Greatest map of the U.S.

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Each year, the annual competition of the Cartography and Geographic Information Society awards a "Best of Show" prize for excellence in map design. The winners have included the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Census Bureau, and National Geographic Magazine. This year though, the winner was one guy: David Imus. Slate posted an analysis of what makes the Imus map, titled "The Essential Geography of the United States of America," so damn good. From Seth Stevenson's piece at Slate:

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According to independent cartographers I spoke with, the big mapmaking corporations of the world employ type-positioning software, placing their map labels (names of cities, rivers, etc.) according to an algorithm. For example, preferred placement for city labels is generally to the upper right of the dot that indicates location. But if this spot is already occupied—by the label for a river, say, or by a state boundary line—the city label might be shifted over a few millimeters. Sometimes a town might get deleted entirely in favor of a highway shield or a time zone marker. The result is a rough draft of label placement, still in need of human refinement. Post-computer editing decisions are frequently outsourced—sometimes to India, where teams of cheap workers will hunt for obvious errors and messy label overlaps. The overall goal is often a quick and dirty turnaround, with cost and speed trumping excellence and elegance.

By contrast, David Imus worked alone on his map seven days a week for two full years. Nearly 6,000 hours in total. It would be prohibitively expensive just to outsource that much work. But Imus—a 35-year veteran of cartography who’s designed every kind of map for every kind of client—did it all by himself. He used a computer (not a pencil and paper), but absolutely nothing was left to computer-assisted happenstance. Imus spent eons tweaking label positions. Slaving over font types, kerning, letter thicknesses. Scrutinizing levels of blackness. It’s the kind of personal cartographic touch you might only find these days on the hand-illustrated ski-trail maps available at posh mountain resorts.

"The Greatest Paper Map of the United States You’ll Ever See" (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)

Imus Geographics


      1. That’s $39.95 for a _laminated_ map. You can get ten-packs of folded, unlaminated maps for $77.70, 0r $7.77 each. That’s probably cheaper than some high-end wallpaper :) You could probably work a deal for a higher quantity bulk order; just ask :)
        I’ve always wanted to wallpaper a room with maps from my National Geographic collection that dates back to the ’50s. Now that we have online maps and map collections like the Perry-Castañeda Map Collection at the University of Texas I don’t mind “destroying” those old maps so much anymore to use them in such a way.

  1. I absolutely hate maps that are done in pink, blue, yellow, and green pastel shades.  Imus’ map is really lovely and easy on the eyes.  The only downside I can see is I’d have a hard time bringing myself to stick a pin in it…

    1. Poster shops or art supply houses usually offer humongous frames on the cheap. I ordered one of Imus’ laminated maps, and that’s what I’m going to do to avoid sticking pins in it.

      -edit- Almost forgot: you can also check out discount stores where they sell those pre-fab artworks fairly cheap. Buy a suitably-sized picture, lose the artwork and replace it with your map. It beats paying $100+ for a custom frame.

  2. I just bought one from his website after seeing this and reading the article. Will make an awesome belated-Christmas present! :)

  3. Mount on sheet metal and use map magnets. I got mine at the Rand McNally Map Store in SF a long time ago. Don’t know if they still carry them, but surely someone still makes them.

  4. Quote:

    “Yet, barring a miracle, this opus will barely be seen. Specialty map shops are disappearing. Bookstore chains tend to carry only the major map brands. And even if they were somehow made aware of Imus’ marvelous creation, most school systems can’t afford or can’t be bothered to update their classroom maps. A map is a map, right? That circa 1982 Rand McNally wall blob does the job just fine, the thinking goes.”

    This is damn near exactly what the internet is for, and the writer knows it.  It’s why he wrote about it.  The fact that schoolchildren won’t see it is a little sad, but it will get seen. 

  5. It looks wonderful but the size used as an illustration for the article seems to show it as having confiscated Vancouver, BC. Or is that just my wishful thinking?

  6. When I was school for cartography, they made us do all the text placement by hand, so you learn how to do it properly. Sure it’s tedious, but automated text placement just doesn’t cut it.

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