Visual Cartography Design

Visual Cartography Design


Maps take in 3 dimensions and spit out 2 dimensions. They can be technical yet visual, informative yet fictional, data-driven yet abstract. Most importantly, they tell stories--where you adopted your darling poodle terrier, where you spent collegiate days drooling on economics notes, where you spilled your IPA on your now-fiancée. As an avid map lover, I was delighted to design an interactive map style for, which specializes in "choose a place, any place, and we'll print your map to create a literally one-of-a-kind gift" products.

This meant that the map style had to work for every street, circle, and rue de la whatever-you-please in the world, in addition to more macroscopic zoom levels such as city views or county views. This meant that the style had to impress lovers of landlocked cities like Denver, Colorado in the U.S. as well as port cities Hamburg, Germany alike, and that agricultural areas like West Des Moines, Iowa shouldn't be forgotten.

To give myself some constraints, and inspired by the wood that the maps will be printed on, I used wood textures to style the map. Water was represented by a dark veneer pattern whereas parks and grass took on a more oak-like color. Buildings were left transparent to showcase the wood of the case.

Then commenced the tweaking: road thicknesses, opacities, contrast—did they work for different zoom levels? Since I was doing the map design with a program called Mapbox Studio Classic, all of the adjustments were done in CartoCSS, which is similar to CSS, but targets map classes such as "road" or "motorway_link". This involves plenty of back-and-forth checking of whether a road thickness that flatters one city would clump up the streets of another.

After ensuring that the map presented well for most parts of the world, I passed the design onto Elwin, who engineered the website to make it easy as pie to go anywhere in the world on the map. For our wooden cases, we then partnered with our friends at Carved to get the maps UV printed on wood veneers.

Here are some maps featuring different cities!