Salon's Seth Stevenson highlights the Cartography and Geographic Information Society's "Best of Show" map from this year. It may not be the best map of the U.S. ever drawn, but wow, it's impressive:
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.
A few of his more significant design decisions: Your standard wall map will often paint the U.S. states different colors so their shapes are easily grasped. But Imus’ map uses thick lines to indicate state borders and reserves the color for more important purposes—green for denser forestation, yellow for population centers. Instead of hypsometric tinting (darker colors for lower elevations, lighter colors for higher altitudes), Imus uses relief shading for a more natural portrait of U.S. terrain.
This object—painstakingly sculpted by a lone, impractical fellow—is a triumph of indie over corporate. Of analog over digital. Of quirk and caprice over templates and algorithms. It is delightful to look at. Edifying to study. And it may be the last important paper map ever to depict our country.
I may have to buy one. The 1:4,000,000 version is only $14, folded.