Project: Lonely Planet Cartography

I studied geography at UC Berkeley, where I was recognized as the top cartographer in my graduating class. I then joined the Cartography Department at Lonely Planet’s Oakland office, making the maps that appeared in the travel guides and managing mapping databases and materials. The following are all maps I made.


‘Managua’ from Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring, 4th edition


How We Made Maps at Lonely Planet
We did the bulk of our work in AutoCAD Map. We began by drawing the linework and adding geographical or cultural features (like rivers and plazas) that were appropriate given the scale of the map. We then placed sites requested by the author and added text labels and any other elements the map required.

In this first phase, we georeferenced our linework so that it would be placed in the file according to its actual coordinates on earth. This step took into account the projection of the source maps that were used. We were in the process of building map databases from which we could pull in linework from several files to create one map, and georeferencing ensured that linework from different files would match up.

Next we pushed the AutoCAD Map file through a program that converted it to an Adobe Illustrator file. We made the final touches to the maps in Illustrator.


Hiking map from Lonely Planet Bolivia, 4th edition


Cartography & Visual Design / Information Visualization
Cartography helped me develop a good eye for pixel-perfect alignment and spacing, as well as creating visual hierarchies. It was also good practice for balancing visual complexity and usefulness. Too many labeled features make a map difficult to use, while too few make it less useful. Given that maps are an abstraction of reality, it was crucial to create maps that guidebook readers found both helpful and easily understandable while out on the road.


‘Guadeloupe’ from Lonely Planet Eastern Caribbean, 3rd edition


Cartography & Information Architecture
Richard Saul Wurman scholar Dan Klyn tells me that Wurman, who coined the term information architect, has said that cartography is good preparation for information architecture work. I’d like to believe this is accurate. I do know that cartography trained me to think in terms of four out of Wurman’s five methods of organizing information (LATCH): location, alphabet, category and hierarchy.

Making a map requires cartographic generalization: selection, simplification, combination and moving (ie. preventing overlap). It isn’t much of a leap to say that we undergo a similar process of generalization when we create the structure of a website, so the processes of cartography and information architecture seems pretty similar.


Highlights map from Lonely Planet Eastern Caribbean, 3rd edition