Which way is up?


One of the great things about working on a variety of projects is the opportunity it gives me to confront various ideas. On one such project I had decided on a world map background for the site, and dutifully started researching various graphic styles that I would use for it. My client approved one direction with time zone demarcations and then asked if I could use a Peters projection instead of the more common Mercator projection.

I had been familiar with the Peters projection for some time, but since it isn’t in heavy usage, I had all but forgotten about it. And just about all of the map examples I found were Mercator. My client hails from the San Francisco Bay Area (where I myself lived for many years) and so it gave me a lefty chuckle of recognition that he was asking for this map projection. That is because the Peters map is far more socially “just” than the Mercator. Why is this so, you may wonder? Because the Mercator map vastly benefits the northern (and colonizing) hemisphere over the southern one. While the map doesn’t correct for the orientation of the planet (why is Alaska where it is near the top instead of Australia, for example), it does correct for the size distortions (Africa is roughly 14 times larger than Greenland, for example, although you would never know that to look at the Mercator). This begins to present a more accurate and equitable way for the inhabitants of the world to picture themselves. For a wonderful summing up of these concepts, check out this great clip from an old “West Wing” episode: