Design Story: Maps of Belfast

by Belfast Design Week

A few years ago, before the first Belfast Design Week, we brought a map to life called "Another Belfast.” A team of designers and design enthusiasts from The Design Salon (including some of us co-ordinating Design Week) wanted to show a different dimension to Belfast. We wanted to explore the independent places and spaces, the unsung heroes of our city, some well known and others less so. From dumpling shops to record stores, Another Belfast captured the city’s imagination and we soon found the bright orange map tacked up on people’s office walls, distributed on tours and shared amongst friends. Since then, there have been a diverse range of design-led maps which have come to life, started by local entrepreneurs passionate about our region and excited about sharing the things they love most. Maps are design objects but also a snapshot of a moment in time, capturing the mood or atmosphere of a place and becoming a part of its future heritage.

Here are a few of our favourites.


“Belfast Gin Map is an independent pocket-guide to gin in the city. Like all good ideas, it was first imagined over a gin! It was July 2017 and I was in Washington DC on secondment.  Some exciting things had been happening in the gin scene at home-  an incredible array of local distilleries had emerged and I had brought a number of special bottles with me as gifts for my hosts in the USA. When discussing the gins with people in the States (and feeling the pangs of homesickness!), it struck me that we have a really special offer in Belfast – an amazing cluster of high end cocktail and gin bars within walking distance of each other! So, the vision was simple: to showcase and celebrate the best of Belfast's emerging gin scene. It was important to me that the map was authentically of this city so I thought carefully about who to partner with on the project and the launch event. I’m so glad that I did. It was really affirming to meet with so many local artists, photographers, mixologists and – of course- distillers as part of the process. I felt really proud of Northern Ireland! 

Since the Gin Map launched in June of this year, there has been a really quick momentum in follower growth on the Instagram channel. Interestingly, a lot of visitors to the website who buy maps are from outside of Northern Ireland so I’ve been amazed at the popularity of the map with tourists. Most amusingly, I was invited to tour around a group of Canadian travel bloggers who were in Belfast to shoot a TV show. I didn’t realise that I would be in front of the camera so, who knows, perhaps there will be an influx of Canadians seeking gin tours in 2019!  The future of the map is a mystery. The idea was create a beautiful, coffee-table guide to gin in the city and that has been achieved. What happens next will be an adventure and, based on the inspiring people that have taken an interest in the project so far, I’m confident it will be a lot of fun!”



“At NI Coffee Maps we launched our first Belfast Coffee Map in May 2017. This was followed a year later by its second edition, along with the first Causeway Coast Coffee Map in May 2018. At the centre of what we do is a love for speciality coffee and a love for the place we call home.  The coffee sector in Northern Ireland has flourished in the past 5 years and the culture curated by the coffee shops owners, roasters, small artisanal business owners, and their encouraging and engaging customers has forged a new narrative about the people and the places within these shores.  As guides to both local and visitor, our maps help point the discerning coffee drinker to some of our country's best coffee in some of its most beautiful places."



As well as having a background in the History of Art and Architecture, a lot of the graphic design work that I do is in the visual arts and cultural sectors. On moving to Belfast in 2016, I was thinking of doing a personal project to help me get to know the city, and to get my work out there too. While I considered doing an Art Map, I felt that I lacked a firm understanding of the local visual arts scene and that I couldn't do it justice as a result. So with that idea back on the shelf, it was by perfect chance that members of Belfast Visual Arts Forum, backed by Belfast City Council, contacted me about designing a Belfast Art Map that they were collating information for. Now, with two editions under our belt, we're currently working on a new edition due to be published and distributed in November.

Its huge popularity – both with local people and tourists alike – has been brilliant to see. The map is free, and with wide distribution across galleries, cafes and bus and train stations, it is reaching far and wide. It's continued success, and now annual refreshes, are a testament to the great institutions featured on the map, as well as people's growing interest in a wide range of brilliant things happening in the art world in Belfast. I'm very happy to be a part of it all. 



Free Belfast is the first project of People Make Design - a collaboration of two local multidisciplinary designers, Karishma Kusurkar and Judith Gordon. It is a bi-monthly issue highlighting a varied list of free events throughout the city and includes a map of locations and a ‘Colour Me In’ image. The aim is to promote inclusion for all and encourage people to look after their mental health and well-being by ‘joining in’ and engaging in activities provided for free.

This idea was initially born out of a design thinking workshop working with refugees and asylum seekers here in Northern Ireland. Some of the issues highlighted were; feeling isolated; not knowing the local area and limited integration with the local community.  Local government and other agencies are working to solve these problems directly but realising that many other people in the community can be affected in the same way we decided to curate a map of Free events happening in the city available to all.  So far, we’ve had a great response.  We are keen to promote cool free things taking place in Belfast in future months and we’d love to share people’s completed ‘Colour Me In’ images and find out more about the events they enjoyed the most.


Find out more about the maps featured in this article:

Have you any other favourite design-led maps? Get in touch!