Sheffield Word Map
Buy the Sheffield word map on prints, T-shirts, mugs etc.
I like maps and I like lettering. I’d seen lots of examples of this sort of thing on the internets but nobody had done a Sheffield version, as far as I could discover.
Creating one would be a satisfying project: interesting enough to do but not so difficult or vague that it would frustrate me. Like doodling but with an end product. Also, I might be able to get some money out of it.
Style and organisation
The easiest way to create a word map would be to use a font. Type out the name of each place and rotate and resize it to more or less fit the area on the map where it belongs. This, though, creates a map that’s all rectangles and right angles. It’s difficult to make it interesting and attractive.1 Also, as names are rectangular in shape and areas are usually not, the names don’t give much information about the areas they are naming.
You could alter the shape of a name so that it fits its area by changing the size of individual letters and repositioning them but this looks shit. Increasing the size of a letter also increases its boldness (weight). The letters in the name then look mismatched, the larger letters standing out more because they are both thicker and larger. The overall look of the lettering becomes uneven.
To get around this the letters have to be hand drawn. This is a lot more work. A hand-lettered map looks more appealing and contains more information. The names can give a better indication of shape of the areas they represent.
With this approach it makes sense to define the areas first.
Starting the map
I built a base map from screenshots of maps from the internet (I had to join a few screenshots to get the scale I needed) in my graphics software.
Using a combination of internet maps, Ordnance Survey (they differ) and local knowledge I selected which areas I was going to include.
I was concerned that the names of smaller areas would not print clearly on T-shirts so I left these out for that reason alone. This did mean leaving out some small but culturally important areas which probably should have been included. The areas I missed out were absorbed into neighbouring areas.
For an easy life and design reasons I only named built-up areas, with parks and woodlands added where they couldn’t be ignored. About a third of Sheffield is rural. Naming areas there would have been much more difficult. What do I actually name? Do I distort the map to include a name? (The parish of Bradfield is almost the size of the rest of the city, for example.) I left this area blank.
The rivers were closely, if not tidily, traced from the base map.
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 idea was that they might look like the sort of letters you get if you cut them out of paper with scissors.
I used uppercase letters because they fill the space more evenly, have fewer awkward shapes and I didn’t have to think about managing ascenders and descenders.
Names started horizontal if possible but I rotated or curved them to better fit their areas.
I marked out each area with rough lettering and then went over the map several times ‘tidying’ the lettering up and improving how the names fitted together. I started off drawing the borders between areas but decided this was a waste of time. Once I had the names in place I added borders between them so I could get the spacing between letters more even.
For overall tidiness it was important that the names fitted well with each other than with their areas on the map.
Many Sheffield names have two more obvious parts (‘Wood–thorpe’, “Nether Edge’) so I split these for a better fit.
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 had to go through and ‘untidy’ everything.
Also there are some style variations between names – different weights, more angular shapes, different width letters – but nothing extreme. 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.
Once everything was in place I went over the map trying to make the whole thing more balanced. This meant shrinking any obvious blank spots and making some names less bold because they stood out too much.
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. Not exactly viral but 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 some names were already too small to print clearly.
It does seem reasonable that a map of Sheffield should include all Sheffield5 even if it made the design less ‘tidy’. I bowed to public pressure.
To minimise the effects of adding these northern outposts I ignored my (loose) rule about fitting names to their actual locations and added them closer to the rest of the city. 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.
A few people complained that certain areas weren’t on the map but this was because they were too small to fit into the space available. On the actual T-shirt I think ‘Wharncliffe Side’ (top left corner) is probably too small, so that gives you an idea of the limit.
It might have been a better idea to choose all the names that should be on the map first and then adjusting the area sizes so the names could fit. This would mean increasing the size of smaller areas and shrinking larger areas. It would be a different sort of map and wouldn’t be as faithful to the actual size and location of places.
Buy prints, t-shirts, mugs and more of the Sheffield word map.
- It needs a distinct outline and loads of areas to give the flexibility needed. The Sheffield map wouldn’t work in this style.
- 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.