top of page

you are here

maps as media and metaphor

Maps communicate in a language of line, color, and symbol, to represent something real. But their visual creativity and meaning often extends beyond their utility. Maps are capable of communicating more than we realize. They can reveal or conceal, verify and even lie, providing more than an objective representation of reality. 


​Maps first show up as markings on cave walls and clay tablets. They have long given humans a way to represent and make sense of their spatial surroundings. But the decisions made by cartographers are their own and their are many stories that might be told about the same area. 


Use the following resources to explore cartography and map design. Think about the many ways that cartographers use maps to communicate ideas.


Radical Cartography, edited by Alexis Bhagat and Lize Mogel

You Are Here, Katharine Harmon

The Map as Art, Katharine Harmon
Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, Rebecca Solnit

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker



Paper Mache Maps

After the Map

Radical Cartography

The Map of the Art

New York Public Library Map Warper

Everything Sings, Denis Wood



Why All World Maps Are Wrong

History of Redlining in Seattle

Seattleness: A Cultural Atlas

brainstorm ideas

What is the cartographic story you want to tell? Will the world you reveal be real or fictional? Are there psychogeographic implications to consider on the land you are mapping? Artist Joyce Kozloff uses maps in her artwork to address political and historical issues. What would you like your to map to say?


Consider the medium of your map. What materials will you use? You could try using real objects like artist Vik Muniz who often uses materials like wire, sugar, chocolate and even garbage.


When designing your map, use the iterative process.
1. Design a prototype
Create a quick illustrated design of your map. Refer to specific programming languages as needed. Using your knowledge of projection and scale, keeping in mind the purpose and possibilities of maps, create a prototype to tell your cartographic story.
2. Build  

Gather the necessary data and artistic tools you'll need, along with your illustrated flowchart, and build a prototype of your program. Test your circuit, evaluate what occurred, fix the prototype. Retest and reevaluate what occurred many times until the circuit functions consistently according to your intentions.
3. Analyze your prototype  

Test your prototype. Does it work? If not, determine where the problem is. Make changes and re-test.

final design

Does your map tell the story you set out to tell?

“Every place deserves an atlas." 

-Rebecca Solnit

bottom of page