Frank Jacobs’ Strange Maps – Cartographic Curiosities.

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1 Response to Alternative Mapping

  1. Pingback: Two Layer Shot | Design and Art Bar

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