After the flood London Squared Map

London Squared Map

“We want to make it easy for people to compare area specific data about London.”


Future Cities Catapult

The Problem

Geographical maps distort overlaid data

Our Solution

London Squared allows multiple London data-sets to be overlaid and compared without geographic distortion


Map editor released to several NGOs including London Fire Brigade


Information is Beautiful 2015 Award Winner

“Help us make city data more legible to many levels of users.”

London Squared came out of a partnership between us and Future Cities Catapult to develop product ideas that would help them create, use, and share city data better. Key to this was the ability to compare data across all of London’s boroughs. Unfortunately at the moment the only way of doing that spatially was to use a geographical map . . .

Try our London Squared editor!
(For more information, get in touch.)

The Trouble with Data Maps

Maps are excellent for navigating space, showing boundaries, landmarks, and locations but lousy at imparting data. The visual impact of data shown in a spatial way is driven by the way areas of that space are divided. Low quantities seem higher if taking up more space. High qualities in lots of space dominate. Maps are uneven spaces – more developed areas tend to be smaller than rural areas. This creates an uneven ground on which to place figures – with important data finding no place to live.

During the product development work with Future Cities Catapult, it became clear that there was a need to visualise data across London that did not create a visual bias due to the geographical size of individual boroughs.

We needed a new, non-geographic system to plot data.

Abstracting the City

How can a city be reshaped to allow for a more even presentation of data without obliterating the forms that make it a recognisable space?

Having got the squares to work, we needed to bring some basic recognisability back to the map. We wanted a degree of familiarity for the first time viewer.

London’s most recognisable geographic feature is the River Thames. We started to restyle it to fit between the squares, choosing which of it’s curves were most iconic.

Our first idea was to just have it running through the middle as an illustrative element, but this seemed clumsy and would interrupt the eye as it ‘read the city’.

Instead, we put the city back together, forcing it to give way to the key curves of the Thames – just as in real life. As a shape this also gave some poetry to the rational grid.

The Square Unit

Squares have the added benefit of being able to contain more data. Unlike circles, there are enough options for spatial significance in a square – top, bottom, left, right. Squares have space to allow data to be separate or connected to other data. The squares are also a usefully small module that can be shared individually when needed, and because of their regularised and bite-size scale, they work well on small screens. 

The names of the boroughs have been abbreviated for maximum efficiency. This allows first-time users to orient themselves and regular viewers to remind themselves without an obstructed view.

The London Squared Map, Version 1.0

The most basic map allows for a choropleth, or shaded cells, to show data. There has been a minimal shuffling of the boroughs – and the placement of the river finishes this off economically. The basic map shows one set of data, but there are possibilities for combining multiple types. 

Bar charts are difficult to use in this space, but not impossible – and much easier than with a geographically accurate map!

Line charts can be mapped across the centre of the grid units. The river is an obstacle, but if the y-axis is limited to just the middle 60% of the squares there aren’t any issues. 

Dots can be used to visualise quantities, and the use of colour multiplication lets us stack them up. 

Bringing it all home, combining shading, dots, and numerical display for a richer account of the data. 

We have plenty more work to do on the amount of data that can be shown. Watch this space.

Source: London data store

We’ve been building some simple tools based on London Squared. As a first test-case, we built a version that displays photos from Instagram by borough. We’ve also made a simple choropleth map generator. If you’re interested in using it, get in touch!

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