"Discover Japan" Map of Japanese Rail Routes, May 2012

A handsome diagrammatic map of rail services throughout Japan, this one from an issue of the “Discover Japan” magazine (Vol. 21, Issue 4) that seemed to deal mainly with seeing Japan by train.

Without the benefit of a translation for the map’s legend, I’d guess that the thick green lines are Shinkansen lines, blue ones are regional trains and brown lines are local/other services (Update: @suldrew has let me know that it’s Green = Shinkansen, Blue = JR Rail routes, Brown = Other non-JR Rail routes).

Some of the route lines are a little unnecessarily wiggly for my liking, but there’s no doubt that this is a very accomplished piece of map design. Cleverly implemented insets for the greater Tokyo area and other islands make very effective use of the space on the page. I also really like the subtle wave pattern in the ocean/sea areas of the map, and the adorable little icon representing Mount Fuji.

Related: This isometric map of JR West rail services, one of my favourite transit maps ever!

(Source: T.Tokuma/Flickr)

Official Map: Tehran Metro, Iran

Tehran is not necessarily the first place you think of when it comes to an extensive, modern rapid transit system, but here it is. First opened in 1999, the system now boasts five lines (four rapid transit and one commuter rail), over 140 kilometres of track and carries more than 2 million passengers each day.

The map itself is fairly basic and workmanlike, although not unattractive in a blocky sort of way. It handles its requirement for bilingual labels (Persian and English) well, and the interchange markers are both unique and distinctive.

For such a diagrammatic map, there’s some uneven spacing between stations in places, and I’d probably have placed the labels and ticks for Razi and Rahahan stations on the light blue Line 3 on the left hand side of the line, rather than the right.

The map also understates the length of the green commuter rail line quite a lot — at over 40 kilometres long, it’s almost twice as long as any of the other lines, but is shown as being extremely short here. However, it definitely does allow the map to take on a more compact form.

Our rating: Basic and simple, but still effective enough. Two-and-a-half stars. 

2.5 Stars

(Source: Official Tehran Metro site)

Tokyo Metro: Trains of the Passnet Companies Collectible Farecard

Not a transit map, but too darn cute to not share with you.

From the same series of collectible Passnet cards as this nifty Tokyo Metro map, this card shows an adorably stylised train for each of the (22!) rail companies that participated in the Passnet program.

(Source: Rob Ketcherside/Flickr)

Unofficial Future Map: Singapore MRT/LRT by Bernie Ng

Submitted by Bernie, who says:

Hello Cameron,

I saw your recent post regarding future Singapore MRT/LRT maps and thought I’d throw mine into the ring. The Singapore MRT has long been one of my fave metro systems around the world. I like the concept of destination numbers and station numbers - I believe it is one of the first, if not the first, to use this concept (do let me know if that’s not quite right).  My approach for this map is to incorporate the station number into the station marker itself to avoid some of the clutter associated placing the station name AND the number alongside the station marker.  Also, I really wanted the Circle Line to be a circle, so I have adopted a few distortions to make that happen. Finally, I tried to incorporate geography of Singapore in a stylistic manner to further reinforce the circle motif.  I know this does not quite meet the professional standards I often see on this blog (this is drawn using Microsoft Visio), but let me know what you think all the same!

——

Transit Maps says:

I don’t know, Bernie — this looks pretty darn nice from what I can see!

The temptation to make any line called the “Circle Line” live up to its name is almost always too hard to resist! Sometimes the result can be a little forced or contrived, but I think you’ve done a nice job here — for the most part, the stations are spaced out pretty nicely. I particularly like the way you’ve managed to keep the purple North East Line perfectly straight while heading entirely in the direction its name implies.

Integrating the station code into the station marker is a good idea that removes clutter — reader Xavier Fung pointed out that the new official map does this as well — and the insets for the LRT systems also work well in simplifying the main map as well as providing greater detail for these services than the official map can. I also really like the stylish shell-like shape that the island of Singapore takes on: stylised but recognisable!

My few quibbles — the graduated grey background could be seen as representing fare zones. As Singapore uses a distance-based fare system, not a zonal one, this could cause a lot of unnecessary confusion. I also find the grey a little drab and overpowering — it seems to make the other colours used on the map a little duller as well.

Finally: Visio? Not my tool of choice, and you’re probably pushing it to the absolute limit of its capabilities, but this does look really, really good.

Our rating: Strong visual concept, nicely executed, a couple of well-thought out innovations. Colours could be brighter and more evocative of Singapore. Three-and-a-half stars.

3.5 Stars

P.S. See another excellent unofficial redesign of the Singapore MRT map here.

Unofficial Map: Singapore MRT by Andrew Smithers

As promised, here’s an unofficial map of Singapore’s rail transit that takes the future extensions and integrates them far more effectively and attractively than the official future map. This map was created by Andrew Smithers, who runs the quite excellent Project Mapping website — well worth losing a few hours to all the maps he has over there!

Immediately, you can see how design is used to simplify and clarify the routes — the Thomson Line becomes a north-south axis for the map, while the new Downtown Line now describes a perfect diamond-shaped loop. This motif is echoed beautifully by the larger loop of the yellow Circle Line — which visually lives up to its name far more here than on the official map — and even by little double-crossover between the Downtown and North East lines at the bottom centre of the map. Repetition of design themes in a transit map is a lovely thing, and it really helps to hold a map together thematically.

That’s not to say that everything is perfect, however. The station codes — used to help non-English speakers buy tickets and navigate the system — are just as problematic here as they are on the official map. Andrew has opted to place them on the opposite side of the route line to the station name; while it works well in the less-crowded parts of the map, it can get a little messy in places, especially where the Downtown Line runs close to the North East and Circle Lines in the densest part of the map (just to the right of centre).

Our rating: A lovely example of how repeated design elements can thematically tie a map together. Four stars.

4 Stars!

(Source: Via email discussion with Andrew) 

Future Map: Singapore MRT with Future Extensions

I reviewed the official Singapore MRT map back in January 2012, and was generally in favour of it (giving it four stars). So it’s interesting to look at this version of the map, which includes extensions that are currently under construction or in the final stages of planning. There are two entirely new lines — the blue Downtown Line and the brown Thomson Line, as well as an eastern extension to the green East-West Line. There’s also a new light rail loop being added to the far north-eastern sector of the city.

The problem with this map is that the new lines have simply been overlaid on top of the existing older version, and they then have to take some very strange and visually unattractive routes to “join the dots” where they interchange with existing stations. The dashed “under construction” lines also align poorly with station ticks, leaving some of them floating in space between dashes. Finally, the downtown area is also becoming a little tangled and cramped because of all the new additions.

This map still does a very good job, and is still a very competently executed piece. However, some more thought about how to restructure it so that the new lines could be better integrated would definitely have been welcome.

As it happens, I have an unofficial map that definitely does consider how to incorporate the new lines in a more thoughtful manner… but you’ll have to wait for my next post to see it!

Our rating: The original map provides a solid base, but the new additions really aren’t integrated with much thought. A downgrade to three stars.

3 Stars

(Source: Singapore Land Transport Authority website)

Unofficial Map: Beijing Subway by Cameron Hughes

Submitted by slutzilla, who says:

Hi Cameron, fellow Cameron here! I recently redesigned the Beijing Subway map for an Information Design class (as well as doing a little bit of rebranding and signage/wayfinding design). It’s still a work in progress so I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! You can view the entire project as well as a full-size PDF here.

——

Transit Maps says:

Looks like an interesting (and somewhat daunting) project! I think you’ve hit the right notes with the logo — the colours are very well chosen and the type is suitably bouncy and friendly. I do wonder whether the Beijing subway would ever actually adopt a logo using an English acronym made out of English characters, but I’ll let that slide because I like it. I especially like the cropped application of it on the subway fare card… nice!

But on to the map.

Other Cameron said that she made it for an Information Design class, so let’s approach it from that point of view. For me, while the map looks very pleasant at first glance, there’s quite a few serious problems that hinder its usefulness as a piece of informational design.

First — and an absolute deal-breaker in my eyes — is that the size of the type is way too small. The PDF of the map is set up at poster size: 36 inches wide by 45 inches deep. Yet the labels for the stations are set in 7-point type. That’s as small as the type on the sports results pages or those disclaimers at the bottom of car ads in a newspaper! It’s barely readable at a close distance, and absolutely invisible in a real world setting — at a station, or inside a moving, crowded subway car. By comparison, if the Washington DC map was at the same width as this poster, the station labels would be set at approximately 26 points, or over three-and-a-half times larger!

Another huge problem is the lack of identifiers on the map that link the route lines to the map’s legend. Each line should have its number or name denoted on the map so that people can cross-reference it to the legend. At the moment, you have to rely solely on colour to determine which line runs where, and that is Not A Good Thing. Even for non-colour-blind users, there’s a quite a few similar-looking colours on the map, as you’d expect with 17 operating lines and five future ones. Once you introduce colour-blindness into the equation, the map is basically useless. Cameron already has line number icons created as part of her wayfinding system, so it shouldn’t be a problem to add them to the map.

SIDE NOTE: Did you know you can simulate colour-blindness in Adobe Photoshop CS4 and above? Simply choose: View menu > Proof Setup > Color Blindness - Protanopia-type or Color Blindness - Deuteranopia-type. I definitely recommend this as a testing step in any information design work!

The map prominently features background concentric rings, but doesn’t tell you what they are. Reading Cameron’s summary of the project, I found out that they’re meant to represent Beijing’s system of ring roads. However, this type of shading is almost always used on transit maps to represent fare zones, so there’s huge potential for confusion here (For the record, Beijing has a flat fare of 2¥ across the entire subway, except for the Airport Express, which costs 25¥). The rings also interfere with the underlying checkerboard pattern for the map’s grid, making it harder to use.

Speaking of the Airport Express, it would be a good idea to indicate that the train goes to Terminal 3 first, then Terminal 2, then back to Beijing.

A few other notes not related to the informational aspect of the map:

I’d prefer to see the three boxes at the bottom of the map combined into one larger one, just for a cleaner, more unified look.

Because of the concentric rings, the map is crying out to be centred horizontally on the page. At the moment, it’s too far to the left, but only because the subway logo at the top right is so large.

I also feel the icons need a little bit more work to unify them. At the moment, most of them are flat, front-on representations, but the “Temple of Heaven” and the “789 Space” icons have a three-dimensional feel to them that separates them from the rest, while the “Beijing Zoo” icon looks uncomfortably like Cameron has just flipped the World Wildlife Fund logo horizontally. While the actual Beijing Zoo logo also features a similar-looking panda, this icon needs some of its own unique character to stand apart from either of these logos.

Finally, I feel like the “circle/rings” motif could be pushed a little further. The further out from the middle of the map we get, the less that the route lines adhere to this design idea. The north-east and south-west sections of the purple Line 14 stand out the most: they follow a curve, but it’s not related to the main set of rings.

At the moment, this map seems to me to be a bit of style over substance. It looks clean, fresh and modern, but has some serious usability issues when you look at it from a information design viewpoint. 

Historical Map: Japanese Match Box Cover, date unknown (1920s?)
Beautiful vintage match box cover with a little map showing the location of the “Fuji Restaurant” relative to the nearby streetcar line.
(Source: maraid/Flickr)

Historical Map: Japanese Match Box Cover, date unknown (1920s?)

Beautiful vintage match box cover with a little map showing the location of the “Fuji Restaurant” relative to the nearby streetcar line.

(Source: maraid/Flickr)

Official Map: Isometric JR West System Map
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so completely, madly and totally in love with a transit map as I am with this. A giant, sprawling, isometric representation of much of Japan showing JR Group railway lines. The map is produced by the JR West company, and its operating area is shown in full detail within the green area (apart from the heavily urbanised areas around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, where — wisely — not all stations are shown). Connecting services and routes operated outside the JR West area are also shown, but in less detail — only major stations along the routes are indicated. Shinkansen lines are light blue, JR West main line routes are dark blue (main line routes outside their operating area match the company that operates in that area - red for JR Kyushu, for example), while urban routes seem to follow their established colour-coding.
As can be seen from the two detail images from the area around Osaka, there’s both an English and Japanese version of the map. The Japanese version is arguably more effective because of the in-built ability to set the text vertically, but the English version isn’t half bad either. I particularly like the way the line names have been set to conform to the isometric grid — a very nice design touch.
Our rating: I like to imagine that this is the world map from some incredible railroad-building computer game. 5 stars!

(Source: Official JR West website) Official Map: Isometric JR West System Map
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so completely, madly and totally in love with a transit map as I am with this. A giant, sprawling, isometric representation of much of Japan showing JR Group railway lines. The map is produced by the JR West company, and its operating area is shown in full detail within the green area (apart from the heavily urbanised areas around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, where — wisely — not all stations are shown). Connecting services and routes operated outside the JR West area are also shown, but in less detail — only major stations along the routes are indicated. Shinkansen lines are light blue, JR West main line routes are dark blue (main line routes outside their operating area match the company that operates in that area - red for JR Kyushu, for example), while urban routes seem to follow their established colour-coding.
As can be seen from the two detail images from the area around Osaka, there’s both an English and Japanese version of the map. The Japanese version is arguably more effective because of the in-built ability to set the text vertically, but the English version isn’t half bad either. I particularly like the way the line names have been set to conform to the isometric grid — a very nice design touch.
Our rating: I like to imagine that this is the world map from some incredible railroad-building computer game. 5 stars!

(Source: Official JR West website) Official Map: Isometric JR West System Map
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so completely, madly and totally in love with a transit map as I am with this. A giant, sprawling, isometric representation of much of Japan showing JR Group railway lines. The map is produced by the JR West company, and its operating area is shown in full detail within the green area (apart from the heavily urbanised areas around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, where — wisely — not all stations are shown). Connecting services and routes operated outside the JR West area are also shown, but in less detail — only major stations along the routes are indicated. Shinkansen lines are light blue, JR West main line routes are dark blue (main line routes outside their operating area match the company that operates in that area - red for JR Kyushu, for example), while urban routes seem to follow their established colour-coding.
As can be seen from the two detail images from the area around Osaka, there’s both an English and Japanese version of the map. The Japanese version is arguably more effective because of the in-built ability to set the text vertically, but the English version isn’t half bad either. I particularly like the way the line names have been set to conform to the isometric grid — a very nice design touch.
Our rating: I like to imagine that this is the world map from some incredible railroad-building computer game. 5 stars!

(Source: Official JR West website) Official Map: Isometric JR West System Map
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so completely, madly and totally in love with a transit map as I am with this. A giant, sprawling, isometric representation of much of Japan showing JR Group railway lines. The map is produced by the JR West company, and its operating area is shown in full detail within the green area (apart from the heavily urbanised areas around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, where — wisely — not all stations are shown). Connecting services and routes operated outside the JR West area are also shown, but in less detail — only major stations along the routes are indicated. Shinkansen lines are light blue, JR West main line routes are dark blue (main line routes outside their operating area match the company that operates in that area - red for JR Kyushu, for example), while urban routes seem to follow their established colour-coding.
As can be seen from the two detail images from the area around Osaka, there’s both an English and Japanese version of the map. The Japanese version is arguably more effective because of the in-built ability to set the text vertically, but the English version isn’t half bad either. I particularly like the way the line names have been set to conform to the isometric grid — a very nice design touch.
Our rating: I like to imagine that this is the world map from some incredible railroad-building computer game. 5 stars!

(Source: Official JR West website) Official Map: Isometric JR West System Map
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so completely, madly and totally in love with a transit map as I am with this. A giant, sprawling, isometric representation of much of Japan showing JR Group railway lines. The map is produced by the JR West company, and its operating area is shown in full detail within the green area (apart from the heavily urbanised areas around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, where — wisely — not all stations are shown). Connecting services and routes operated outside the JR West area are also shown, but in less detail — only major stations along the routes are indicated. Shinkansen lines are light blue, JR West main line routes are dark blue (main line routes outside their operating area match the company that operates in that area - red for JR Kyushu, for example), while urban routes seem to follow their established colour-coding.
As can be seen from the two detail images from the area around Osaka, there’s both an English and Japanese version of the map. The Japanese version is arguably more effective because of the in-built ability to set the text vertically, but the English version isn’t half bad either. I particularly like the way the line names have been set to conform to the isometric grid — a very nice design touch.
Our rating: I like to imagine that this is the world map from some incredible railroad-building computer game. 5 stars!

(Source: Official JR West website)

Official Map: Isometric JR West System Map

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so completely, madly and totally in love with a transit map as I am with this. A giant, sprawling, isometric representation of much of Japan showing JR Group railway lines. The map is produced by the JR West company, and its operating area is shown in full detail within the green area (apart from the heavily urbanised areas around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, where — wisely — not all stations are shown). Connecting services and routes operated outside the JR West area are also shown, but in less detail — only major stations along the routes are indicated. Shinkansen lines are light blue, JR West main line routes are dark blue (main line routes outside their operating area match the company that operates in that area - red for JR Kyushu, for example), while urban routes seem to follow their established colour-coding.

As can be seen from the two detail images from the area around Osaka, there’s both an English and Japanese version of the map. The Japanese version is arguably more effective because of the in-built ability to set the text vertically, but the English version isn’t half bad either. I particularly like the way the line names have been set to conform to the isometric grid — a very nice design touch.

Our rating: I like to imagine that this is the world map from some incredible railroad-building computer game. 5 stars!

5 Stars!

(Source: Official JR West website)

Historical Map: Tramways and Trolley Bus Routes of Shanghai, 1939

At first glance, this appears to be a basic map outlining tram and trolley bus routes within Shanghai’s International Settlement, dated December 1939. It’s only when you read the legend that you start to realise the greater historical context of this map.

The statement that accompanies the dotted route lines in the legend simply states "No service in operation at present due to circumstances beyond the company’s control" — an massive understatement of the volatile situation in Shanghai at that time.

It’s just two years after the brutal Battle of Shanghai, and the Chinese parts of the city outside the International Settlement and French Concession are fully occupied by invading Japanese forces. Fighting between the Japanese and Chinese revolutionaries often spilled over the (supposedly neutral) settlements’ borders, which probably explains the reluctance of the transit company to guarantee service.

In 1941, the Japanese army entered and occupied the International Settlement in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor — the long-running Sino-Japanese war was now absorbed into the Pacific front of World War II.

Our rating: Not an amazing map of itself, but the history that it hints at is fascinating and deserves to be better known. 5 stars!

5 Stars!

(Source: Virtual Shanghai website via Taras Grescoe)