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Jul 07, 2008



Brilliant stuff - especially the big squiggle. And know I have a new bit of jargon to ease into my vocab. Cheers!

Paul H. Colman

This is brilliant. A bit like when you wrote that thing about kerning - that was a happier time.


I remember a magazine issuing a 'real' map of the world, I think it was The New Internationalist....it was very interesting, changed the concept I had of world geography.

Kev Mears

As you say the subject of map projections is a large and interesting one, but I really enjoyed the hands on you did tracing the shapes.

I enjoyed The Mark Monmonier book - 'How to lie with maps', which details just how many assumptions are made in cartography.

and Secret Bases is always fun



i couldn't help it


Without coming across as a know-it-all (which I am not) I thought the reason the UK comes over as bigger is that the world is round and whatever point you look at directly is bigger than the rest because "the rest" is curving away with the surface of the globe.

So if a French map has France in the centre of the map (which is reasonable) then the UK will appear slightly smaller, and the middle east yet smaller, and so on.

This matters because it is often used in a politically correct context as "proof" that the UK has a superiority complex whereas in fact it is just proof that the map was designed for a UK market.

I like the ironic title of your post as nowhere in any of the maps does the word "England" appear.


ha! nice one matt.
brilliant post ben. i think it will be interesting to see how maps change over the next decade, given the reach of google maps/google earth. will we care more or less about the shape of a country, or will it just be reduced to a link?


Here's another one for you - Ptolemy's Anglia, Hibernia and Scotia. I think the shape of the coastline on older maps (pre 18th century) is limited by the inability to accurately determine longitude.

There are loads of medieval charts in the Maritime Museum collections, if you're interested.


Another great post, Ben.

At the risk of seeming immodest, it reminded me of my post from a while back about the revised map of Belgium and Europe: http://www.davidthedesigner.com/davidthedesigner/2007/10/a-belgocentric-.html

And there's lots of other great and strange maps at the appropriately titled http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/

Emily Wilkinson

Have you seen Peters Maps? They are 'area accurate' maps. I have one on my kitchen wall



Brilliant stuff to which I will inevitably add a point of pedantry. Your filled-in ESW is closer to a modal ESW than a mean ESW as it features every designers' extreme points.


On a more constructive note, they do a great chocolate cake in Waitrose.


Best post of the year - so far.


Interesting post; particularly like the overlayed versions of Britain!


I agree with Emily, the Peters Map is amazing. It makes you realise how BIG Africa is.

My favourite world map of the moment:


(North) American maps generally look like the European one. We don't like to split Asia in two. I don't recall ever seeing a map like the one here in all my schooling.


Although this is interesting, it's really not that surprising. Do this with most countries and you will have similar results. I'm sorry to burst your bubble (it's still very cool the way you did this) but as a cartographer I have to throw in my two cents (actually 3.1 cents as an American living in Europe).

Basically what you're seeing here is a result of different projections (as discussed) and resolution/precisions. It's not that England is actually different sizes in these maps, it's just about the different ways that people transform 3D maps onto 2D surfaces which has obviously been noted by previous posters.

Furthermore, different maps are made for different purposes, leading to various precisions/resolutions in the map that accounts for the smoothing and generalization done to the coastlines. There are many different algorithms for doing such a smoothing/generalization and therefore you get many different shapes. Just what type of generalization you do (or what precision you start with) depends entirely on context. In most of these maps, you're starting from a world view so having every detail of the coastline is not only not necessary but from afar will likely make the coastline look like a giant black blob.

Anyways, it all has to do with context and the scale/projection that is most appropriate for the purpose that the map needs to serve!

Sorry, nerd alert. But I reiterate, very cool that you've gone to all the trouble of comparing them all. For a much simpler example featuring the lower 48 USA, see this link from Peter Dana's website: http://www.colorado.edu/geography/gcraft/notes/mapproj/gif/threepro.gif.


Great post, I like the grid of normalized outline graphics.

Wikipedia has a pretty good write-up on different projection methods and why country sizes and shapes differ across modern maps:

I particularly like this graphic which gives you an idea of the amount of distortion introduced into the common mercator map:

I'd also like to point out that the "america-centric" map is not something Americans are used to seeing. We use the same world map as you old worlders.


Very nice. As a New Zealander I often get nervous looking at maps - a bit like checking for your obituary in the paper every morning. Years ago a medical device company advertised themselves as the largest producer of device X in the free world. This over a background map of the world which had both NZ and Britain (but not Iceland) missing. Pedantically I wrote to them and they explained the map was an artist's impression. I suggested they use a cartographers impression but perhaps that would have been no better.


This is a cartography blog? You should know the difference between the UK, The British Isles, Great Britain, and England in that case.

And maybe it's a "viola" case.


Only comment I have is, as an American, I'm not used to seeing that map with the US in the center... unless I have and just don't realize it. Most world maps I know are wall maps or atlases, and those seem to have NA on the left and Asia on the right.


To be fair, I'm an American and I think this is the very first time I've seen an America-centric map like that one


Steve is right about the purpose of the map. This is the first thing a cartographer should get a handle on before he makes the map. This means dealing with projection and scale. It's not that map makers don't agree, they just have different purposes for their maps. Turning a sphere to a flat surface will have to give up certain aspects such as area, angles or distance.



This is a cartography blog?

Read it again:

"This isn't a cartography blog"


That black shape is not the _mean_ but the _maximum_ shape of england.


It's interesting how our personal biases (conscious and subconscious) enter into our work. I have to wonder though, how much of it is a conscious decision and how much of it isn't? To use the article's example, I can see US-based designers drawing the map with North America in the middle and UK-based designers drawing Europe as the center, but I would think that's mostly an unconscious decision because you base it on where you are and what is more familiar to you. As for the shape of England, I'm not too sure. Was it sloppiness? A "stylistic interpretation"? An accurate copy of an inaccurate original?

I do feel bad for New Zealand though. Poor kiwis. :(


This post reminds me of an episode from The West Wing (The Crackpots & These Women) in which they discuss the upside down world map..

Part One: http://youtube.com/watch?v=efjcrbNcW6s
Part Two: http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZRtN4UK1wHk


Dude, it's voilà, not viola. A viola is a musical instrument.


"Americans will be used to seeing this map of the world."
I've never seen a map like that before in all of my years of school.
Way to assume things again England.


The Englishman who went up an island and came down a continent :-)


What about the Isle of Man? You missed it off every drawing of the British Isles in your post.


Why is the title called "This isn't England" if you're referring to Britain? Apart from that quite interesting.

Alan B

You actually traced over England, IRELAND, Scotland and Wales.


-Yank chiming in

Never seen a map where America was right in the middle. We use the one where the Atlantic is in the center.

However, I know the Japanese have a map like that(where Japan is right smack in the middle).


I've got to agree with the posters who say they've never seen the US-centric map in the US--it's invariably the Euro-centric one here. I have, however, seen such a map in Australia. Perhaps nobody minds having their country on the left side, either--just as long as they aren't pushed off to the far right.


The island on the left is called Ireland. It is not a part of England, Great Britain, or the United Kingdom. ;-)

Beyond Niche Marketing

This is a great commentary on how "self centered" we human beings tend to be. First it was the earth was the center of the universe. Then, it's "my" country must be the main focus of the earth.

Poor New Zealanders. I'd never noticed they weren't included in the world. It gives me a new perspective on the NZ design company that stole my content, word for word, and posted it in their site and claimed their own copyright to it. No wonder it was going to cost so much to ask them to take it down... the lawyer couldn't find it on the map!


Largely a waste of time and bandwidth. The vast majority of people blink, their eyes glaze over and they just go d'oh! Go ahead! Just say mercator projection to any of them and observe the reaction.


Largely a waste of time and bandwidth. The vast majority of people blink, their eyes glaze over and they just go d'oh! Go ahead! Just say mercator projection to any of them and observe the reaction.

Steve - Eightyone Design

Really interesting! I remember being amazed when I was travelling in Australia to find a map with Australia at the center. I had always presumed that all nations viewed a map the same as we did - but of course it makes sense for the to show themselves at the center of the globe!



Don't miss the maps at Worldmapper:
This map shows the proportion of carbon emissions. Nobody from Great Britain, USA or Japan need to feel excluded there...
This is graphic design at its best!

Patti Isaacs

As a cartographer who styles maps for textbook publishers, I have to weigh in.

Yes, I have created North America-centric maps—with Asia split in two—when the publisher demands it, but prefer the Americas on the left, Africa/Europe/Asia/Australia/NEW ZEALAND on the right. Leaving New Zealand off is my pet peeve. Amazing how many times that happens!

Something I'd like to add to the discussion is the meaninglessness of scales on maps that cover entire continents, and more so, world maps.

The scale on a map covering a small area, such as one would encounter on a USGS topographic quad map, can reliably be used to calculate distances. But as the area covered by the map increases, the parts of the map that are farther from the center are distorted because the earth's curvature. Scale varies depending on latitude and longitude, and when you throw in different projections, size and shape vary (hence your many shapes of the UK.)

I often create a map from a different projection than the reference that was supplied to me by the publisher, when, for example, I transpose information from a marked-up Mercator map onto a less distorted Robinson projection. Frequently, a copy editor gets out a ruler, compares the sizes and scales of the two maps, and pencils in a correction order to "fix" the scale. I get weary of explaining why this occurs. Next time it happens, I will send them a link to this blog.


For all Kiwi's

Pacific Centred World Wall Map
(New Zealand in the Centre)
Mapperz did the Projection 'van der Grinten'

Note: The balance of the Americas and Africa continents were kept balanced for cartographic aesthetics.

Graphic Design is not Cartography.

"The mean shape of England , Scotland and Wales"
= Max Extent of 14 non-graphic designers.


Nick Forsyth

I can't quite decide whether the Western Isles of Scotland is Harold Wilson or Benny The Ball from Top Cat.

South Wales could be Tin Tin from a New Zealand perspective and North Wales is definitely related to Bruce Forsyth!

Good Game good game


As a 27 year old American I've never seen a map with North America in the center like that.

PS. I apologize for George W. Bush, I didn't vote for him, I voted with the majority.


I love seeing these kinds of physical manifestations of cultural geography! It's all perception...

More on our friend Mercator (plus cool graphics) here: http://www.futuremaps.co.uk/scripts/projections.asp


Actually it is not all just perception and/or projection..there is something in generalization also ;-)


Alan Andrew

Just as the topic is the "centredness" of cartography, the blogger is centred on his culture, English, and generalized the notion to include, regrettably, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the islands around.
Sad, but normal in human nature.

Printing Specialists London

For a more accurate representation of the map pf Britain, you should have traced a mid-point in between the outermost and innermost line and thus found the mean.


I was just thinking the other day how deeply the shape of the British Isles is ingrained in my mind, presumably from the thousands of TV weather reports I've been subjected to since birth. It's satisfying whenever I see the shape, though I neither like nor dislike it. It feels like home I suppose, which is unsurprising.

As for its comparative size I'm pretty sure that it was topped in Harry Enfield's Cholmondley-Warner skits, though I can't find an image to verify this...


Ah yes:



Very good Stuart.


really neat--really interesting! as a recent american expat to the u.k., i've got a whole new geography (social, physical, political, psycho-) to learn. exciting! thanks for this.

Geographic Quiz

Its a fact that "What you see is what you get" We can't change this fact. :)


Promising piece that's filled with oversights and partial information.


"oversights and partial information" we strive for that round here Yoshie.

Shaun Tollerton


Dave Chatting

This is great - I'd love it on a t-shirt!

It reminds me of Kim Dingle's "Maps of the U.S. Drawn from Memory by Las Vegas Teenagers" (http://www.mcwetboy.net/maproom/2006/07/kim_dingle.php ) which for me shows how differently people think about geography and what a wide variety of shapes can be seen as the US or indeed the British Isles.

I played with some of these ideas myself in my projects Ipswich to Everywhere (http://www.davidchatting.com/ipswich-to-everywhere/ ) and train_clock (http://davidchatting.com/train_clock/ ). I'm really interested in how much you can distort reality and think about how people really think about space and distance.



Dude, very interesting!

However, please don't tell me that you think the Republic of Ireland is part of "Great Britain" or the "UK"?

That's like calling America "Canada" or France "Spain".


I love this post, and how the Strange Maps blog have taken it up.
It's clear that mapping isn't truth - there's so much politics, geography, history, cultural and a whole glorious mish-mash mixed up in the idea of drawing a place (from whose perspective?), a nation (define the nation?), the world (from where?)

But that's where the excitement of mapping, cartography and geography lies, in the exploration of all that.


The island of Ireland and Northern Ireland has always looked like a Koala with it's head facing the other way. Just thought I'd make that extremely important observation.


Thanks! just used the map- looking for a non-britain-o-centric map of the world, found yours or rather MacArthurs. Cheers!

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