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Book Review – Atlas of Design

Atlas of Design swirling seas

Why read Atlas of Design?

I’m not sure you would ‘read’ it. I rather think you would use it as a reference and/or have it grace a coffee table for the pleasure of returning to it from time to time. Certainly the cover, stark slate grey with a gunmetal number 1 (or perhaps more appropriately, the international symbol for turn on?) is very smart. Unfortunately fingerprints tend to show up for a while.

What might be in it for you?

Atlas ofDesign contents
Numbers relate to page numbers in text

New takes on classics

Such as p10, US highways. At first glance it is an extended London Tube map (1931, Harry Beck). And p36, Marlborough Sounds, must surely be a NZ government topo map? Subtly but definitely, no.

The new wave of popular prints?

Move over Monet, Manet, and Buffet. Surely these city maps composed of names will soon be adorning apartment walls. Modernity for the streets, rivers and parks of Washington D.C. on p4. Tradition through the first streets of Madison Wisconsin on p58 via signatures of the signers of the US constitution.

From form to function

Designed for a Brazilian annual report, the Hora Mundial (world time) map on p8 places Brazil at the centre of its world. It assailed me at first glance and I didn’t spend much time on it. But each time I look at it I discover more good design for its anticipated users.


There is imagination in every map in this book. If you can’t see it, just read the accompanying story of the map. But a few maps exemplify an imagineering approach. p28, eCartacoethes, is a series of this ilk. Melding the visual languages of electronic design and maps, the series is smart, amusing, and a few of the maps are initially realistic.

Williamette R

Art forms

◊ Extrapolated defines p20 (took me a few goes to divine this clever history)
Purposed p28
Re-purposed p31
Captured p70 — absolutely gorgeous, see portion at left.


The cold hand of death on p34 contrasts with the warm climes of p36 and gorgeous colour laid down on p68 — my 2nd favourite visually.


À la London Tube in curvaceous tendrils on p14. Graphic design melds with GIS on p50.


You won’t see this book the way I did. That scope for interpretation is what makes it so interesting. Don’t be misled by my selection above. There is no uninteresting map in this atlas.

Still, don’t rely solely on my opinion — that this atlas is in its 2nd printing, within a year of release, speaks well of its acceptance. It seems these maps indeed represent the editors’ opinion that —

[quote]To truly engage map users requires that we present them with something worth looking at.[/quote]

Atlas of Design, Volume One. Editors: Timothy R Wallace & Daniel P Huffman. Published by North American Cartographic Society (NACIS). 2012. US$35 +shipping.


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