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Planes, trains and map design

Thursday 24 February 2022 (6pm GMT)

Composite showing paper fan (with map of world painted across it) flanked by poster for European railway route (early 20th Century design)

About the event

Our talks this month encourage us to travel from the comfort of our homes. Our two speakers Christian Nolle and Mark Ovenden explore influences on airline and railway maps, looking at changing design considerations and the evolution of travel information design.

Christian Nolle’s talk introduces us to his ‘Direction of Travel’ project about airline maps, published twice a year as a newspaper. Each edition looks in detail at a selection of airlines that are either aligned or opposed geographically, graphically or politically. For this SDS event, Christian shares maps from his collection, dating from the early 1930s to the mid 1990s. Airline maps have evolved since the beginning of commercial flight operations, from detailed pictorial representations to diagrammatic maps, and every style in-between. These maps reflect not just the development in design and the time when they were made,  but also the evolution of flying from nascent piston-powered aircrafts needing multiple stopovers, to today’s super long-haul flights. Along the way the maps also tell stories of mergers, acquisitions and political changes.

To complement Christian’s talk on airline maps,  Mark Ovenden moves us back to the surface for a presentation of beautiful railway maps from around the world. Mark traces their history from some of the earliest recorded cartographic inscriptions of rails (in the 17th Century!), through the Victorian railway mania which covered the planet in iron tracks and bequeathed some of the greatest travel posters of all time … to the latest GIS and real-time train indicators. We’ll learn how the location of railways shaped human settlement, as well as enjoying the beauty of mapping from around the world.

About our speakers

Christian Nolle is a half Danish/half German London-based artist and map collector. He completed his BA in Photography from the Surrey Institute of Art & Design, followed by a Masters in Communication Design from Central St. Martins University of the Arts, London in 2008. Christian has spent decades creating work, often in photographic form, that explores the interplay between aviation, politics and the cities we live in. His work includes a project called London Polygon in which he mapped the London airspace by bike. For another project he photographed every aircraft landing in Heathrow in one day, juxtaposing this with the ‘raw’ data obtained about the flight photographed, this project was called Point of Approach. Christian is also founder and head of Good Caesar, a design and technology studio. He has exhibited his work in Denmark, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom.

Design historian Mark Ovenden specialises in the subjects of graphic design, cartography and architecture in public transport, with an emphasis on underground rapid transit. Mark’s background was in broadcast and print media before returning to his love of cartography in the early “Noughties”. Mark is also a lecturer, broadcaster and presenter, recently fronting a one-hour documentary for BBC4 on typefaces. He has been described as bringing “joyful insight, warmth, humour and accessibility to what might on the surface appear somewhat dry, geeky or technical subjects.” He is also an internationally respected author of 20 best-selling books including: ‘Johnston & Gill: Very British Types’ (London, 2016); Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design’ co-authored with Maxwell Robert (New York, 2019); and ‘Underground Cities: Mapping the Tunnels, Transits and Networks Underneath Our Feet’ (London, 2020). The New York Times has described his books as “pure catnip”.

Register for the event

This talk is free for SDS members. For non-members, the ticket cost is £10 per person. To join our Zoom talk, please get in touch with our administrator Kate at for the event link, ID, and password.

Not a member, unable to join us for the live-streamed event but would like to watch it at a time convenient to you? We now offer the option to watch the event recording (on this occasion it will only be Christian’s talk recorded) on a time-limited basis for the cost of a £10 ticket. Please email Kate for more information.

[Note: this event will be recorded and available to paid-up SDS members via our Talks Archive within a week of taking place.]


Online (via Zoom)


24 Feb 2022 18:00

Price : £10.00

Already a member? See details above for booking details.