I’m writing a new book on cartography. Without divulging what it’s all about just yet, here’s a post on what will become one sub-section of the book.
Typographic maps are maps that are built out of typographic elements as opposed to graphic elements; they are still spatially accurate. Instead of drawing a couple of lines to indicate a road, for instance, the road is shown via the road’s name, repeated along the length of the feature. For another example, instead of a blue blob for a lake, the lake name is the “fill” for the feature. As the typography is put together and layered, it becomes very impressionistic: you see a pattern from afar, you see the individual words close-up. Most of these maps that I’ve seen are of high-population cities, focusing on the infrastructure of the place such as roads and buildings.
It’s a pretty new genre of map design. The best-known typographic maps in the cartography world are probably those by Axis Maps. For a more free-form take on them, check out Paula Scher’s artistic maps. I’ve never created a typographic map before, so it didn’t seem right to explain the techniques and processes that go into making them until attempting one myself. Herein are the things I’ve learned so far.
Typographic map design requires:
- FONT CHOICE: obviously your fonts will make a big difference in how the map looks, so choose carefully.
- COLOR: while at first it seems like color isn’t going to be a big deal on these maps, it still has a high importance. Using color, and especially contrast between your main “blanket” word and your other words is important.
- PATTERN: to create a proper patterning effect, large features (such as landmasses) need to have a single, steady, fill with which to layer the other, smaller features, on top of. Perhaps an 80/20 rule is applicable here. 80% background words, 20% foreground words.
- CAPS: As was pointed out to me on CartoTalk, using all-caps for most of the words will be important, because ascenders and descenders in lower case words get in the way of the feature shape that you are trying to fill.
Process: The best process that I’ve uncovered is to blanket the background with a word(s) using a text fill, then layer on top of that with the smaller features. When you write another word on top of the text fill, depending on the program you’re using, you can either create a background for the text or create another polygon around the text that matches the main background color (often white, but you see I’ve used an off-white in mine). This creates a cut-out look.
This is just the beginning of my tests with typographic mapping techniques. For those who’ve already created these successfully, I’d be happy to hear more about your techniques and processes.