With the saturation of Google Maps, Apple Maps and apps like Citymapper, the visualization of physical spaces is no longer much of an artistic process. Instead, it’s usually just a question of pure functionality. This leaves the field wide open for more innovative and unusual takes on city geography, with designers creating maps that bring a bit of fun to the facts. Two collectives that have made playful maps are London-based Heretic (whose work we admired at the London Illustration Fair) and Kingdom Collective from the same city. While Heretic chose to explore its hometown of London, Kingdom looked across the pond to create a music-based New York Map.
Heretic’s “If Places Were Faces” is a map of the English capital—easily recognizable by the characteristic curve of the Thames—with illustrations of famous people whose names correlate (almost) with those of places in London. South London’s Brixton becomes “Tony Brixton,” complete with a picture of Tony Braxton, Hyde Park is “Chrissie Hyde Park,” while Thornthon Heath becomes “Billy Bob Thornton Heath” and so on. The map, drawn by Jon Rundall and Luke Frost, was the result of a studio in-joke, says Rundall. “A few years ago we had a client called Liam who hailed from north-west London, so he of course became known as Liam Neasden. We also used Eric Clapton quite frequently in conversation.” When the studio had a list of more than 150 celebrity puns, covering most of London, they decided to print the map, and “now it’s everybody’s joke.” The detailed black-and-white illustrations feature vibrant yellow contrasting, making the print really pop, and the size means you’re constantly noticing more and more amusing puns.
Since Heretic’s map features illustrations rather than just the names, space became something of an issue. “[English cricketer] David Gower Street for instance never made it in, due to congestion in the Whitney Euston/Don King’s Cross area,” Rundall explains. Some areas, like Greenwich, were too tenuous to come up with a name for, and though the studio has extra names they could have added, they had to stop and actually print the map at some point. Rundall reveals that they’re now considering expanding the project for other cities, but the pop cultural references mean you need to know the place well. “To do a good map of, say, New York City you would need to know the place well and be able to pick the right people that resonate well with that particular place,” he continues. “We do have plenty of shared pop culture celebrity references with the US though… A Turkish friend thinks it could work for Istanbul, but we couldn’t personally do that one, as we don’t have the databank of Turkish celebrities or geographical knowledge of Istanbul in our heads. So watch this space.”
Kingdom Collective teamed up with writer Frank Broughton and illustrator Adam Hayes for its New York Music Map, which is made up of the names of about 450 New York music icons. The project began when Kingdom was working with a client on a music event in New York, and thought of having a map that showed the musical lineage of the city. The finished print contains musicians as varied as Barbra Streisand and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Kiss and Ella Fitzgerald, A.R.E Weapons and Eric B. & Rakim, Mobb Deep and Mariah Carey. It’s a thorough documentation of the city’s vibrant music scene—and makes you realize just how many talented artists the Big Apple has produced. Kingdom Collective director Nick Griffiths says Downtown and Brooklyn are probably his favorite boroughs musically, as they feature a lot of the people he grew up listening to. He adds: “I should say that people aren’t necessarily in the right place geographically. We tried but there’s only so much room downtown. There are a few little things to find too, like Jay Z as the Williamsburg Bridge which the Z train uses, but I don’t want to spoil the fun!”
One of the really nice features of the map is that when you click on the names of the artists (when viewing it online), you get some facts about them, as well as some of their song lyrics about New York—like De La Soul’s “It’s like, New York without a New York yanks / Better yet, New York without the New York franks.” Clicking your way through the boroughs is dangerously addictive and pretty educational. For example, Griffiths says he never knew that Cuba Gooding Sr, lead singer of the soul group The Main Ingredient, is the father of Cuba Gooding Jr. “Apparently they only added the suffixes when his son became famous,” he says. And similar to Heretic considering a New York map, for Kingdom Collective, London may be next. “There’s already been talk of that, but we’ll have to wait and see,” Griffiths says.
New York Music Map’s first edition is screen-printed by hand and retails from £85. “If Places Were Faces” comes in an edition of 70 as a 72 x 102cm two-color screen print and retails for £75, plus £15 worldwide shipping.
Images courtesy of respective studios