Map, noun

  1. A diagrammatic representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads, etc.
    1. A diagram or collection of data showing the spatial arrangement or distribution of something over an area.

See also Mapping, verb.

Maps are used at Design Academy Eindhoven both as research tool and as manifestation and communication tool. As a research tool, maps are used to analyse spaces, such as cities, landscapes or specific sites, through the collecting and ordering of data. Maps can be termed a manifestation and communication tool when data is ordered and visually represented in a map, transforming the data into legible information that can be discussed, compared, and shared or disseminated.

The map is a graphic format that is read and understood first and foremost in a visual way. This makes it a particularly suitable format for designers. Maps can be collected together in an atlas. When these maps share a similar frame, scale and/or legend the atlas can transcend the level of collection, becoming a tool or information system that can be used to compare details and show multiple sides of the same object. The field of information design sets itself the task of synthesising vast amounts of data into clear and manageable narratives. Throughout history, maps and atlases have presented such a narrative format offering possibilities for storytelling in design and in design research.

The map is an informational format stemming from the empirical sciences. It presents its data as an undisputed representation of what actually is. The field of Critical Cartography questions this aspect pertaining to the map, and stresses that the map is a construction, the product of, and subject to, interpretation.

Digital tools such as Google Earth have challenged some of the fundamental aspects of the conventional, analogue map. Two essential narrative devices of the map – frame and scale – have become almost meaningless in the context of these digital tools. In paper maps, for instance, each specific scale has its own graphic language, but digital zoom tools challenge this relationship. The most significant, essential difference in terms of narrative device, as far as these new technologies are concerned, is the legend (or key) – the codified, graphic filter that is used to represent reality. In the keys of printed maps, a limited number of colours and symbols have usually been chosen to emphasise specific aspects and to facilitate understanding of reality, whereas digital maps can deploy full colour photography for representation and thus have no need for symbols.

DAE examples

  • Monica Alisse, Mapping Malala, Graduation project Master Information Design, 2013


  • Bertin, J. (2011). Semiology of Graphics: diagrams networks maps. Redlands, CA.: Esri Press.
  • Corner, J. (1999). The agency of mapping: speculation, critique and invention. In D. Cosgrove (Ed.), Mappings (pp. 213–252). London: Reaktion Books.
  • Kitchin, R. & M. Dodge (2007). Rethinking maps. Progress in Human Geography 31 (3), 331–344.
  • Tufte, E. R. (2001). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, CT.: Graphic Press.