For Decades, Cartographers Have Been Hiding Covert Illustrations Inside of Switzerland’s Official Maps

This 2020 story from Aiga’s Eye on Design is (surprisingly) full of intrigue. Who knew the world of Swiss cartography had such an embedded history of minor trickery. According to the piece, mapmakers have hidden incorrect or fictional details into their creations for centuries, mostly as a way of outsmarting plagiarizers. But there’s also another reason this habit has persisted, described in detail below:

But there is another, less institutional reason to hide something in a map. According to Lorenz Hurni, professor of cartography at ETH Zurich, these illustrations are part inside joke, part coping mechanism. Cartographers are “quite meticulous, really high-precision people,” he says. Their entire professional life is spent at the magnification level of a postage stamp. To sustain this kind of concentration, Hurni suspects that they eventually “look for something to break out of their daily routine.” The satisfaction of these illustrations comes from their transgressive nature— the labor and secrecy required to conceal one of these visual puns.

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