All posts by James Cheshire

Front Page of the British Medical Journal


Oliver O’Brien and I have managed to sneak a map on the front page of this week’s issue of the British Medical Journal. The graphic shows the modelled flows of bikes between docking stations and accompanies a paper on the positive health effects of the Boris Bike cycle scheme in London. The trick it seems was to make the cycle flows look as much like veins as possible…


Stunning Maps of World Topography


Robin Edwards, a researcher at UCL CASA, has created these stunning topographic maps using the high resolution elevation data provided by the British Oceanographic Data Centre. The transitions from black (high areas) to blue (low areas) give the maps a slightly ethereal appearance to dramatic effect.

europeAll but the highest areas of Europe appear to blend into the sea, and there is a loss in the sense of scale that makes the Pacific ranges look like small water channels in a shallow sea.


The best thing about these graphics (and the main reason I have featured them here) is that they were completely produced using the R software program with just a 3 lines of code! Click here to see how Robin did it.



Coxcomb Plots and Spiecharts in R


I am not a great fan of pie charts since they are often used for the sake of it in circumstances where a chart is not needed at all! That said, I am willing to make an exception for “Coxcomb Plots” as pioneered by Florence Nightingale since they increase the data density on the plot and can enable comparisons across variables.  Robin Lovelace has written a neat tutorial on how to create them in R, I think it’s well worth a look. He and I also recently posted this ggplot2 and spatial data tutorial, and we have more on the way!

Introduction to Spatial Data and ggplot2


For those starting out with spatial data in R, Robin Lovelace and I have prepared this tutorial (funded as part of the University of Leeds and UCL Talisman project). Here we introduce a range of analysis skills before demonstrating how you can deploy the powerful graphics capabilities of ggplot2 to visualise your results. There is also some “bonus” material at the end to show how you can use ggplot2 for descriptive statistics and so on. The tutorial covers:

-Introduction to ggplot2

-Map projections

-Adding Google and Stamen basemaps

-Clipping and joining spatial data

-Aggregating spatial data

-ggplot2 for descriptive statistics

Download the data you need from here.

This is a work in progress so we may add improvements as time goes on. We also have a few more tutorials in the pipeline that will be posted here in due course.


The Ultimate Christmas List for Map Lovers


It is about this time of year that I get asked if I want anything in particular for Christmas. So for others in the same position, or if you are searching for a gift for a map obsessed loved one, here is my ultimate Christmas wish list. Most of these items are things I have asked for in the past, or purchased myself, so I know they are must haves for map lovers!



Starting with the last job first, this Map wrapping paper and Subway map packing tape offer the perfect way of presenting your gifts. It is worth noting, the paper is really nice quality and comes in loads of different variations.




I was given these Map Fridge Magnets last year and they make for a nice stocking filler.



This Population Lines print is one I have produced showing world population density. Each A2 print is produced with vegetable-based inks on 170 gsm 100% recycled Cyclus Offset paper. This is slightly off-white and does a great job of producing crisp lines and giving the print a quality feel. I have signed and numbered each print for this first print run. If you would like to own a copy please click below.


This Typographic Tube map is produced for a range of cities, converting their transportation maps into beautiful text.


Keeping with the typographic theme, Axis Maps have created these detailed city maps using nothing but text. Like the prints above, they look great either framed or pinned to a wall.


A love of maps should be instilled from an early age and this Animal Map is a great way to do it. It comes in a range of formats.



Gestalten produce really high quality books and Around the World: The Atlas for Today is no exception. It comes in full colour and contains a wealth of interesting maps and graphics about our contemporary world.


Cartographies of Time is probably the most technical book on this list but it is incredibly well produced and is packed full of the amazing ways that time has been portrayed in graphics. With the wealth of information graphics currently being produced it serves as a nice reminder of the ways advanced graphics could be produced with pen and paper.


On the Map offers a nice run-through of the history of cartography and mapping. Its a good gift for someone who isn’t a mapping fanatic but has a general interest in such things.


Information Graphics is a giant book from Taschen and contains hundreds of great data visualisations- many of them maps. It’s size means that you can appreciate the detail of the graphics included, and the book is full of inspiration for cartographers/ designers.


Paula Scher: Maps collates the many hand-drawn maps created by Paula Scher. The maps cover many major cities and offer fresh perspectives on them and the book looks great on a coffee table.



Why not go seriously old-school with a Times Atlas. Full of classic cartography and great images, these aren’t yet ready to be forgotten at the hands of Google Earth!

Have I missed anything? Add your suggestions to the comments.

Climate Change and the State of Science

This is a really nice video funded by the UN Foundation and produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and Globaia. It combines a range of impressive data visualisations depicting the human impacts on our environment with a clear commentary. The result is a powerful communication of the most significant statements in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent Fifth Assessment Report, (Working Group I summary for policymakers, the Physical Science Basis). It is also an excellent example of the ways in which many of the developments in data visualisation are being harnessed to inform both the public and policy makers about significant issues.

Cinematic Mapping

I recently posted a great visualisation showing 24 hours of shipping in the Baltic. I liked it for its cinematic appeal (was a bit less keen on the music though), and said that such work goes a long way to broaden the appeal of data visualisation. 422 are the masters of this art, producing a great number of innovative visualisations for TV programmes around the world. I first saw their work on the “Britain from Above” series shown on the BBC and have been amazed at what they have been able to produce ever since. The video above is a montage of some of their projects. Enjoy!

Mapping Where We Live

Showing where we live is, of course, one of the oldest and most useful reasons to create a map. As we bask in the “Big Data” era, the trend for mapping population is increasing simply because there are more data points out there, the bulk of which are generated by people. Population distribution is important because, as xkcd wittily illustrates, if you were to map these points without accounting for it you often just get a population density map. xkcd_heatmapOr worse still, you think you are creating a map that represents the whole world, but instead you only get the parts of  it where people are connected to the internet. Such maps are considered unsurprising by many (in spite of their hype) because simple maps of raw counts rarely offer surprising insights in the phenomena the map is trying to articulate. For examples of this there are some great maps (and data) of Wikipedia entries vs population density here.

For this post, however, I want to ignore the many new datasets out there to pick out some of my favourite maps that intentionally show where we live.  I equate mapping population to trying to take an original picture of the Taj Mahal or the Statue of Liberty – so many people have done it before that it is very hard to produce something that offers an unseen view or perspective. The maps below have done just that (for me at least) and offer an important reminder of where the bulk of the world’s population reside – many of whom are forgotten by the representations of “Big Data” we in the “West”  are now becoming accustomed to. population_lines_sml The first map (above) one I produced from NASA’s population grid. It shows population density by line of latitude. When I saw it plot for the first time I was amazed at how effectively it captured the key headlines of the world’s population distribution (most people live in cities, and there are lots of them in Asia). It was designed as a print for sale and also to be the front cover of this years Royal Geographical Society’s Annual Conference with the theme “Geographical Frontiers”. I felt the spikes on the map above represented the many new frontiers that exist within our growing cities – geography is no longer about exploring the natural environment.

The map below entitled Dencity was produced by Fathom Information Design and uses a similar gridded dataset to the one above. Instead of lines, they have used coloured circles of different sizes to show population density. Even though their use of the Mercator projection has expanded the northern areas where few people live and squashed the more densely populated areas nearer the equator, the map still offers a dramatic representation of world population. The use of different sized circles really adds to the “dens(c)ity” effect. dencity-640

An often quoted line from Jacques Bertin is that “great design tends towards simplicity” and this is a concept that has become fundamental to the principles of cartographic design. The map below captures this perfectly. It was produced by Derek Watkins but is an interactive recreation of “Islands of Mankind” by Bill Bunge. Its message is the same as the two above but it has only used black and white to communicate it. dwatkins_islands


This next map is not a cartographic masterpiece by any means but it is a great example of how a map can create a powerful headline that alters our perceptions of the world (it certainly did mine).half_humanity

And if you wondered how so many people can fit in such a small area, take a look at these maps of “residential urban density” produced by LSECities. They clearly show that cities, such as London, have a long way to go if they are to match the likes of Shanghai and Hong Kong in terms of high density living.


Open Data as Art: Data Windows


Ollie O’Brien and I have just dropped off our invited artwork to the  10X10 “Drawing the City London” project run by the building design charity Article 25. We are amongst a number of (much higher profile) contributors who have donated works to be auctioned on behalf of the charity in November to raise funds for the charity’s projects. The works will also be exhibited beforehand (keep an eye here for details).

In spite of an increasing range of more abstract art and print projects on the go,  Ollie and I chose to play to our strengths by producing several maps from the 2011 Census. These covered East London since it was the project’s area of focus this year. The resulting artwork is completely based on open data (and was almost entirely produced with opensource software (QGIS)), licensed under the Open Government Licence.


A single physical copy was printed directly onto white canvas (thanks to Miles Irving at the Drawing Office in UCL Geography). Let’s hope it catches the bidders’ attention!


The Next Big Spill Animation

This stunning animation (complete with a dramatic soundtrack) shows one day of shipping in the Baltic Sea. It is a great example of the use of data visualisation to make a political (or in this case environmental) point. I think there are many more datasets out there worthy of being given a cinematic treatment in this way and these could stand to reach wider audiences than the more technical graphics we often produce from transportation data.

Animating French High Speed Rail

The video above by the MIT Senseable City lab is one of the nicest I have seen to illustrate train and passenger flows along a rail network. The network itself, the SNCF high speed trains in France, is fairly sparse in terms of the number of trains passing along it each day so the visuals can be kept relatively clean and simple. As the quote from the team below suggests, this animation is a nice way of quantifying the impact of train delays both in terms of their duration and also the number of passengers affected.

Trains, at times, do run late. While a rail network operator is interested in reducing overall delay as such, an especially critical aspect relates to the number of passengers directly affected by such delays and their location.

In this visualization we combine data on the time trains run behind schedule with the actual number of passengers on any train at any moment. This information is represented at the actual location of a train on SNCF’s high speed rail network. With this, a rail operator can quickly understand where many passengers are affected by train delays and use this information to take appropriate action, ultimately limiting delay per passenger and increasing overall passenger satisfaction.”

Population Lines Print


I recently produced a map entitled “Population Lines”, which shows population density by latitude. The aim was to achieve a simple and fresh perspective on these well-known data. I have labelled a few key cities for orientation purposes but I’ve left off most of the conventional cartographical adornments. I am really pleased with the end result not least because it resembles Joy Division’s iconic Unknown Pleasures album cover, which in itself is a great example of data visualisation as art.


The data, from NASA SEDAC, have been mapped many times before and in many beautiful ways but none seem to me quite as compelling as the simple approach here of using only black and grey lines across the page. What amazes me about this map (from where I sit in London) is just how jagged the lines become throughout India, East China, Indonesia and Japan in comparison to “the West” – evidence that we are definitely in the “Asian Century”.


Following quite a lot of interest in the map, I’ve had some A2 prints produced for those who’d like to own a copy. Each print is produced with vegetable-based inks on 170 gsm 100% recycled Cyclus Offset paper. This is slightly off-white and does a great job of producing crisp lines and giving the print a quality feel. I have signed and numbered each print for this first print run. If you would like to own a copy please click below.


Frame not included

Small print: Print is unframed. Orders from outside of the EU may be subject to local taxes.


NikeFuel Map


Here is an extract of a map I co-created with Ollie O’Brien as part of a project to produce a “walkable London Tube map” for Nike to promote their FuelBand personal movement tracker. It shows the walking routes and distances between Tube stations in addition to the NikeFuel points you could earn along the journeys.

In conjunction with UCL Urbanist John Bingham-Hall who personally walked between stations to calculated the NikeFuel points and designer David Luepschenthe the final map was produced. Lines of glowing green dots lead along the routes, past stylised illustrations of iconic landmarks (that you don’t get to see if you are on the tube). We used Ordnance Survey Open Data for the base map.


It’s great to see the finished printed product, which can be picked up for free at any of the four Zone 1 Nike stores in London (which are, themselves, also shown on the map). The map folds up to pocket-size, so now there’s no excuse to get extra points and exercise by walking the tube. You can also see both Ollie and I in this how-it-was-made video which was filmed by Wallpaper magazine.


This post was originally published on Mapping London.

Research Position working with Big Open Data for Social Science

As part of my recently awarded ESRC “Future Research Leaders” grant I am recruiting a researcher assistant/ associate to work with me on the analysis and visualisation of the latest big and open social science datasets. I am after someone who is passionate about (spatial) data and who has the computing skills/ background to work with it. Click here to apply.

I have pasted some further details below:

Research Associate BODMAS project

Department: The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA)

Reports to: Dr James Cheshire

Grade: Grade 7 £32,375 or Grade 6B £28,338 where the successful candidate does not hold a PhD;  [inc London Allowance of £2,834 pa].

Funding duration: 18 months

Closing date: 25th September 2013

Interview date: First week of October 2013

The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) develops and researches emerging computer technologies in several disciplines that deal with geography, space, location, visualisation, and the built environment. CASA’s focus is to be at the forefront of what is one of the grand challenges of 21st Century science: to build a science of cities from a multidisciplinary base, drawing on cutting edge methods, and ideas in modelling, complexity, visualisation and computation. Our current mix of architects, geographers, mathematicians, physicists, archaeologists and computer scientists make CASA a unique and world-leading unit within the Faculty of the Built Environment at UCL. For more information about CASA, please visit


The Role


We are seeking a highly-motivated individual with an interest in open data who is experienced in working with large spatially referenced databases. They will be able to undertake complex data analysis using programming languages such as Java, Python and R, and be able to communicate their results through the production of maps and other visualisations. We welcome applicants with a PhD or top-graded masters qualification in a relevant field (see below) and are keen to recruit someone actively working with open data.


The successful candidate will work closely with Dr. James Cheshire, the project lead, and become an integral part of CASA’s research community. The project has a range of partners including the Open Data Institute, ESRI (UK) and the University of Illinois.


Big, Open Data: Mining and Synthesis (BODMAS)


The volume and assortment of available data for research in the social sciences has dramatically increased in recent years- a trend that shows no sign of stopping. For the first time researchers can obtain large amounts of population data free of charge (so-called “open data”) thanks to government websites such as When these data are combined with the computing power to perform complex calculations it creates an unprecedented opportunity for social science researchers. We are now in an era of big data and this is fundamentally changing the research environment for investigations across social science. The purpose of this project is to develop some of the new perspectives required to adapt to these changes in the practice of data modeling and synthesis.


These new perspectives include the need to account for the increased uncertainty in data provenance and less thorough metadata, as the data provision philosophy has shifted away from careful collection and dissemination to an emphasis on expediency. Researchers increasingly have to temper gains in data volume against losses in data quality when they embark on a study. Extra caution is also required when combining datasets, especially if they contain geographic information, as it is not always case that the spatial scales are compatible. The proposed project will develop a web-based tool to help social scientists minimise or eradicate these issues by enabling the synthesis, mining and visualisation of open datasets in a more informed way. The project will also use the newly combined data to undertake more complex analyses of population processes using supercomputers to gain unprecedented insights into social phenomena.


Key to the success of this project is a research assistant/associate who can apply their programming and data manipulation skills to tackle the challenges of open data to create meaningful data products and engaging data visualisations.

UK Public Transport Flows

Joan Serras from CASA has produced this great animation that demonstrates Britain’s public transport network. It details train, coach, metro (tram and tube), ferry and air trips over a typical weekday in 2009. Different modes of transport are assigned different colours, and time is represented by the clock at the top left. The animation clearly highlights the complexity of the networks, the distinct transport geographies of the UK’s cities and regions, and the daily peaks of activity.

Live Singapore

Live Singapore is a project run by MIT’s Senseable City lab. It takes a large number of data feeds and combines them to create a series of innovative visualisations about Singapore. The work (like much from MIT) is impressive not least because it makes such complex datasets easily interpretable and therefore more understandable to both policy makers and those who live in the city.

Animating Auckland’s Public Transport

This video, produced by Chris McDowall,  shows the journeys that the buses (teal), ferries (blue) and trains (red) take each day in Auckland. Chris’s description on Vimeo summarises what’s going on brilliantly:

“The animation begins at 3am on a typical Monday morning. A pair of blue squiggles depict the Airport buses shuttling late night travellers between the Downtown Ferry Terminal and Auckland International. From 5am, a skeleton service of local buses begins making trips from the outer suburbs to the inner city and the first ferry departs for Waiheke Island. Over the next few hours the volume and frequency of vehicles steadily increases until we reach peak morning rush hour. By 8am the city’s major transportation corridors are clearly delineated by a stream of buses filled with commuters. After 9am the volume of vehicles drops a little and stays steady until the schools get out and the evening commute begins. The animation ends at midnight with just a few night buses moving passengers away from the central city.”