Maps & Meaning

As a piece of design, a map is the balance of aesthetic & information, art & science. The use of colour, of text, the feel of the paper, and of course the context of what is being communicated is a combination I find thrilling. Good design makes us think. It is the same of maps…always asking questions of us.


Where are we now and where are we going?


A line I read recently in Brené Browns latest book, Atlas Of The Heart, encouraged me to explore more and dig a little deeper, connecting to the making of maps and why I like them so much. She talks about the title and why the map metaphor is a thread throughout the book. ‘A sense of place’ she says ‘is essential to meaning making.’


It is the making of meaning that appeals to me, feeling a sense of place with in the map which I like. This realisation was an ah ha moment. I’m sure many of us gain a sense of self when we realise why something is important to us, or the reason we are attracted to something.


It gives us confidence to seek out more of what we like.


Having visited countries all over the world I know that the experience of travel cannot be captured, bottled up and saved for a rainy day. We can however be creative in how we process the experience and keep memories. We all do it…take photos, save plane tickets and keep in touch with people we have met along the way.


Maps are part of the travel experience. A piece of the adventure that we can hold onto.

I can trace my finger over textured paper to remember the road trip we took from Cinque Terre, through Tuscany and ending in Rome. I can point to colours on a spinning globe looking at how far I’ve been from home. And I can unfold our personalised OS map poking the milestones of a walk through the Wiltshire countryside.


Maps provide context, texture and orientation. They connect us to place like nothing else. They teach us by providing a big picture. Maps help us communicate and provide a tool for understanding. The many roles which a map can play appeals to me.


Whether it’s a roadmap, an atlas, or a chart mapping shipping lanes, they give us meaning, helping us to communicate and provide a tool for understanding.


Where have I been? Where do I want to go next?


For me personally maps also provide inspiration and a material for making art. I was recently looking at an old OS map of Northern Ireland before ripping off sections for some collage I was making. I spent more time trying to find all the quirky place names than doing what I actually intended to do.

First is was the Ballys that caught my eye…Ballyscandal, Ballyknick, Ballytrodden, Ballybrocky, the list goes on. Such fun names to say out loud and in my best irish twang butcher these place names. Then there were the Killy’s and the Tully’s, the Derry’s and the Mully’s. Killymaddy, Tullymore, Mullyrodden and Derryfubble. I then saw a place called Knockaginny, such fabulous words in their own right, let alone having that on your address, brilliant!


This mini exploration into Northern Irish place names was an unexpected moment of entertainment.


It was an opportunity to be curious, learning that a Killy is a church, a Derry is a place with many Oak trees and that Mully has a dual meaning of “noble” & “big and soft”. Information that isn’t particularly useful to me right now but it brought an element of surprise and delight which was out of the blue. I would argue that many of my interests don’t — on the surface — seem to be particularly useful but actually…what is more useful than an element surprise and delight in my day?


The exploration bought a sense of meaning to the Celtic culture and the importance of place names in that part of the world. It made me think back to when I’ve visited Ireland and it made me want to visit again.


Where have I been? Where am I going?


Next time I’ll be on a mission to seek out fun and quirky places names — what better way to spend time in a foreign country?