Cartography for an audience of one

Cartography for an audience of one

Paul Stiff, a reader in typography and graphic communication, has been studying wayfinding — not in the maps from professionals — but in the handmade maps that people draw for one another:

Stiff believes that we amateurs have something to teach the pros. Our maps are efficient — they edit out unnecessary information. They often include what Stiff calls “an error detector, something that tells you something’s gone wrong.” (If you see the red barn, you’ve gone too far.) They adhere not to mapmaking norms but to the user’s particular needs.

More than boxes and arrows, they’re conversations:

The maps we draw for one another also have a certain ephemeral beauty. Each map is the product of a conversation. While most professional maps serve “countless numbers of people who have countless purposes,” Stiff says, maps like these are “made for an audience of one.” Examining these bits of personal cartography — studying the ways “we edit, we twist, we rearrange, supportively” — can teach us how humans really perceive and understand maps.

This from Slate’s ongoing six-part series on Signs: How They Tells Us Where To Go.