Ink Blob World Map Shows Humanity As Islands Adrift

What does the world look like if you only look at the most inhabited land? It’s a much different, much wetter place.


Your average map gives a perfect snapshot of the earth’s land, water and all of its political boundaries. But what really makes up a place–be it a city or a country? It’s the people. It’s always the people.


From 5 to 500, population density change per square kilometer.

Graduate student Derek Watkins has created a map that’s shaped by its populations. Based upon William Bunge’s The Continents and Islands of Mankind, Watkins created a blob-based view of the world, all shaped by population density. His resulting project takes over where Bunge left off. It’s an interactive map (you can toggle population densities with a simple slider), allowing you to see, very simply, the most dense places on the planet, and how these areas relate to one another. So the most dense cities in the world are depicted as land while the sparsely populated spaces sink into the oceans.

“I think the most obvious critique of my map is that it’s far too generalized–but that’s what attracted me about Bunge’s original. Smoothing out fine details and individual urban areas tells a story about the really large clumps of humanity across the earth’s surface that would be more difficult to understand using other methods of visualization,” Watkins tells Co.Design. “I also like the approach of leaving out political and landform boundaries to focus attention on the ‘islands’ of population.”

Areas with population density over 5 people per square kilometer.

It’s more than a way to visualize populations: There’s something about tying people to the very land they live on that makes you think about the world entirely differently. “I knew that eastern China and India’s northern plains were very densely populated regions, but their prominence on this map still surprised me,” writes Watkins. “The emptiness of much of Australia was also interesting, and I think there are many people who don’t often realize just how empty a lot of the western United States is.”

You can’t claim that any part of the world is any more important than any other part. But by removing everything but the most populated areas, politics, war and history fade away. You cut out all the noise of boundaries and empty spaces, and you see the world from the perspective the matters most, the perspective of most people living on it.

Areas with population density over 190 people per square kilometer.

[Hat tip: FlowingData]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach