I just left the Stamen studio where I had a brief chat with founder and CEO Eric Rodenbeck. He enthusiastically showed me their newest work: maps.stamen.com. As part of the CityTracking project, the savvy folks at Stamen have put create three sets of map tiles to be used with OpenStreetMap data. These tiles are not your average map using custom colored vector paths. Instead Eric and his team tried to push the boundaries of what we consider feasible in mapping on the web.
Toner is a high-contrast black and white tile set that is optimized to focus on the actual shapes found in maps without being distracted by a plethora of colored lines and areas. Eric mentioned that working with simplified maps like these, allows the creator to focus on the actual information that is represented on multiple levels to find the right balance between no information and an overload thereof.
Watercolor is what got me really excited: The watercolor tiles were created by applying raster effect area washes and organic edges over a paper texture. What started as an exploration of how water color behaves eventually was automated and simulated by the awesome work of Zach Watson. He would actually describe the process rather as faking than simulating, but the outcome is what counts.
Along the demo of the maps, Stamen also provides simple instructions how to use them with you favorite mapping framework like ModestMaps, Leaflet or Google Maps. They are available under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 3.0) license.
Stamen is a design and technology studio based in San Francisco.