Minimal Maps, Big Data: Michael Pecirno Makes Data Visualization Both Beautiful and Illuminating

Michael Pecirno is a multi-disciplinary designer based out of London, England. Originally trained as an architect and later working as an art director, his practice focuses on storytelling through visual and built experiences. Minimal Maps is an ongoing project by Pecirno that explores how richly-detailed single subject maps can give us new imagery to understand our landscape. For example, corn fields take up 91 million acres of the American landscape, a staggering 4.83% of the contiguous United States. Though the value sounds astounding, visualizing what 4.83% of the American landscape looks like, or furthermore, where this land is, is extraordinarily difficult. These maps, which use tremendous amounts of raw data provided by the USDA, attempt to accurately and explicitly convey this information. Pecirno’s maps and research, the latest of which will be shown at the Chicago Architecture Biennial this fall, provide an alternative to the often information-poor data visualization maps that have become ubiquitous today. 


Frederick E. Pierce , Map of New York City, 1890/94. Showing the Distribution of the Principal Nationalities by Sanitary Districts. Published in Harper’s Weekly. Via making maps

It was made for the Tenement-House Committee, one of the progressive organizations working against urban slums and blight in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The text notes that the original map was in color, but was redrawn for publication in monochrome.


MAPPING URBAN IMMIGRANTS:  How international are major U.S. cities?

Across the country, large U.S. cities tend to be centers of immigration. Professor Kyle Walker has mapped these immigrant communities by use of census tract data. He represents the concentration of America’s immigrant populations as dots, with each symbol representing 20 people, color-coded according to their respective countries of origin.

The thematic maps above show foreign immigrants in five U.S. metropolitan areas – Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. Because dot maps emphasize absolute population concentration, they tend to favor cities with high densities, which emphasize clustering effects.

Another mapping method, known as choropleth or shaded-area mapping, depicts the relative percentages of various groups and therefore may be more appropriate for evaluating the proportion of immigrants in the overall population. On the other hand, this dot-map technique reveals the clustering and blending of diverse groups in a very colorful and visually appealing way!

Sources: Kyle Walker, Mapping Immigrant America; and City Lab (4 Sept 2015)


Projections: A Series of Mapping Portraits by Mads Perch and Gemma Fletcher

English photographer Mads Perch and Art Director Gemma Fletcher collaborated together to create a stunning photo series titled Projections. They employed the technique known as Projection Mapping or Video Mapping, where the light is mapped onto the 3D subjects, instead on the flat screen. In this series, Perch and Fletcher created portraits of a man and a woman in dazzling display of surreal, hypnotic lights.


It’s Manuscript Map Monday today!  This beautiful, hand-drawn map was tucked into a back pocket in the field notebooks of Benjamin Franklin Shumard, who conducted the first geological survey of Missouri in the 1850s. The map had long since fallen into pieces at the folds, but thanks to our Adopt a Book program, Jim Downey recently repaired it, and now we can show it to you.

This map shows the northeastern corner of the state of Missouri.  Gregory Landing and the Wyaconda River are marked on this map, and they’re both in that part of the state.  It’s quite detailed, and the cartographer added color coding in delicate watercolor washes to denote different geological features and systems.

- Kelli

Shumard, B. F. (Benjamin Franklin), 1820-1869.  [Notes relating to a geological survey of Missouri / by Benjamin Franklin Shumard in association with G.C. Swallow.].  MU Ellis Special Collections Rare Vault QE131 .S58 1855 


I am not a very good mapper.