Digital maps have taken over from traditional paper street directories and fold out maps, but it doesn’t mean the information made available to the reader is any better, if my recent experiences with Google Maps are anything to go by.
Take a look at this Google Maps view of Melbourne’s western suburbs, where I’ve circled the freeway interchanges.
The interchange of the Western Ring Road and the West Gate Freeway doesn’t look too bad – both freeways appear in the same dark orange colour, with the surrounding local roads displayed in a slightly lighter shade, as are the ramps to Geelong Road.
A bit more confusing is the junction of the Bolte Bridge and West Gate Freeway – the ramps linking the two are shown in a different shade to the freeways themselves, making the map harder to read.
But the junction of the Western Ring Road and Deer Park Bypass is virtually unreadable – the ramps linking the freeways are coloured so light they almost disappear into the grey background.
The same flaw can be found where the Metropolitan Ring Road and Craigieburn Bypass meet in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
Turns out the art and science of drawing maps is hard – that is why the field has a name: cartography.
In 2016 American cartographer Justin O’Beirne wrote this piece on changes to Google’s cartography.
Looking at the maps, there are more roads than there once were—and fewer cities.
I wonder what drove these changes?
One thing’s for sure: today’s maps look unbalanced. There’s too many roads and not enough cities.
As well as comparing Google Maps with Apple Maps.
Both are in a race to become the world’s first Universal Map — that is, the first map used by a majority of the global population. In many ways, this makes Google Maps and Apple Maps two of the most important maps ever made.
Who will get there first?
And will design be a factor?
In this series of essays, we’ll compare and contrast the cartographic designs of Google Maps and Apple Maps. We’ll take a look at what’s on each map and how each map is styled, and we’ll try to uncover the biggest differences between the two.
I wonder how often a human at Google actually looks at the maps that their automated systems generate.