The Beauty of Map Design

Cartography is one of the most fundamental and practical applications of graphic design. Whether for extensive journeys, local wayfinding, or aesthetics, map design been a critical form of artistic expression for thousands of years.

The oldest maps still in existence are carved in stone and reflect wayfinding from the very earliest societies. According to The World Through Maps: A History of Cartography by John R. Short, the oldest extant maps date back to 40,000 years ago in the upper Paleolithic period. These maps from early civilizations depicted topography and buildings, celestial bodies, and even imaginings of the entire universe.

Today, most of us prefer the interactivity of Google Maps, Waze or other apps for wayfinding purposes, while basic paper maps are relegated to décor—or, in my case, wrapping paper. However, the design world continues to produce beautiful map illustrations ranging in quality from whimsical doodles to infographics to fine art, and ranging in topic from local produce to political stance to, well, actual landmarks.

But in all seriousness, illustrated maps in particular hold vast cultural value. They define the places we love by the things we love about them, and the things that we hold to be true about them in our collective imagination.

The artists who specialize in illustrated map design are a particular breed of creative genius. Map design not only requires exceptional illustration skills; it also requires a strong understanding of spatial relationships, data analysis and architecture, as well as a flair for capturing the cultural significance of each illustrated location.

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Explore the work of these eight map illustrators, whose work is featured in John Roman’s new book, The Art of Illustrated Maps: A Complete Guide.

The Art of Illustrated Map Design 

Carlo Stanga

Carlo Stanga (Click image to enlarge)

Domenic Civiello

Domenic Civiello

About The Art of Illustrated Maps:

While literally hundreds of books exist on the subject of maps and cartography, The Art of Illustrated Maps is the first book ever to fully explore the art form of conceptual, “illustrated” mapping. Author, educator and map illustrator John Roman correlates not-to-scale maps as “the creative nonfiction of cartography,” and in this book he reveals how and why the human mind instinctively accepts the artistic license invoked in imaginative maps. Drawing from a wide range of references, The Art of Illustrated Maps traces the roots of this specialized art form’s two-thousand-year history, and through the works of numerous contemporary illustrators from around the world, documents the creative process of professional map artists as well as the inspirations behind 21st-century illustrated maps.

About John Roman:

John Roman, a Boston-based map illustrator and graduate of Suffolk University’s New England School of Art & Design, has been teaching illustration for over twenty years at the Massachusetts College of Art. He is also the author of the F+W Media eBook, 50 Markets of Illustration.

Order your copy of The Art of Illustrated Maps in MyDesignShop.

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