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On cartography

Ork Map of Toronto

Christopher Columbus' Map of the New World from c.1490

Christopher Columbus_Map_New World_1490

By Mike Baldwin

Directions are either helpful or confusing, maps included. Visual cues are meant to minimize interference by by language and this is where design comes in. Conventions and cultural references are used to help in this experience but there are still shortcomings.
The visual that a map presents to its beholder is spatial; ingenious use of other elements like colours and texture gives the said beholder a space for personalizing the experience of wayfinding. One good example of this visual map is the ‘You Are Here’ map that can be found at any shopping centre. By using the beholder’s relative starting point, the hunt for the shoe sale is a little closer for someone shopping with daddy’s credit card which is a blessing (for the current teenager) and a curse (for the same teenager but ten years from and now also for the unknowing father).
Maps are documents of discovery. Without blazing trails, maps would not exist and without verifying accuracy, maps could very well be drawings mazes that can be filled with colour using wax crayons. Navigators commissioned by kings earned a living heading to the unknown seas brought back trophies as well as roughly plotted maps of their routes to get from one place to their destinations. Christopher Columbus had an estimated idea of how to get to the New World but confusion about where exactly his ship landed has born a huge influence on our present geographic references.
Recently, experimentation in cartography has come from graphic design. The maps are neither topographic, geographic or political; they have become typographic. Looking at the Ork maps of cities, including Toronto, the intention is to visually represent the different neighbourhoods and districts in urban centres through kerning and letting. They are useless if you are a tourist trying to navigate the streets but heck, they are beautiful.
Present-day collectible maps are great to serve as art and design pieces. Nothing else. They are visual references and approximations that could be slightly helpful. One can argue that this is a design failure; another can rebut by asking if we even need maps still. The analog/puritan in me would say ‘yes.’ The tech enthusiast in me asks, ‘don’t I have an app for that?’.


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Judge a book by its cover. It sometimes guides.

Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary," cover designed by Manolo Blahnik

Rebelling against the well-known adage can sometimes lead to trouble but for graphic designers, a book’s cover can hold significance.

The Penguin Classics edition of novels come to mind immediately when I think of a great book cover. The minimalist esthetic of the books is from the genius by the name of Jan Tschichold, a well-known typographer who had studied calligraphy and had a background in artisanat. His experience with papers of different qualities and weights gave him an edge over other typographers.

Tschichold was deeply influenced by the Weimar Bauhaus which steered him in the minimalist direction, after the first exhibition in 1923. A manifesto for Modernist design was written thereafter by the man, whose work was considered by Hitler a threat to the German people, after Tschichold’s arrest for ‘cultural Bolshevism.’ The printed word is powerful.

Working for Penguin Books has led to Tschichold’s immortality, at least in the shelves of bibliophiles and design-o-philes everywhere. There is even a WordPress template, the digital reincarnation of this very intriguing designer.

Penguin’s legacy in book cover design has led to collaborations with designers Ron Arad and Manolo Blahnik. Yes. You read correctly. Even classics like Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky have to remain current. As a literature enthusiast and design enthusiast, there is nothing better than having the best of the written word and design. Even better, a designer piece for less than $15. Manolo Blahnik has never been so accessible.


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