Earlier this year, I was commissioned to create a series of trade route maps for Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean, a leading global provider of deep-sea ocean transportation for cars, trucks, rolling equipment and breakbulk cargo. The client had already developed some rough “subway map” visualizations for their network, noting that their current geographical maps of longer routes compressed many ports into very small areas while leaving vast swathes of empty ocean taking up the majority of space. Their theory was that a subway map visualization could expand the denser areas (especially Europe and Japan/Korea), while vastly reducing the amount of wasted empty space – a problem not too dissimilar to that faced by H.C. Beck when he first drew up his famous Tube Map in 1931.
It was my task to take this rough mockup and develop a design language that could be scaled from a single short trade route all the way up to a global network map, all while remaining simple and legible enough to work within the confines of a PowerPoint slide. Adding to the challenge was the fact the company completely rebranded themselves about a month into the project, which meant that I suddenly had to work with an entirely different colour palette. The list of ports that each route called at also changed a few times, and there were a lot of back and forth revisions to make all the stakeholders happy.
The map above shows all the possible trade routes from Europe to the Americas, and was the map that I used to develop the look and feel of the entire series, setting up all the design rules for every map. As a result, it went through the most iterations – this final map is the 12th version – but it was definitely worth the effort. Earlier versions also included numbers between the ports that indicated the average number of days it took to sail between them, but this was deemed unworkable after a couple of rounds of revisions.
Likewise, transshipment routes – incoming routes to the major “hub” ports, often via third parties – were originally shown in detail as secondary “feeder lines”, but this gradually morphed into the simpler approach of the final map. As you may have noticed, this approach owes a lot to London Underground line maps, which denote interchanges with other lines in a similar way. Like most transit strip maps, the reading logic flows from left to right, regardless of actual geography (America is west of Europe, after all). Directional arrows reinforce this for users less familiar with the concept. This reading logic holds true for all 13 of the final trade-level routes, with a few necessary exceptions. In these instances, further directional arrows guide the user (see the below Europe–Oceania trade map, where the two routes travel through the Australian ports in opposite directions).
After the trade level maps, I developed four “continent” maps, which focused on showing simplified “collapsed” versions of the trade routes within Europe, the Americas, Asia and Oceania. Examples showing Europe and Asia are below.
Finally, I pieced together a global trade map from the four continent maps. Fortunately, I did this after everything else had been approved, so I only had to rework this one once!
Feedback from the client has been overwhelmingly positive, both within the company and from their external clients who have seen and used the maps. From my point of view, I feel extremely blessed that I got to work with a client who had a great idea of what he wanted, but also was very receptive to my thoughts and concepts. He has this to say about my work:
“From the initial idea until delivery, Cameron showed a great sense for what is really required to get the visualization of our products done in the best possible way. While deep-diving into our products, he always maintained an overview of the big picture and what is required to make the final delivery as great as it is today.”
You can view all the maps on WWO’s website, and they’ve even made an explanatory video for the maps, which is kind of awesome!