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A map showing the steepness of streets – Toby Eglesfield Graphic Design

Maps provide solutions to problems and with this map for the disAbilities Resource Centre in Queenstown, I was to provide the following information:

Lake Street in Queenstown: ‘Very Steep’

When I came onto the project I received two maps that were part of the progress so far: One of the maps showed colour coded survey data overlaid on a basic map of Queenstown. The other was the beginnings of a 2D street map of Queenstown, with a proposed method of showing hills; the starting point for the final map I was to produce.

Up or down?

This 2D street map was marked with arrows to indicate slopes throughout the town. The idea was that the direction of the arrow indicated up hill. Whilst meaning of the arrow’s direction could be explained within the map’s key, I felt that this method lacked an intuitive visual link to what it was communicating.

Wedges anyone?

I thought things might work better if the arrows were long wedges rather than regular arrows. Whilst this felt like an improvement it lead me to the conclusion that I needed the vertical axis to really explain the hilliness across the town. So thought turned to a 3D map being necessary to do things properly. It would also make an interesting design project. At this point I had a quick ponder on how many hours this would add to the project. I decided that with the map being a Pro Bono job I was happy to extend the scope and make an interesting project of it without the constraints of a budget.

What’s in an angle?

There’s been a lot of maps of Queenstown created over the years. Many of them are for tourists’ orientation and it’s interesting to take a quick look at the different angles chosen. To my mind, unless there’s some reason not to, orientating the map to the compass with north to the top makes good sense. This is also very logical for a 3D representation because we have the flat of the lake in the foreground and the rising of the mountains to the rear.

When presenting a map in 3D it’s usually the norm to choose a parallel projection where the perspective lines do not recede towards the distance. This type of projection dates back to early Japanese and Chinese art. In those days it was sometimes used to create very wide, and sometimes tall scenes on scrolls as the scenes could be continual without diminishing perspective. For the very same reason, parallel projections are very common in video games all these years on.

Of the types of parallel perspectives, there are quite a few: cabinet, cavalier and cabinet are sometimes used for furniture and architecture; but the most popular ones chosen for maps are the axonomic projections. Sometimes these are all referred to as isometric, but there are two other types, so here’s a quick look at all three.


To be a true isometric projection, the three axes are spaced equally around the circle. As a result, the foreshortening along all three axes is the same. A benefit of this is that if needed, measurements along those axes are consistent.


In a dimetric projection, two of the axes have the same foreshortening instead of all three. In this case the ground plane is tilted ‘back’ to create a more natural feel, and this has decreased the angle between the two (in this case symmetrical) ground plane axes. Dimetric can tilt the view in this way across any two of the axes at various angles. For the Queenstown and Frankton maps I used this kind of projection.


With trimetric, all three axes have unique, and non-reflected angles. So the three angles between them are all different. With the Arrowtown map – I chose this projection type.

The return of the wedges

With the survey map I was supplied, there were three different grades of slope and from experience of town and some consulting of Google Streetview I labelled them ‘gently sloped’, ‘steeper street’ and ‘very steep street. Whilst it would’ve been great to assign angles to these across all the maps, it wasn’t possible within the scope of the project. After defining the slopes visually I set to work. With the centre of Queenstown being a grid, I started there and worked my way outwards.


Frankton and Arrowtown are the other two principal centres near Queenstown and it was decided they should feature on the other side of the map. In terms of slopes, Arrowtown’s terrain is quite mellow, and with less streets in a parallel grid fashion as a visual peg in the ground for the slopes, it took me two attempts to get the town angled at a satisfactory rotation (early version shown below). To get emphasis on the tilt of the streets in Arrowtown I used a trimetric projection, which rotated the view around the vertical axes (this can be seen further on in the final Arrowtown map).

Frankton was more straightforward and with some cajoling I got a good angle for its terracing of streets as it slopes to the lake.

An additional challenge with Arrowtown and Frankton was that I had no survey data to work from. So with the aid of an iPad spirit level app, I drove around Frankton, parking up and taking readings, and did the same in Arrowtown with assitance from a friend. I used Google Maps Streetview to clarify some of the slopes as I worked on the designs and felt that I got a pretty good picture in the end. The job was printed in form of a two sided A3 folding map and is now circulating in the Queenstown district and has been well received.

Completed Maps

Have you seen or designed a map that presents streets with a way of reading their steepness? – Leave a comment and share a link, or let me know what you think to this project.

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