Cartographic Arts: Beautiful Maps From the Atlas of Design

Many of the maps that go viral on the internet make professional mapmakers cringe due to terrible color schemes, landmass-distorting projections, and amateurish composition. You won’t find any of that nonsense here. The maps in this gallery were selected by a panel of cartographers and designers for the second volume of the Atlas of Design.

Even so, there’s still an element of subjectivity involved in curating a book of well-designed maps, says Daniel Huffman, a freelance cartographer in Madison, WI, and one of the volume’s three editors, along with Sam Matthews and Marty Elmer. Cartographers submitted nearly 300 maps, and a panel of judges picked 32 to include in the atlas. The focus was on aesthetics, rather than data analysis or other technical aspects of mapmaking. “Every map in the competition had some judges like it and some judges not,” Huffman said. “Not all the styles are to everyone’s taste.”

What the maps that made the final cut have in common, Huffman says, is a coherent vision. Some borrow their aesthetic from historical maps and art forms. Others are purely modern. But each is consistent in its chosen style.

Huffman hopes the atlas will inspire cartographers and help raise public awareness of cartography. When he tells people he’s a cartographer, he says the first question they tend to ask is: Hasn’t everything been mapped already? The second is often: Oh, so you work for Google? “We wanted this to be the answer to the question, ‘What do cartographers do?'” Huffman said. “It’s telling interesting stories in interesting ways.”

Sales of the Atlas, which is published every 2 years, benefit the North American Cartographic Information Society.