Cartography, Part I

I have always been fascinated with maps. So much more than illustrations of places, they often capture the essence of geographies, regions, cities, towns, communities, neighborhoods and blocks. Maps can be technical, detailed, cartoonish or diagrammatic. They illustrate historical and present-day considerations all at once. They have the power to make us stop and pause—to think about the places they represent.

Like many designers, I found a passion for map making during my university studies in architecture and planning. Architecture is inextricably linked to place and communicating concepts relies heavily on map making—situating a design in context and in space.

For cartagraphers, maps are vehicles for critical thinking. The lines and shapes and forms we draw each have a meaning of their own and ultimately thier composition creates a greater meaning about a place. The act of map making requires us to think about the story we want to tell and how best to communicate that story in a visually compelling and easy to understand way. Maps are tools for thinking, communicating and learning.

Maps also have the ability to connect us to our memories and imaginations. When we look at a map of the place where we live, we immediately begin to look for—to point out—and to describe the places we know and the experiences we had there.

“I used to live there!” “My best friend lives in that neighborhood!” “I had a great time at this park!” “I love walking down this part of that street!”

We begin to relive our past experiences through the representations of the map maker. The graphical choices made by the cartographer conjure up memories of specific sights, sounds, senses and emotions related to the places symbolized on the map. And when we see a map of a place we have never been, we start imagining what it must be like to be there.

In addition to making maps and other graphic visualizations for my professional work, I spend my free time creating typographic maps of neighborhoods, cities, counties and states. I love the task of discovery—learning where boundaries are drawn and what places are called.  I revel in the choices that I can make as a cartographer: How much detail should I show? Is this place big enough to be included? Is this block part of one neighborhood or the other?

Asking these questions helps me to consider and understand the places I am illustrating. And through this process, I find connections with the viewers: I know that when they see my maps, they will begin reliving their own experiences or imagining unknown places.

Page Strategic Consultant Allan Donnelly has developed a series of maps of the US cities in which Page is located. This is the first of six that will be posted on pagethink.com. 

03/23/2018