Maps display information in a visual format

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A map is a visual representation of an area—a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes.

There are different ways to use maps. Although most commonly used to depict geography, maps may represent any space, real or imagined, without regard to context or scale; e.g. Brain mapping, DNA mapping.

Maps usually have:

  • An orientation- e.g. so you can tell where you are in relation to other things
  • A Scale – so you can tell how far away you are from other things
  • A legend/ key – so you can tell what things mean on the map – e.g. symbols, lines, main road, side road, footpath etc

Maps have limitations. For example, the width of a road is usually exaggerated to increase visual readability.Another example of distorted scale is the famous London Underground map. The basic geographical structure is respected but the tube lines (and the River Thames) are smoothed to clarify the relationships between stations.

Concept maps

  • Can be created using the Cmap software, Freemind, Xmind
  • Can be drawn with text, symbols or pictures

Use concept maps to get an idea of the ontological network of the thing or place which is being researched.

Geographical maps

  • Digital maps – Google maps, Open Street map
  • Archive maps – old maps, google images, libraries, Royal Geographical society

Use geographical maps to get an idea of the spatiality of the thing or place which is being researched.

Consider the perspective which different types of maps give to a subject matter, thing, object etc. For example, Paul Virilio talks of the significance of the plane in the way that people see the world.

The ‘from above’ location gives a new perspective on the ground below. What are the positive and negative qualities of this? How do recent technologies like digital maps fit into this thinking and what are their significance?

Buckminster Fuller‘s Dymaxion maps are based on a projection of the Earth’s sphere onto an icosahedron. The resulting triangular pieces may be arranged in any order or orientation.

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