2016 Submission deadline extended!

February 27, 2016

The deadline for the 2016 submissions has been extended until the end of Friday, March 3rd! We have seen a lot of submissions thus far, and want to make sure you have a little bit of extra time for those final touches and tweaks. Head on over to the submissions page to get started.

If you have any questions, send them to or on twitter @NACIS_Atlas. Happy mapping!

Submit your map now!

2016 Call for Submissions!

January 12, 2016

Greetings cartographers!

Four years have passed since the original call to be a part of the Atlas of Design, and we couldn’t be more happy about the quality of maps coming through our organization. We have been hard at work the past year preparing ourselves for the creation of the third volume. A lot has happened: Daniel Huffman concluded his term with the team, Marty Elmer became Co-Editor, Ginny Mason from The National Geographic Society joined as Assistant Editor, we made some changes to the website, and chatted about some gorgeous maps in the second volume. It has all led to this …

We beyond excited to announce the Call for Submissions for The Atlas of Design, Volume III! Submissions will be accepted until February 28th, 2016 – hopefully giving you plenty of time to add those finishing touches to those maps on the backburner, or talk to your bosses about including some of your work in the third edition.

If you’re ready to submit, head over to and fill out the quick form and upload your map. If you’d like a reminder, you can sign up for email updates at the bottom of the website – we’ll post mid-February with a reminder.

Be a part of Volume III

Volume II is still for sale! You can purchase this beauty here.

A Look Inside – Barry Richards’ Find A Room

January 20, 2015

Once again, the editorial team invites you to join us as we take a deeper look at some of the maps featured in the Atlas. In these semi-transcripts of our informal conversations, we offer personal opinions about what makes each map interesting. We do not speak for the author, nor are we offering an Official Atlas of Design Opinion. Instead, we just want to take a moment to engage with these intriguing works and invite you all to think more deeply about what’s going on in each one, which is one of the goals of our project. The following is a conversation about Barry Richards’ FindARoom—a website for searching rooms at the University of South Wales and is featured in the new, second volume of the Atlas of Design.



Daniel: Strong statement of style. This is an institutional product that has a strong personality and is quite unique. It’s a great piece of branding for the University of South Wales, and one that stands out against other campus maps.

Marty: That’s a good point: when you’re designing things in a utilitarian mindset, there’s a sort of assumption that you can’t also make it aesthetically strong.

Interestingly, the university website doesn’t look like the map in regards to style.

Daniel: It’s actually not much different than a standard floor plan map except for the colors. Someone could put the exact same floor plan in black and white and it would get the job done. This splash of color, though, makes it much more interesting than a standard floor plan.

Marty: The linework is thick in general and abstracted in places, which makes for a unique map style.

Sam: The legend is very in depth. Interestingly, the map is completely rendered in SVG down to the small checkered paths each being their own object. I would love to learn about the automation that went into this work and design.

Daniel: I’m looking at a floor that has a large, internal void space. I guess this is part of the building that is no-man’s land.

Sam: It must be an atrium or something.

Daniel: Or possibly not publicly accessible; closed off.

Marty: It’s not of this dimension.

Daniel: I love the 3D renderings of the buildings that are attached with the map here. It is generalized and simplified, but completely ties you to the reality of the building you’re viewing and makes you recognize it when you’re there.

Sam: It’s really neat how these pages connect the 3D rendering with the floor plan, showing the level of the floor tied with an appropriately lit up color in the 3D building.

Daniel: It’s particularly helpful because of all the hills on this campus that make the “entrance” to the building on irregular floors. You could be entering on the basement level or the 3rd floor, depending on which side of the building you’re approaching.


Sam: I can see this being incredibly useful for new students and everyone in the first week of the semester when you get your class schedule and a list of rooms but have absolutely no idea where you need to go within the buildings. There’s something to be said about finding it on your own, but this would be really great to have so you’re not late for those first few days.

Daniel: This is almost the opposite of some of the maps we’ve talked about previously, which are not geared to finding something specific on the map. FindARoom, however, is made purely for finding specific, known entities.

Marty: Moreso than any other map in the Atlas, this was made to solve a specific wayfinding problem. That’s really fascinating in the sense that maps can still do that. We have good road maps and everything, so the use of maps as a wayfinding tool has less opportunity when it comes to creativity and charting new areas. This website made me happy and took me back to the roots of why cartography is so great. Nowadays you can forget about the purpose of maps as a wayfinding tool.

Daniel: We also spend so much time professionally pushing against that public perception. As cartographers we’re constantly saying “We are not Google Maps” and find ourselves in a different spectrum than wayfinding… but it’s an incredibly important thing! This is certainly not Google Maps.

Marty: It’s special.

Daniel: It’s classy.

Sam: It’s so out there.

Sam: I wonder how this project came about. To me it seems like it would have had to start out of personal interest or potentially a thesis and only when it became potentially useful did the university see it as a product to officially put on their website.


Marty: Indoor cartography seems really… underrated. Nobody really talks about it, and it seems really ripe for exploration. I wonder why…

Sam: I think you could probably make an argument of resources and priorities. It’s not something that can be done quickly for sure. And if you’re thinking about how many other data related projects a university can work on you’d probably see indoor wayfinding lower on the list. Maybe they see simpler solutions like “better signage” within buildings as a quicker, cheaper option that could have an equally positive effect.

Marty: As a resident of Minneapolis, if there were good cartography for the indoor skyways it would be the absolute best.

Sam: As a web designer and cartographer, I’m really excited to see something so unique come out on the web for the mapping world. We’re so used to seeing slippy maps and thematic maps, but this is something incredibly new and unique that can push the boundaries of how we currently see cartography on the web.

A Look Inside — Jake Coolidge’s Columbia River Watershed

December 3, 2014

Join us as the editorial team takes a deeper look at some of the maps featured in the Atlas. In these informal conversations, we offer personal opinions about what makes each map interesting. We do not speak for the author, nor are we offering an Official Atlas of Design Opinion. Instead, we just want to take a moment to engage with these intriguing works and offer you all a chance to think more deeply about what’s going on in each one, which is one of the goals of our project. The following is a conversation about a Jake Coolidge’s The Columbia River Watershed—a hand-drawn map featured in the new, second volume of the Atlas of Design.


Marty: I was able to listen to Jake’s talk at NACIS about the creative process behind the map. What was really striking is how curated it is; he talked at length at what sort of human vs. natural landscape features he wanted to include.

Sam: I thought the hatched areas were urban upon first glance, but they actually are agricultural areas. Seems like a great thing to include because of the effect agriculture can have on a watershed.

Daniel: I love the fact that he’s bringing back Erwin Raisz, whom he credits as his inspiration. There isn’t enough Raisz stuff these days—he was active in the mid-twentieth century. This map references his physiographic diagrams to take geographic data to their logical conclusion, devising iconology for every type of terrain (i.e. different icons for different types of mountains).

Daniel: It has this storybook quality to it.

Sam: It definitely has a fanciful quality to it, making me want to explore the path from one point to another (shoutout to Middle Earth).


Marty: The oblique view and northeast facing nature makes it hard to tell where all of the borders are, and the actual geographic extent of the map, until you look at the insets in the middle.

Daniel: Oblique views are incredibly powerful, pushing you into a perspective that a standard (plan) view doesn’t allow. There is more of a reality, or an immediacy in seeing the curvature of the Earth. It’s more immersive and arresting to see this perspective.

Sam: I’m happy Jake wrote about using the curvature to portray the vastness of the watershed, which must have been incredibly difficult to keep those curves in mind and yourself oriented when drawing all of the mountains and details.

Daniel: Why do people like these hand-drawn maps?

Marty: It makes the amount of work and thought that went into the map very evident, whereas a digitally produced map can be taken for granted. I think Jake mentioned that the mountains are, of course, not one-for-one on the map. But it’s important to note the major peaks, like Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood, are drawn more true to life.

Daniel: That’s a very good point: it’s obviously laborious.

Sam: It’s amazing looking at each of these mountains and thinking how each of them has to be drawn with shadows and perspective details instead of hitting the button in ArcMap to add your light source.

Daniel: I was reading a piece about the existence of sea monsters in maps. First, they were not very common, and secondly, they were largely a sign of wealth and status of the person who paid for the map. Because it cost a lot of extra money to hire an artist to add those, therefore the more embellishments you had represents your available income. The elaborateness and effort in this map is what we appreciate about it. It’s the time you take to look at this map that makes it stand out, and may not catch your eye as you walk by.

Sam: It makes me feel like I’m looking at a Where’s Waldo book. I could stare at a new little piece of this map every time and find something new.

Daniel: You need to put that in the write-up.

Sam: One thing that I find really interesting, with the very limited amount of drawing I’ve done in my life, the paths of the rivers as they get smaller and smaller look real even if they are scribbles and intensely generalized. Even though someone is drawing it, it makes you get a sense of the watershed bending naturally.

Daniel (disagrees!): When I look at these lines, I have this feeling of imprecision—take someone visiting this area in the 18th century, they wouldn’t get every bend and detail correct. I think hand-drawn sort of implies that things are generally fine but not accurate.

Sam: I suppose I agree, but there still feels like an intention to make these would-be-scribbles seem relatively life-like.


Marty: There are a few rivers further back in the map that are rendered as hachures.

Daniel: Also note the hachures representing canyons the rivers are flowing through.

Sam: There are two types it seems— the hachures that represent the valleys of tributaries and the hachures that are representing canyons. Like the Snake River you’ll see a gorge, but near Clearwater you’ll see little tributaries.


Daniel: The most negative thing I have to say about this map is that there are still some leftover erasures, it’s not very easy to read in some lettering.

Marty: Do we know how large the original drawing is?

Daniel: Well we know it’s 1:1 in the spread in the book, in regards to the file that was provided to us. It seems reasonable that this is the size. Much larger wouldn’t do much more.

Sam: There are some really perfect type on the map, but also many imperfect types, which I can totally sympathize with since I wouldn’t want to write all of those!

Daniel: There are some places, like in the title, that feel “blueprint” like—with the lettering that reminds me of the font you have to use as an engineer or architect in school—it seems to follow that common set of forms. This makes it seem more precise, but when you dive into the actual map it represents a more old-time survey look.


Sam: Daniel, what do you think about the waterlines?

Daniel: Appropriate thematically. I like how they are dashed: it represents motion and tide-like movement.

Marty: Also, the varying stroke widths are important for that sense of motion.

Daniel: Does this map appropriately represent the landscape?

Marty: Yes.

Sam: I think in the context of what the map was written for it does a great job, especially by only showing natural features and references within the watershed.

Daniel: Yes, otherwise this map would be an impregnable mass of mountains and features. Confining to the watershed focuses to make something out of the chaos.

Sam: I enjoy how you can really see the boldness of the river and follow its dispersal as you go inland. If you’re near the Missouri, for instance, the river gets lost in the mountains and lakes, but that accurately represents the spread of the watershed, rather than focusing on what is actually a pretty small river at first.

Daniel: This map is not a map to approach with a goal of intending to determine a specific thing. It’s difficult to find something if you are looking for it, but simple to find many things without intention. Perhaps, it is as the landscape itself. We should not attempt to apply our human, intellectual constructs to it and we should simply appreciate nature as it is.

The Judging Process

November 5, 2014

Now that we’ve wrapped up the work of getting the second Atlas of Design off the ground, we wanted to take a minute to explain how our final selections were chosen.

We received almost 300 entries, and it was no easy task to reduce this great collection down to only 32 finalists. To select the maps for the book, we went through three steps.

Step One: Pre-Judging

In the first step, each member of the editorial team looked at each entry, and then recommended whether it should advance to the second step and be reviewed by a panel of judges. This pre-selection was done to ease the burden on the panel, reducing the number of entries that they would have to score.

We erred strongly on the side of inclusiveness in this step. If any one of the three editors recommended that a map should move on to the next step, it advanced. About 200 entries remained at the end of this step.

Step Two: Panel of Judges

Early this year, we recruited a panel of judges to help make the final selections. Each judge reviewed the remaining ~200 entries and gave each a score between 1 and 5, with 5 being the highest. Scoring of each map was highly subjective; we don’t believe there’s any way to really be objective about something like this. Instead, we ensured that we had a broad panel of judges representing a variety of approaches to design. The judges were often in disagreement; almost every map was scored well by at least one judge and poorly by another. This disagreement was exactly our goal in bringing the panel together, because our aim was to ensure that the final selection was not dominated by one style or taste, but held something for everyone.

Several of the judges were also entrants to the competition, and a number of them are featured in the final volume. Judges recused themselves from scoring their own work, and in cases of any other conflicts of interest (such as an instructor scoring a former student).

Step Three: Editor Selection

The editorial team next took the maps and ordered them by their average judge score. We then started looking over the top-ranked ones and selecting the finalists for the book. We used the scores and judges’ comments as a guide, but the ultimate authority rested with us. We kept largely to the judges’ order, but did sometimes exercised our editorial judgment in order to create a book that showed off a wide variety of map styles and approaches. Some examples of how we deviated from the base scores:

1) A number of mapmakers had multiple top-ranked entries. We wanted to limit each mapmaker to only one entry in the final book. But instead of including their best-ranked map, we sometimes chose a different (still highly-ranked) map to include, if it improved the variety of the book. So, let’s pretend the same person made 2 of the judges’ favorite maps. The most-liked was a classic terrain map, and the less-liked was a stylish abstract thematic map. If we think we have a large number of terrain maps, and very few thematic maps, we might choose to include the latter, even if the judges didn’t quite like it as much, as long as it was still highly-ranked. This allows the book to demonstrate a wider range of cartographic styles.

2) Just as we limited authors to one entry, we took a similar approach to organizations, applying a cap to make sure that some of the larger mapmaking enterprises didn’t dominate the book.

3) To produce a book that represented a wide variety of cartographic approaches, we sometimes also placed caps on the number of maps that we accepted that used a particular style.

Throughout, we were guided by the judges’ scores and deviated only rarely where we thought it would make a better book in the end. The judges were asked to appraise each map, one at a time, whereas our job as editors was to look at the big picture of how they all fit together.

Selecting maps in any sort of competition is a highly subjective process, and we want to be transparent about that process. Our aim was to make a book that honored a number of beautiful maps and which came together in a collection that appealed to a wide variety of tastes. We hope that you’ll find us to have met that goal.

Congratulations to our Honorable Mentions

October 28, 2014

While the Atlas of Design features 32 top-quality examples of modern cartography, we received many more excellent works which did not make it into the final book. We chose to recognize the quality of these maps by naming them Honorable Mentions. In such a crowded field, these works stood out:

1. All 9,866,539 buildings in the Netherlands by Bert Spaan

2. Savannah Historic District Illustrated Map by Michael Karpovage

3. The hiking trails web map of Trentino by Marco Barbieri

4. Antillia by Gillis Björk

5. 手机APP景点通-普陀山地图 by TouchChina UX Team:廖颖,薛文丞

6. Global Land Temperatures since 1900 by Halftone

7. The Noland Trail by Jonah Adkins

8. Memory Roots: A Traveler’s History by Brita Swanson

9. Official Royal Wedding Procession Route by Michael A Hill

10. Brighton Resort Trail Map by Jonathan Hull

11. The Places We’ve Been! by Chelsea Nestel

12. University of Wisconsin Campus Map by Dylan Moriarty

Volume 2 – Sneak Peak

October 7, 2014






Photos by Caroline Rose

2014 Atlas Available for Pre-Order

August 18, 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We’re excited to announce that the 2014 Atlas of Design is now available for pre-order! We’ll be shipping in October, but you should reserve your copy now to make sure we print enough for everyone! Don’t miss your chance to see 32 of the best maps out there today, from top cartographers around the world.

Pre-Order Now!

The Long Proof

August 13, 2014

We printed off a quick proof at the University of Wisconsin Cartography Lab, so we could do one of the last rounds of editing before we send files to the press. It’s about 40 feet long! It’s amazing how much space a book takes up when you arrange all the pages side by side.

Congratulations to Our Finalists

May 19, 2014

We recently finished the challenging task of selecting the maps to be printed in the 2014 Atlas of Design. The upcoming months will be a busy and exciting time, as we’ll be assembling the final contents of the Atlas and preparing it for printing.

To whet your appetite, below is the list of authors whose works will be appearing in this edition of the Atlas. Look through their work if you’re unfamiliar with any of them: they are truly representative of the best contemporary mapmakers from around the globe. As to the specific pieces that will be published… you’ll just have to wait until release day to find out!