Of cartographers and philosophers

Filed under design, progress, research & consultation, the map

We’ve been getting some feedback on the map from cartographers who draw a lot more maps than we do. Very useful it’s been too, highlighting some key aspects that have slipped past us as we’ve developed that design-blindness that sometimes happens on a long-running project. But something I’ve detected in the resulting discussion and from observing others is that are sometimes two distinct trains of thought about map-making.

One is that maps have developed their own visual language over the last few centuries and a map that follows in this tradition is the best a map can be. It’s tried an tested and refined and it asks that potential users learn how to understand and use such maps.

The other train of thought is that maps are fluid and that cognitive mapping theory, usually in relation to urban maps and particularly in the context of city centre wayfinding, is rewriting the rules. Maps can be far more intuitive that most currently are. This isn’t to deny that cartographer’s skills are just as valuable as before, but that a map can have a different theoretical starting point to which those skills are applied.

Under challenge from the former perspective and a wealth of cartographic experience it’s given me cause to stop and question some of the non-traditional decisions we’ve made, even going back to the theories and philosophies that underpin this project. So buckle those mental seatbelts, and whilst we make some design tweaks, my next post on here will be a whistle-stop ultra-condensed look at situationist theories and whether a map can change place. I bet you can hardly wait.

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