When was the last time you held a paper map? I don’t just mean a map printed on paper, I mean one that was designed to be viewed on paper in the first place. The London A to Z would count, so would those in a printed atlas or obtained from a tourist office to navigate an unfamiliar city. Of the hundreds of maps I see each year, I would guess that less than 10% have been designed for printing. This to me is a great shame for a few reasons. Firstly, paper is just better in many circumstances. It is by far the most reliable means of storing navigation information: it doesn’t need batteries or an internet connection (you could say the maps are pre-cached) and you can drop it in a puddle and it will still work. It also offers a nice sized and efficient visual interface- street corners seem to be increasingly populated with those squinting into their phone. If you spot someone with an A-Z they tend to have a quick look at the map and then start looking around to get their bearings.
The impact of a larger visual interface is further enhanced by the fact that a paper map offers something much more tangible. You can hold it (and smell it if it is old and musty), lean over it, write on it and fold it whatever way you wish. In the context of data visualisation, paper maps offer something much more engaging, with people tending to look and think about them for much longer than their on-screen counterparts. 18 months or so ago I produced both online and printed versions of a surname map for London. Each visitor to the online version has spent on average less than a minute (according to Google Analytics) looking at it, whilst my fairly unscientific observations from lurking at the backs of various rooms where the map has been displayed suggest that people spent two or three times that looking at the paper version (even medicament