Most city maps are insufferably hard to read. Street names are never big enough, map keys are too complicated, and neighborhoods are rarely delineated; you could wander into the heart of West Oakland and never know it, if not for the symphony of Glocks going off around the corner.
A clutch of city maps by the Hewitt, Texas-based cartography firm Axis Maps offers a clever solution. The maps use typography as the sole visual clue. So everything from streets and highways to parks and waterways are labeled with text. The bigger the thoroughfare or the landmark, the bigger the words. So far they have maps of Chicago and Boston; New York, SF, and DC are coming up. Chicago’s shown here:
It’s a thoroughly intuitive way to visualize cities. People navigate a new place according to names, not symbols and grids. Neighborhoods get called out, too:
The maps are produced by hand. Per the designers? blog: “There was nothing automated about making these maps, unless you count copying and pasting. Everything was laid out manually, from tracing streets over an OpenStreetMap image, to nudging curved water text, to selectively erasing text to create a woven street pattern.”
The maps are sold as poster prints for $30, but — as pretty as they’d look on a wall — we reckon they have broader commercial appeal. Think how useful they could be for tourists as fold-out maps or even smart-phone apps.