The problem with map projections (and the reason for their variety) is that it is extremely difficult to portray the Earth’s curving 3D surface on a flat 2D map surface; some distortion is unavoidable.
Through various map projections, numerous geographers throughout history have attempted to address the distortion issue. The Robinson projection, which shows the entire world at once and compromises both area and angles, is an illustration of a pseudocylindrical projection.
In the Robinson map projection, the latitude lines are horizontally straight but the longitudinal lines are curved. As you move away from the map’s central meridian, the lines of longitude are shown as nonparallel, progressively curved lines.
A Compromise Map Projection
The Robinson map projection is what is known as a compromise map projection. This means that, while shapes, areas, distances, directions, and angles are all warped, the level of map distortion is quite modest across the majority of the map.
Area in the Robinson map projection increases with latitude but not with longitude.
An “Artistic” Map Projection
In 1961, Arthur H. Robinson created the Robinson Projection, which was designed more to make global maps “look correct” than to exactly measure anything. Many popular maps, including those from the National Geographic Society and the Rand McNally series, have utilized this now-common projection.
Arthur Robinson himself explains, “…I decided to go about it backwards. I started with a kind of artistic approach. I visualized the best-looking shapes and sizes. I worked with the variables until it got to the point where, if I changed one of them, it didn’t get any better. Then I figured out the mathematical formula to produce that effect. Most mapmakers start with the mathematics.”
Robinson originally called this map projection orthophanic which means “right appearing”. The name never stuck with this map projection.