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Writing on Map Design: Airline Maps, A Century of Art and Design

A visual feast of stunning cartographic imagery.

UMU Book Front
From the first faltering leaps over plains, water, and mountains to the vast networks of today, air travel has transformed the world and how people see it. Maps played their part in showing what was possible and who was offering new opportunities. As tiny operations with barely serviceable airplanes pushed out farther and farther, grasping at every technological improvement along the way, growing and merging to form massive global empires, so the scope of their maps became bigger and bolder, until the entire world was shrunk down to a single sheet of paper. Designs featured sumptuous Art Deco style, intricate artistry, bold modernism, ’60s psychedelia, clever photography, and even subway map-style diagrams.

UMU Book Back

For the first time in print, Mark Ovenden and Maxwell Roberts chart the development of the airline map, and in doing so tell the story of a century of cartography, civil aviation, graphic design, marketing, and world events. Airline Maps is a visual feast that reminds the reader that mapping the journey is an essential part of arriving at the destination.

This lovely book is an opportunity to explore the history and artwork of air travel, as well as to consider what makes this particular kind of cartography unique. Mark Vanhoenacker, Financial Times.

  • 144 pages with full colour illustrations throughout
  • The most captivating work from the world’s great airlines, and more
  • The story of 100 years of civil aviation and graphic design told through maps

  • Terminal 1: Aviation takes off, 1919-1929. The dawn of passenger air flight came soon after the conclusion of the First World War, with the first scheduled regular international routes established
    in 1919. Despite the dangers of fragile wood-and-fabric aircraft venturing out over impossible distances, services and maps developed quickly.
  • Terminal 2: Empire building, 1930-1945. By the 1930s, air services had come of age, with many famous names becoming firmly established. Robust metal aircraft could now convey passengers
    faster and farther than any other land transport. Air travel was still an expensive luxury, however,
    and maps with sumptuous Art Deco imagery emphasized the glamor and excitement of flight.
  • Terminal 3: Air conquers sea, 1946-1957. With the technological developments of the Second World War, passenger aircraft became bigger and could travel farther than ever before. Taming distances, transatlantic and transpacific, became a recurring mapping theme, and the rise of the map in magazine and newspaper advertising shows that air travel was no longer the preserve of the wealthy.
  • Terminal 4: Jets shrink the earth, 1958-1967. 1958 saw the first transatlantic jet-powered passenger flight and once the benefits of increased speed and altitude were fully appreciated, rapid introduction followed. The excitement was reflected in maps, with bold, almost psychedelic colors. Times were changing in graphic design, however, and the gorgeous commercial artistry of previous decades was in rapid decline, partly replaced by a more cartoon-like, less sophisticated style.
  • Terminal 5: Wide-bodied world, 1968-1977. The first prototype Boeing 747 jumbo jet rolled out in 1968 but the 1973 fuel crisis ended the short-lived optimism. Colorful 1960s-inspired maps were still in evidence, but bland tones began to take over. The rise of photography filled the rest of the vacuum that had been created by the demise of commercial artistry. Abstract diagrams were also in the ascendency, with a wealth of simplification techniques attempted.
  • Terminal 6: Open skies for all, 1978-1999. Air deregulation commenced in the United States in 1978 and spread worldwide. The giant flag carriers could no longer rely on government regulation to ensure their profits. Maps continued to be important publicity tools, and newer operators used them proudly to advertise their competing services. The need to attract business led to a spike in creativity, perhaps assisted by the introduction of computer graphics that democratized graphic design.
  • Terminal 7: Low cost to low orbit, 2000-2019. With the rise of the low-cost airline, ticket price determines everything, and the cheapest flight can be booked through sites that aggregate fares from hundreds of airlines. Maps seem strangely irrelevant and inspirational work is not easy to find. The message seems to be that, in its defeat of all other forms of long distance transport, air is now
    the ordinary way to travel, and airline maps no longer inspire the same level of creative energy.
  • Index and Bibliography.

Publishing details
  • US edition published 2019 by Penguin Books, ISBN 9780143134077
  • UK edition published 2019 by Particular Books, ISBN 9780241434123
  • Worldwide distribution, buy from any bookshop or online

Berlin curvilinear map
From page 96: Inside a 1960 Delta Air Lines brochure — the author’s favourite map in the book