The Science of Maps


Cartography is another word for the term map-making. It has been described as the ‘Art, science & technology’ of map-making. Cartography details a wide range of areas and creates a large amount of interest from many people who come from various backgrounds and aspects of life.

Key Map Examples

Most of us are familiar with the Underground map system. However, when the Underground was first built, a geographical map was used to help commuters find their way around London. Today’s map is an altogether different one in the form of a circuit diagram. The idea to make it so, was one of Harry Beck’s, who was a London Underground engineer. He came up with this plan in 1931.

london underground map

All features from the old map, including roads, rivers and parks were left out, and curvy lines were made straight, as none of these features were relevant when travelling underground and would make no difference to the commuter’s journey. This meant that there was more room to make the diagram on a larger scale, making it easier to read. Since then, the diagrammatic tube map has stood the test of time and worked its purpose.

You can see how the map would look using correct scale cartography on the image below. The major differences in these two maps shown one of the key aims of the study of Visual Communication which aims to simplify meaning and amplify understanding.

How We Design Our Own Maps

When many people take the same route over a period of time, erosion caused by traffic, humans or even animals, creates a path known as a desire path. These paths have been created over time and not by purpose, and are therefore maps that we have designed ourselves.

The most common places to find desire paths are in parks, where people have created shortcuts for themselves.

World Map Vs. Peters Map

In 1973, German historian Arno Peters declared a new map projection that would symbolize each area on the map in a precise way. For example, the map displays the Third World Countries more fairly than the World map (Mercator Projection Map), whereas the Mercator Projection shows a distorted view of the size of Countries and Continents.

The Mercator Projection was developed by Gerardus Mercator in 1569. This was designed as a navigation tool for people wishing to navigate from one Country to another. Although this map doesn’t display the correct representation of Countries, it was widely used as maps in publications, atlas maps and wall maps for the non-geographers. In the Western world, this map became the standard map projection.

Although the Peters Map is a true representation of all areas, the shape of the earth is distorted. However, neither map gives a good suggestion of what the earth actually looks like.

In conclusion, you cannot portray a round earth on a flat surface. Every map projection has different values, all with different strengths and weaknesses. It all depends on what purpose you want the map for and how it can work for you. The Peters Projection is an area accurate map and the Mercator Projection is a navigational tool, so each has their purpose for different means.