Map formats

I researched the physical formats for map making by looking at maps in the flesh.

I remembered the collection Ruth showed us in our bookbinding workshop about maps. I visited the collection in the Richard Hamilton Building this week and took a few photos of some interesting aspects.

I didn’t photograph one map where the designer included graffiti and dog poo on their map of an area. It is the designer’s choice what they include in the map and what they want to direct the reader to.

This map opens out lengthways and shows us 2 sides of a street. The centre of the map represents the road itself. They have used words to tell us information such as who lives in the building and events that have happened. The map was not in English, so I could not understand exactly what it was telling me, but even so, I could guess a lot from the way it is visually expressed. As the reader, it feels like you are walking down the road.

Another map that caught my attention is one made up purely of photos. The designer has taken a series of photos at one location and pieces the images together to create a picture of the place. This reminded me of David Hockney’s approach, but the photos here are made to look seamless. This technique means that we are given more information than could be captured in a single photo of a place.

Stephen Willats

Amongst the collection of maps, I found this booklet by Stephen Willats, whose work I have looked at previously. The Tower Mosaic Book maps together the residents of the building. Because of the boldness, the map is easy to read.

The quotes on the left page above, have distinctive voices, without needing to change the typeface.
He presents different objects from the building. As a viewer, I wonder about the choice of objects. I can see they are the people’s possessions because they are everyday objects.

Michael C. Nicholson

Nicholson maps his day in this booklet. The horizontal line represents the hours in the day and the silhouettes signify different activities. The way they are positioned remind me of a clock face and therefore the viewer sees a clock even before reading the text.

The horizontal line continues across the booklet. This helps the work to look cohesive and part of the same narrative.

Where You Are is a book of 16 maps created by writers, artists and thinkers.’ 

A Book of Experimental Maps Designed to Get You Lost | WIRED

‘We’re constantly mapping our lives, even if we don’t realize it. The emails we send, the restaurants we Google, the buses we take, the status updates we post —all of this is a way to track where we’ve been, what we’ve done and what’s important to us. ‘

‘(These maps) won’t actually get you anywhere—but they sure are fun to look at.’ 14 Fascinating Maps of Places Hiding In Plain Sight (

I looked at this collection and include some of the maps here:

Denis Wood

front cover

Tao Lin

front cover

Tao Lin maps outer space in answer to the question ‘Where are you?’

Leanne Shapton

front cover

Tablescapes is about the literal space around you in your day to day living. A desk is multi-functional. It’s a table you sometimes work at, sometimes eat at and use to store objects you may need to use in the near future.

Peter Turchi

front cover

This designer thinks about different paths he could have taken in his life. The flow chart style reminds me of the quizzes found in magazines when I was a child.
He uses road signs that are recognisable to the viewer.

Geoff Dyer

This map folds out to show the designer’s home town. He has marked areas that have personal significance to him. I like the depth of detail in this map and the way it is possible to get lost amongst it.

Joe Dunthorne

Ghost Pots relates to his experience as a writer.

Here, the designer uses illustrations to draw a map of an imaginary place. ‘A literary landscape.’

Valeria Luiselli

Swings of Harlem marks the swings the author remembers from childhood.

The map folds into the front cover. Her map was unique in the way that she made a large folded map separate to the rest of the work. There is a booklet that comes with the map to add context to the images.

In the booklet, she shares her memories and thoughts about each swing. She includes photos from her personal collection. This gives the map an authentic feeling.

Mapping – Research

I looked at the way designers approach mapping, to help me understand how I might approach mapping in my work.

I look at this webpage about creative mapping & visualisation techniques.

Why do we present data in a visual way?

When we display our data visually it is much easier to extract meaningful patterns and information that would otherwise be indecipherable in numbers, and this in turn allows us to develop conclusions and make informed design decisions. Not only does this display of data help us with our designs, it can also demonstrate information to a client more clearly, helping them to understand the root of our design decisions and allowing them to engage with the design process from an early stage.”

Graphing where people run
Organised crime in Northern Italy

Stephen Willats

Stephen Willats is a British artist. His work explores the role of art in society.

His work has involved interdisciplinary processes and theory from sociology, systems analysis, cybernetics, semiotics and philosophy.

His use of framing in the above image, draws the viewer’s attention to elements of a scene.

The zig-zagging line in the image below connects the 4 photos. It takes the viewer on a journey of place or time or both. The layout makes the map easy to read because the images are stacked one on top of the other in 2 layers.

This piece looks like a diagram. The black and white adds to the work’s readability. The symmetrical layout gives the piece a sense of order.

Living with Practical Realities 1978 Stephen Willats born 1943 Purchased 1981

Across three panels, Stephen Willats explores the realities of living in a 1970s British tower block. The work centres on Mrs Moran, an elderly woman who lived at Skeffington Court in Hayes, West London. Willats photographed and interviewed Mrs Moran over the course of six months. The text in the work is based on these interviews. In his composition, Willats highlights the physical, social, and economic constraints that Mrs Moran experienced. Each panel also features a question. These invite the viewer to participate directly in Mrs Moran’s lived experiences.

‘Created by a group of artists and group of actors and expresses transience and fluidity. The idea of complexity, of relativity and authorship.’

In this work, he uses line to connect ideas visually. The separate moments would otherwise not be connected. The order of the images is then important to the meaning of the sign. Changing the order would change the connections between these visual thoughts. We could be looking at a narrative mapped out like in a storyboard. It is up to the viewer to piece together what the map is signifying.

The labels at the bottom of the artwork describe different sounds. We can then connect this upwards. The labels are indicators but do not tell the whole story.

Forensic Architecture

Foresenic Architecture is an interdisciplinary team that includes architects, filmmakers, lawyers and scientists. Their work uses the built environment as a starting point for explorations into human rights violations. Forensic Architecture | Tate

Forensic Architecture has worked closely with communities affected by acts of social and political violence, alongside NGOs, human rights groups, activists, and media organisations. Their investigations have provided decisive evidence in a number of legal cases, and contested accounts given by state authorities, leading to military, parliamentary and UN inquiries.


Their work illustrates crimes that have taken place. The agency open investigations and work from these investigations are presented in their exhibitions. Their work raises questions about technology, political issues and history. They take advantage of digital methods such as satellite imaging and digital recording. Through their work, they share truths with the world that people have a right to know.

They transform data into large expressive imagery:

Counter Investigations, 2018

They read buildings to understand what has taken place. For example, reading the ruins of a building that has been destroyed. They examine these events from multiple perspectives. This image maps out the events from one of their investigations:

Reporting from the front was an exhibition displaying accounts from people who were sharing their experiences of different events.

Reporting from the front, 2016