Designer Talks: The Future Mapping Co.

A series of interviews with the designers and makers behind the brands featured and coveted at COMPENDIUM DESIGN STORE.
Marcus Kirby of The Future Mapping Company Company
— East London, England —

THE FUTURE MAPPING COMPANY complements up-to-date map data with a strong focus on design, creating cartography for the twenty-first century. Their range has expanded to feature stunning world maps of various projections, a Europe map, Britain map and street maps of London, New York and most recently, San Francisco.

We call into THE FUTURE MAPPNIG COMPANY studios in East London one drizzly afternoon, and after geeking out on maps a little too long, Marcus sits down to speak about reinventing an old craft, a somewhat unlikely route to cartography and the best episode of The West Wing ever. 

Marcus, Jo and Ed - The Future Mapping Company.

Who's involved with The Future Mapping Company and how did you initially come together to create your brand?
I've always loved a map. My parents used to take me to the Lake District on walking holidays and my dad would buy me a map of the area we were walking in. I would mark the routes we walked using flourescent highlighter pens - very geeky! It was at this point when I fell in love with topographic maps, the beauty of the detail and how they represent the land in which we live on a printed piece of paper.

Strangely I never considered a career in cartographic design. Having finished my A levels I found myself taking suits apart during a foundation course in art and design and the next thing I knew was doing a fashion degree course. I worked in tailoring with Timothy Everest for about 5 years, learning the ins and outs of this craft, but more importantly I got a fantastic view of how to reinvent a struggling craft. Tim's challenge was to remove the stuffiness of the tailored suit from being a preserve of those who felt comfortable within the surrounds of Saville Row.

My desire was to set up my own company and my thoughts soon turned to maps! I set up The Future Mapping almost 10 years ago now. As ever with a small niche creative business like ours the first few years were tough.

I was a one man show doing what I could to promote my maps without a budget! These were the days before the internet and the hardest thing was finding shops that could sell our design led maps. It was hard work but when I sold our maps directly to the public (through street markets etc.) there was real enthusiasm for them. People really do like a map.

The Equal-area projection - The Future Mapping Company.

Eventually I managed to position my maps in some fantastic design stores as they didn't really fit in with the traditional route of map and book shops. The internet came along and suddenly we were able to find our customers worldwide and the pressure of having a small creative business began to subside.

We are now a team of 5, myself, Jo and Ed run the day to day of the business - map making, map dispatch and marketing and then we have Steve who runs our small shop on Columbia Road and Debs who help us with our copy.

So if you began creating your own maps 10 years ago, what was the actual catalyst which sparked the change from 'dabbling', and marked the birth of the brand and running it as a full fledged business as it is today? At what point did you stop doing other work, and devote all of your time to The Future Mapping Company, and realise you could do this for a living?
The Future Mapping Company is 10 next year (hurrah). I started developing the first maps in 2003 and during this time I was waiting in a restaurant, selling my friends knitwear collection and putting parties on with some DJ friends. I started to fully concentrate on the maps in 2005, becoming a limited company at that time. It was around here that I was lucky enough to get my maps into the right stores. I probably owe a lot to Simon at TwentyTwentyOne in London. This is regarded as probably the interior design and furniture store in London and when I knocked on his door he was happy to see me and stock my maps (wow!). I am happy to say they sold really well.

When you get in a store like that then other shops want your product and magazines put you in their pages, so we went on to be stocked in some great destination stores throughout the world and get some good publicity. I'm very happy to say that Simon continues to sell our maps 10 years later and I've even heard him say that our Future Maps product is now a design classic....(double wow!).

If these stores made us a 'brand' then it was the internet that allowed us to find our mass or shall we say wider market (we are still pretty small!) which gave us stability.

I can TOTALLY see similarity between Timothy Everest's look and your work, as you describe. Both of your crafts are technical and detail oriented, yet remain beautiful and simple. His stuff is meant to be worn, and yours is meant to be lived with! I guess almost by default, your final maps are going to be readily identifiable as "A Future Map", and stand out as something pretty special.  But what is it that you strive to have your maps known for? What makes one of your maps a "Future Mapping Company" map? 
We want to become known for producing maps that people first of all covet. A product that people want to put on their walls to enhance the aesthetic of their living environment. For us this is not about exclusivity, it's about a product being as beautiful and as useful as it can be and for a time we felt that many maps on the market place just didn't do this.

We have developed our own style through a mixture of high quality print and bold use of colour. So few products are printed Lithographically these days, so much so that when people see it they are wowed. Most maps are printed onto a very basic uncoated paper so to see a map printed using metallic and special inks with a gloss varnish finish then it creates an immediate impact. We also strive to create a useful, accurate map, that is as true to the perception of what a 'world map' or ' city map of London' should be. We utilise up-to-date map data that is manipulated, checked and edited before production, this can be a 6 month process!

Marcus checking proofs in the studio.

At compendium store I'm often asked, "Why the name FUTURE MAPPING CO?" The other thing I get asked is; "What do the colours mean?" Can you shed some light?
The name is very tongue in cheek, I think the best way to put it is that we hope to be The Future Mapping Company! Very bold and brash, we know! But really it is a subtle dig at traditional mapping companies producing the same looking map products at a time when graphics, design and print has moved forward so much.

The colours are chosen for their aesthetic appeal. As our maps are designed to be a piece of wall art, we fully indulge in the full colour palette, and we hope you like them. 

Our Classic Map range is coloured in the more traditional patchwork style but using more modern colour combinations. With our Future Map range we've taken a slightly different approach by grading the colours across the landmasses meaning that neighbouring countries are just a shade away from each other. Using this method, the boarders are clear, but not overtly reinforced and with the jaring use of opposing colours. For us this is a truly modern approach to mapping our globe and the bright colours? Well, why not?!

New York City street map - The Future Mapping Company.


"The colours are chosen for their aesthetic appeal. As our maps are designed to be a piece of wall art, we fully indulge in the full colour palette, and we hope you like them."

What do you think the greatest feat of cartography is?

Back in the 18th century four generations of the Cassini family were the first to create a countrywide set of topographic maps. Over the course of 100 years they surveyed the whole of France. Quite an achievement in those times!

What I know about map projections I got from that episode of The West Wing featuring the Cartographers for Social Equality. Can you sum up why the equal-area projection is awesome? 
The equal area projection is vital to highlight the wrongs of the Mercator projection which was used extensively from 1569. It was still in my school atlas in the 1980s!

Whilst brilliant for navigating the seas, the Mercator projection - which in it's own right was a massive breakthrough in world mapping - totally distorts the size of counties, showing them much larger particularly in the northern and southern hemispheres. For example the Russian Federation is 223% too big, Greenland is 554% too big and Canada 258% larger than it's actual area.

The equal area projection is great for highlighting not only the wrongs of this map but also confronts the bigger issue that there is no truly correct way of flattening a sphere, because although the areas of countries are spot on with the Equal Area, the shapes of the countries become a little distorted. All flat maps are wrong in someway, we just think the equal area projection is so much more relevant today.

You've just released San Francisco street map, joining London and New York City, what made you choose this city, and can you give us a hint at which is next?
San Francisco was chosen to supply our growing fans on the west coast of the USA. Our next exploration takes us to a land of diversity (though no actual rugged plains), all night raves, experimental art and music, beautiful municipal parks, efficient public transport, solemn cultural monuments - yes Berlin, is next.  Our initial exploration shows that around a third of the city is composed of forests, parks, gardens, rivers and lakes so this is going to be a real looker of a wall map. 

Shop for Future Mapping Co maps at our store here.
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