Underground Maps Unravelled, Explorations in Information Design
by Maxwell J. Roberts
Travel by public transport in any city around the world, and the chances are that sooner or later you will find a stylised map whose routes have been drawn as straight lines – horizontal, vertical, or 45º diagonals – joined by tight corners. The geography has been considerably distorted, and most of the surface details are missing, but the people who produced the map hope that you will find it easy to understand, and that it will encourage you to make use of the network more often.
Schematic maps are commonplace, not just in trains and stations, but in art galleries and souvenir shops worldwide. They have become part of popular culture, but how successfully are designers achieving their basic objectives: do these maps really make life easier for passengers? This book is the result of over ten years of investigation by
a psychologist, exploring the fundamentals of usability.
Too many schematic maps are not fit for purpose, commissioned by managers or created by designers who blindly follow tradition, lacking the ability or inclination to test the work in objective usability studies, and who do not understand how people identify and interpret information in order to make sense of their surroundings. Either such maps are poorly optimised, or else inappropriate design rules have been chosen, incompatible with the structure of the networks that are being mapped.
This book gives an in-depth analysis of how schematic maps assist the user, when they fail, and the psychological theories that explain why. It asks whether traditional design techniques are suited to today’s complex networks, and explores what happens when the rules are broken. The result is an astonishing collection of maps for cities worldwide that challenge preconceptions about the nature of effective design.
Whether you are a graphic designer, transport professional, or just a frustrated commuter, maps will never seem quite the same again.
- 224 pages with full colour illustrations on every spread
- A unique work that integrates psychology, graphic design, and cartography
- Investigates the information design context in which schematic maps developed
- Gives an overview of the criteria for effective design based upon psychological findings and theories
- Many original illustrations and previously unpublished designs
- Many historic and unpublished designs recreated using vector graphics
- Lively thought-provoking commentary on the nature of good design
- Includes in-depth studies of New York, Washington, DC, Paris, Madrid, and Berlin
“This is a sensational book that promises to become a milestone for studies into transportation maps. It is much more than a book about subway diagrams, it is about the very essence of graphic design, expressed as the interaction between information and visual discipline. It will have significant impact on the teaching of design in the new digital era, where more articulate design fundamentals could provide better results.” Massimo Vignelli
- Part 1: The Search for Simplicity. Surveys the historical context of signage, publicity, and the cartographic traditions that preceded the development of schematic maps in London – what needed to be simplified and why – culminating with the publication of Beck’s first designs of 1933.
- Part 2: Seeking a standard. Investigates early explorations of the space of possibilities. With few precedents, educated guesswork was necessary in order to identify good ideas and eliminate bad ones. These successes and failures broadly led to the development of today’s ideas of best practice.
- Part 3: Testing Times. Looks at more recent developments, charting how increased network complexity challenges designers.
- Part 4: Inevitable Excellence. Draws the strands together to form the beginnings of a theory of good design, based upon psychological findings rather than hunches or folklore.
- Part 5: Breaking the Rules. The experimentation begins: the goals of the designer are not necessarily achievable by using horizontal, vertical, and 45º diagonal lines. The London Underground map is redesigned in numerous ways, many never attempted before.
- Part 6: International Transfer. Investigates networks worldwide, each with its own traditions and challenges.
- Part 7: The Art of Maps. Draws the strands back together again, ending with suggestions for future directions.
- Index and Bibliography.
“This 224-page casebound book contains high-quality graphics throughout. Astonishingly, for someone with no graphic or cartographic training, the author has created what can only be described as masterpieces of design and beauty. He equally has created some truly vile monsters – just to illustrate, good and bad, what can be achieved but remaining within ‘the rules’. There is enough here to make your jaw drop and your eyes burst.” Douglas Rose
Published by the author, July 2012, 224 pages, 276 x 240 mm, £45.00, ISBN 978-0-9572664-0-7.