Google Design
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Google Design

The Evolution of Map Design: From Medieval Latin to Google Maps

A modern perspective on what maps do and how they’re evolving

A basic & simple history

Napkin world
Navigation (boat chart) / Orientation (street map) / Finding (treasure map) / Understanding & Knowledge (atlas)
The Hereford Mappa Mundi
Circa 19/20th Century pocket maps
Mapquest — old school digital maps

The power of maps

The ubiquitous Mercator projection on the left and the modern, more accurate Gall-Peters projection on the right.
The Atlas for the Blind

‘Normal’ maps

Left: Google Map — Basic perspective that includes a simplified ‘all in one’ map of layers showing streets, landmarks, geographical features and so on. Centre: Subway map — Represents things a little differently — simplifying physical space and highlighting transit lines and stations. Right: Cold war Invasion map — created by the USSR during the cold war, this map depicts import landmarks for invasion or sabotage.

But wait, there’s way more than traditional cartography!

A curved three dimensional map
This is also NYC — as shown as if Manhattan is folding down and extending out before you.
Time map
Experiment from Mapbox showing walking distance time from your location to certain search results i.e. coffee places.
Stylistic & descriptive map
Manhattan as diverse and abstract faces, neighborhoods and places, alongside descriptions of what’s there.
Minimal shape map
Manhattan as circles and lines — neighborhoods and main roads — stripped back to essentials.
Mixed media map
An overview of the High Line in Manhattan — with photography and minimal map. Photography highlighting points of interest along the walk.
Illustrative & exploratory map
The High Line again but with illustrations, nearby food & drink recommendations, interesting architecture — and a cutaway for sense of scale.

What about live data?

Live transit map
Manhattan’s transit system as mapped by Travic using open-source data.
Exercise map
Heat map from Strava’s data set of their user’s activity as shown across NYC.
Snap map
SnapChat’s heat map shows what and where people are ‘snapping’ and sharing with their friends.
Crowd sourced map
Hood Maps ask users to show where certain types of inhabitants live and the vibe of neighborhoods.

With endless ways to represent our world, what’s the future?

Passenger maps
When we are no longer driving — what purpose does a map have? Great read: Cartography in the age of autonomous vehicles by Justin O’Beirne.
Mapping depth & density
Increasingly more and more people are living in dense urban environments. How do users navigate these dense urban cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong, with multiple layers and levels?
Augmented Reality
With the advent and adoption of augmented reality in mobile devices, how do we help people in their daily lives? Google Maps announced AR Walking Navigation earlier in 2018.

In summary



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Daniel Ruston

UX Lead @ Google—Product design lead for Assistant, Search, Maps and previously Google brand.