Mississippi River System Daniel Huffman

These maps of intersecting waterbodies will make you think twice about where yours comes from.

The work of Wisconsin-based cartographer Daniel Huffman strikes a particular chord in the map-lover’s heart. On an Internet brimming with sleek, sharp geo-visualizations, Huffman’s maps offer a sweetly idiosyncratic view of the world. The signatures of historic figures turn into street vectors. Oregon’s wine country gets the ‘90s computer-game treatment. A simple bike path becomes a work of calligraphy.

“What it really probably comes down to is a desire to do things differently than others,” he says in an email. “I crave variety, and so it often leads me to thinking of weird ideas and saying, ‘I wonder if I can do X[.]’"

Lately, a trend has emerged out of Huffman’s impulses towards novelty—an idea he calls “Modern Naturalism,” in which his maps present natural features in the type of “highly-abstracted, geometrically precise visual language that we often apply to the constructed world on maps,” according to his website.

In this mode, Huffman has created a series of maps in which American river systems are visualized as subway maps (specifically, like Harry Beck’s 1930s London Tube maps), with nodes representing connections between streams and tributaries. More recently, he’s experimented with a map of the state of Michigan, where the edges of land and water are straightened out into 45 and 90 degree angles, and perfectly circular green dots represent vegetation. His Escher-esque map of U.S. land cover also plays with nature-as-geometry; grasses, shrubs, trees, and crops fit together as mutely colored tiles.

By sharpening and abstracting the natural features we’re accustomed to seeing in organic, curvy shapes, Huffman forces readers of his maps to pause and really think about what’s on them. There’s real social value in a map that subtly forces us to look closer at where our water comes from, or at the way we use land. And these works also press us to consider our assumptions about what maps can do.

We look at maps all the time, and I think we take much of what they do and much of what they show for granted,” Huffman says. “If I present things in a new way, I hopefully push people into paying more attention to, for example, the rivers around them, which they might otherwise glance past.”

Hudson River System (Daniel Huffman)
North America’s River System (Daniel Huffman)
Rivers of Northern and Central California (Daniel Huffman)
Map of Michigan (Daniel Huffman)
Detail of Michigan map (Daniel Huffman)
Penrose tile map of U.S. land cover (Daniel Huffman)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Why Do Instagram Playgrounds Keep Calling Themselves Museums?

    The bustling industry of immersive, Instagram-friendly experiences has put a new spin on the word museum.

  2. a photo of a WeWork office building
    Life

    What WeWork’s Demise Could Do to NYC Real Estate

    The troubled coworking company is the largest office tenant in New York City. What happens to the city’s commercial real estate market if it goes under?

  3. Bicycle riders on a package-blocked bicycle lane
    Perspective

    Why Do Micromobility Advocates Have Tiny-Demand Syndrome?

    In the 1930s big auto dreamed up freeways and demanded massive car infrastructure. Micromobility needs its own Futurama—one where cars are marginalized.

  4. Environment

    A 13,235-Mile Road Trip for 70-Degree Weather Every Day

    This year-long journey across the U.S. keeps you at consistent high temperatures.

  5. a photo of Extinction Rebellion climate change protesters in London
    Environment

    When Climate Activists Target Public Transit

    The climate protest movement Extinction Rebellion is facing a backlash after disrupting commuters on the London Underground.

×