We love globes, but we despise reading them. All those extraneous symbols and endless topographic lines that could easily be confused with countries — if not for Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego, we’d probably go on thinking Dar es Salaam is an island in Norway.
The global maps shown here are a promising antidote. Created by Chicago designer Nancy McCabe, they strip down the geography of the world to virtually nothing but words. Focus on a single continent and you can scan its vast array of nations, cities, and seas without the usual surfeit of visual interference. Blind grids shows latitude and longitude, keeping the whole thing from feeling too obscure and unmap-like.
That said, the maps get jumbled when you really laser in. The designer included an awful lot of city names — not just the biggest ones — and they can be pretty tough to read on close inspection. It took us a good minute to find Dar es Salaam below.
McCabe could fix that by varying the size of the text to correspond to the size of various geographic sites. That’s how the designers of these excellent typographic city maps improved wildly on standard grid maps.
It’s a minor point. And ultimately, it does little to distract from the best feature of McCabe’s maps, which is how they look from afar. The text fades to an abstract crush of gray — a keen reminder of our meager place in the cosmic scheme of things.