World maps are the worst.
Continents and oceans are distorted to an unrealistic proportion in an attempt to represent a three-dimensional sphere on a two-dimensional plain. Some maps—looking at you, Mercator projection—make tiny Greenland look as big as the continent of Africa.
But this could end now. A new map created by a Japanese cartography team recently won Japan's prestigious Good Design Grand Award, the top prize in given for excellence in design. The AuthaGraph World Map takes a spherical globe shape and transforms it into a 2D design that more accurately shows the continents and their relationship to one another.
Map expert and board president of Guerrilla Cartography Darin Jensen, who isn't associated with AuthaGraph, confirmed to Motherboard that the AuthaGraph is a high-quality map.
He said it comes as close to being a globe (the only truly accurate representation of a planet) as possible while still being an accessible and maneuverable map. (But he did point out there are other options out there of maps that preserve the Earth's shape slightly better, like the Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion map.)
"(AuthaGraph's) transformable physical form is playful and entertaining and its ability to be tessellated makes it potentially useful for pedagogical display. However, I don't think maps need to fit into a neat rectangular plane to be useful," he said.
The map can be folded into a sphere or pyramid, among other shapes, or laid flat. The map is scale-accurate and doesn't have a clearly defined center, unlike some maps that place the continent of origin in the "center of the world," so to speak, which gives unfair preference and perspective to whoever is making the map.
"AuthaGraph faithfully represents all oceans, continents including the neglected Antarctica," the map outline reads. "Thus the AuthaGraphic world map provides an advanced precise perspective of our planet."
The map was produced by Keio University Graduate School of Media and Governance and the AuthaGraph CO., Ltd., a company by the same name that sells paper versions of the foldable map.
Maps aren't all about directions anymore. In fact, they're also about how a society views the world in which they live. Jensen said this map does a good job at accurately describing land masses based on real size.
"When considering the value of a map to society, I think of the way maps are used to map social phenomena as well as the impression a map leaves on the reader," Jensen said. "The fact that the authagraph map is nearly equal area, and therefore almost accurately represents the land masses occupied by the world's people, makes it an important addition to the choices mapmakers have when choosing a map projection."
But he would like to see more maps that break up the concept of northern and southern hemispheres since there's no defined "up" in space.
Perhaps next year's design entries can tackle that idea.
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