Sheffield Word Map
Buy the Sheffield word map on prints, T-shirts, mugs etc.
Not an original idea at all. Maps like this have been done of lots of places but not Sheffield, or so my internet search told me.
It looked suitable for a personal project because it was clear what I had to do, didn’t look too difficult but it wasn’t too easy either. That would be boring.
If it was that easy, someone would have done it already.
I thought it might have some commercial value but I’m glad I didn’t do it for that reason alone.
Style and name placement
First I had to decide whether to use a font or draw the letters.
Many word maps use fonts: imagine typing the names, cutting them out and rotating and resizing them to fit. This means the names are rectangular so don’t usually match the shape or position of the areas they are naming.1 This isn’t a problem in itself but this sort of map tends to look like a pile of bricks and is hard to do well. I prefer the look of more free-form hand-drawn maps.
Drawing the letters is more work, but means you can more easily fit the names into the areas they are naming.
Starting with the areas and fitting the names to them seemed an obvious way of organising the map.
Starting the map
I built a template map from screenshots of Google maps (I had to join a few screenshots to get the scale I needed) in my graphics software.
Using Google Maps, Ordnance Survey (they differ) and local knowledge I selected which areas I was going to include.
It worried me that the names of smaller areas would not print clearly on T-shirts so I left a few of these out.
Areas that are against the city border or open country have a clear border. Most areas, though, don’t. They aren’t formally defined and, although you could clearly say you were in the centre of Darnall or the centre of Attercliffe, you might find people disagreeing where exactly one becomes the other. Here I used my judgement to decide where the border would be, often assuming that roads and rivers might mark it.
I traced the rivers, fairly accurately, and roughly sketched where I thought the area borders might be before adding the names.
Drawing the names
To make things easier and quicker I kept the letters simple. They are mostly built from rough rectangles with curves, where appropriate, to stop the them looking too square and eccentric. The vague idea was that they might look like the sort of letters you would get if scissored them out of paper.
I used uppercase letters because they fill the space more evenly, has fewer awkward shapes and there’s no need to worry about what to do with ascenders and descenders.
The names I placed horizontally if possible but rotated or curved them for a better fit.
I filled each area with rough lettering and then went over the map several times ‘tidying’ the lettering up and improving the fit. Sometimes this meant not being too bothered about where the borders were. Because a few names were going to be too small to print clearly I removed them and adjusted neighbouring names accordingly.
In my tidying up I made the letters too regular and square. This not only looked dull but also as if I was attempting to make ‘perfect’ letters and failing.2
I shaped some letters to fit curves, or stretched or condensed them depending how the name fitted into its space. Also there are some style variations between names – some are bolder or more angular – but nothing too different. This adds a bit of interest, separates different names and unifies names that are split over several lines. I could probably have gone a bit further with this.
But I did want the map overall to look even and balanced. This involved adjusting the ‘boldness’ of some of the names so that nothing jumped out. This was made difficult by some areas having bigger letters than others. I could probably have done more here too.
Show your work
I reached a point where I thought I was messing with the map without necessarily improving it so I stuck it on Twitter as a ‘work in progress’. It was retweeted by @HelpSheffield (20000+ followers) and it received 205 retweets and 1.7k likes. It’s all relative but this is somewhat higher than anything else I’ve tweeted.
The feedback I received was useful. The erroneous ‘e’ on ‘Concorde’ was pointed out. I had some praise and demands for prints and t-shirts,3 which was nice, and a lot of complaints about missing out the distant North (more below).
Apart from the missing North, I decided that I wasn’t really going to improve it with further tinkering.4
Unhappy people from the North
The map I had tweeted hadn’t included the areas north of Ecclesfield and north west of Oughtibridge. Without them the map is a tidy continuous blob. With them, in their actual locations, the map has two disconnected islands floating off the top. To include them without increasing the size of the map, I would have had to shrink the map by about a third. I didn’t want to do this as I was concerned that the smaller names wouldn’t print well on a T-shirt.
It does seem reasonable that a map of Sheffield should include all Sheffield5 even if it made the design less effective. I bowed to public pressure.
To minimise the effects of adding these norther outposts I ignored my (loose) rule about fitting names to their actual locations and added them in slightly more convenient positions so that ‘the blob’ was (just about) kept intact and the printing size didn’t have to be reduced as much. If anyone has noticed they haven’t said.
I also had a few comments about other areas that had I had left out.
For the most part, this is because the space for the name was too small for it to be legible when printed on a T-shirt.6 This did mean some areas that are small but important are not on there (‘Kelham Island’ for example).7
If I redid this map (haha) I would think about distorting the map so that smaller important areas were made big enough to be included. Obviously the map then wouldn’t be as ‘accurate’ in relation to the actual city but would be a better match for the city as it exists in the minds of its residents.
There are missing areas to the west of the city. This is mostly rural and deciding how I would do this (the villages are straightforward, the names of the areas in between less so) was something I didn’t want to think about.
Buy prints, t-shirts, mugs and more of the Sheffield word map.
- Few areas are as accommodating as Wyoming.
- There’s an interesting transition in design where well-executed ‘bad’, which is good, can become poorly-executed ‘good’, which is bad.
- Some of which may even have turned into actual sales.
- Obviously, it could be ‘better’ but I didn’t know if continuing to fine tune it, or significantly rework it, was worth the effort.
- It still doesn’t though, there are vast tracts of countryside and several villages to the west that aren’t on it.
- As it is, I think ‘Wharncliffe Side’ is too small and the likes of ‘Endcliffe’ are on the limit.
- I missed off Meadowhall – the giant shopping centre as well. Oh dear. Only one tweet mentioned this.