New Adobe Illustrator “Join Tool” Aids Transit Map Design!

When Adobe Illustrator CC introduced “Live Corners" in January of this year, I was overjoyed. They’d taken one of the most time-consuming and tedious tasks in transit mapping – generating properly nested sets of rounded corners where route lines changed direction – and turned it into something intuitive, quick and 100-precent accurate every time.

However, it didn’t solve every problem. Joining two separate paths into one (so that Live Corners could be applied to the new corner point) was still a laborious task that involved using the Scissors tool and hoping that it snapped to the paths properly, or a lot of manual pulling and pushing of endpoints until the two points aligned precisely (and it had to be precise, or you’d end up with two points very close to each other, one of which would have to be deleted before Live Corners could be used).

Despite their name, Illustrator’s Pathfinder tools actually do a lousy job with unclosed paths: only one of them –  Outline – works at all, and even then it strips all stroke attributes from the path in the process. So they’re not the answer, either.

However, the October update to Illustrator CC 2014 (version 18.1, if you’re keeping track) introduced the new “Join Tool” that hides away underneath the Pencil tool, as seen in the first picture above: and it’s simply fantastic.

Simply select the two paths you want to join, and then just lazily swipe over the bits of the paths that you want to be eliminated, as shown by the arrow in the second picture. That’s it! Because you’ve selected what you want to tool to affect, it doesn’t do anything to other paths nearby, like the cyan paths in the example shown.

As you can see in the third picture, Illustrator has instantly joined the two paths with a single point, that (in all my experiments at least) is exactly where it should be. It does also add some bezier anchors even though the paths are completely straight, which doesn’t seem to affect the subsequent application of Live Corners (picture 4). If it really bothers you or you like super-clean artwork (like me!), then you can click on the point with the Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) to get rid of them before any further editing.

My Highways of the USA map got a great write up today by Kenneth Field as part of his “MapCarte” series, where he writes about influential and beautiful maps: one map a day for a whole year. My map was No. 273 in the series, and is one of the very few schematic transit maps featured so far in the series (MapCarte No.1, way back at the beginning of the year was Beck’s original 1933 Underground Map).

I’ll also note that Kenneth is definitely not a huge fan of anything he perceives as an unoriginal Tube Map clone, so to rise above the cliche in his eyes is definitely noteworthy.

Go and read the review yourself, but I will close with this quote from it, which sums up everything that’s important about my map to me in just a few sentences:

…the map is a harmonious work, that while containing a strong nod to the subway genre, makes use of the style and form to support a clear design requirement. The attention to detail is meticulous which illustrates the importance of ensuring every last element of your map is given due consideration.

Visual harmony + Design that supports function + Attention to detail = my perfect map.

Historical Map: “Visitor’s London” Tourist Map and Guide, 1959

The inset central zone London Underground map is a black and white version of Beck’s diagram from the same year, but really, this is all about the fantastic illustrations (by Peter Roberson) and groovy mid-century graphic design. There’s only two colours used here – black and pink – but they’ve been used in a very striking and eye-catching way.

I wonder what was on the reverse of this?

Source: smallritual/Flickr


A Note on the Making of Oklahoma City’s Transit Map

I recently had a pleasure of designing a system map for EMBARK, Oklahoma City’s transit agency. The network is being made both more frequent and more direct to meet a growing demand. Oklahoma City is often compared to Austin, Texas for their effort to re-imagine the state’s biggest city to be less car-depended and more human-scale and user-friendly. I’m proud to be a part of that evolution.

Download EMBARK system map brochure (PDF)

I didn’t want to move away from geographically-accurate representation completely, but rather settle somewhere in between: The map is not quite a GIS-overlay, but neither it is a subway-style diagrammatic map. This hybrid approach had already been deployed  by Kick Map ( and CHK America elsewhere (see the map CHK America created for Spokane Transit). I wanted to replicate the simplicity and usability of those maps.

 Oklahoma City’s gridded geography naturally fits that format.

The map’s layout is based on a modular grid. Each module is about 100  points across, which roughly corresponds to the city’s one-mile mega block, which consists of regular-sized blocks bound by arterial roads:

Taking advantage of the existing geography, I started it out with 45 and 90-degree angles, but had to add additional increments to follow the geography more closely:

Because buses do not run on every street, it made sense to only label the transit streets and the streets leading up to them. Rest of geographic features were allowed to “fade away”: 

Finally, icons play a major role in calling out major destinations located along bus routes. Visually unified with the brand style, they  work just as well at small sizes as they do at big sizes:

Download EMBARK system map brochure (PDF)

Can’t believe I haven’t reblogged this already. Great overview of the process behind a new, stylish, modern, usable system map for a smaller transit agency.

My favourite thing – and something map designers need to always bear in mind – is the beautiful, simple icons used. Icons on a map often have to work at very small sizes, so each one needs its own distinctive “shape” to quickly differentiate between them. The “squint test” is always a good thing to do: print your icons out, put them a decent distance away and look at them through half-closed eyes. If you can still identify each icon’s basic shape or outline, you’re in business. If they all just start looking like a generic blob… it’s time to redesign and refine!

jmuys Asked
QuestionWhat typeface did you use for your US maps? So beautiful! Answer

It’s Adobe’s open-source (i.e., free to download and use) Source Sans Pro. And yes, it is rather lovely!

Historical Map: Working Sketch for 1979 New York Subway Map by Nobu Siraisi

As you might probably guess, I’m not really that fond of the current New York Subway map, although its longevity is certainly to be respected. It was first revealed to the public in 1979, and — despite revisions, service changes and disasters — has remained pretty much the same ever since.

However, this preliminary sketch by designer Nobu Siraisi, collaborating with Michael Hertz on that map, is nothing short of delightful. It looks like it was made in an effort to untangle the web of route lines around the busy Atlantic Avenue station with an eye on label placement as well. Note that the label for Grand Army Plaza station has been erased from the right hand side of the route lines and redrawn to the left. It’s also interesting to see just how much cleaner and legible even this spaghetti-strand map is without the underlying street grid of the full map.

The interview in the Gothamist that this image came from is definitely worth reading, although Michael Hertz certainly has a very rose-tinted view of how his map replaced the Vignelli diagram that came before it.

Source: Gothamist interview with Michael Hertz in 2007, via Aaron Reiss (Twitter)

Highways Project Print Sample!

I got my first test print back from the printers today: a sample of the Texas map. Basically, I’m ecstatic with the way things are looking – all the research and effort I’ve put into this over the last one-and-a-half years is so, so worth it. Just a few more little behind the scenes things to put into place and I’ll be ready to share this project with you all.

Have I mentioned that I’m excited?

For comparison purposes, here’s some original concept work that shows the same area around San Antonio from way back in June 2012 – things have come a long way since then!

  1. Camera: Canon EOS 7D
  2. Aperture: f/3.5
  3. Exposure: 1/60th
  4. Focal Length: 75mm

Graphic Fix: Change Background Color of Text Box in Illustrator

Problem: My Kentucky Ave label overlaps with objects below it, resulting in a cluttered appearance. Turns out, there is a super easy fix for something like this!

1.Create the Area Text (text box).
2. Select the Area Text with the Direct Selection Tool (white arrow). 
3. In the Appearance panel select desired background fill color and adjust Transparency to your heart’s content.  Your labels should now look like the Western Ave label on the picture. 
4. With the text frame selected, drag and drop the new Fill onto the Graphic Styles panel to re-use it later. 


Transit Maps says:

This is a great tip for people who use Area Text in Illustrator — that is, dragging out a text box for type to fit into, rather than just clicking once to use Point Type. The crux of this tip is using the Direct Selection tool to select the text frame only, otherwise Illustrator wants to apply the fill to the type contained within it. Silly old Illustrator!

If you’re like me, and you don’t like to use the Area Type tool, you can always position a new frame beneath your type and apply the required fill/transparency to that instead.

An alternative way to separate your type from an object that it overlaps would be to apply a stroke to your text, which I covered in this post back in November.

Anonymous Asked
QuestionCould you do a discussion of font choice. Examples of good, bad, cool & unusual. Maybe even your top 5 or 10. Answer

I actually dealt pretty comprehensively with type in transit maps in a series early last year:

If I had to pick some favourites, I’d probably have to go with DIN, Frutiger, Myriad Pro (if only for the variety of widths it comes in), FF Meta (in its lighter weights) and Source Sans Pro, an open-source, free-to-use typeface from Adobe. Helvetica, although much-used, actually has some legibility issues at smaller sizes that make it somewhat unsuited for this use.

In general, the best typefaces for transit maps and wayfinding are clear and legible, with good differentiation between similar characters. A good test is to see if “1”, “l” and “I” look different to each other (that’s a numeral “one”, a lower-case “L” and a capital “i”, if you can’t tell them apart).

Tutorial: Using Illustrator or Photoshop to Check Your Design for Colour-Blind Accessibility

Here’s a simple little trick that works in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop CS4 and above: You can quickly check your artwork to see how it might appear for a colour-blind user by simply going to the View menu > Proof Setup, then choosing one of the two colour-blind profiles at the bottom of the list. Then select View > Proof Colors (Cmd/Ctrl-Y in Photoshop).

As you can see from the GIF above, the results can be quite startling: everything becomes varying shades of blue and an ugly, muddy yellow. It definitely shows why identification of different routes (either by naming them directly on the map, or by using a clear legend) is so important. Another thing to bear in mind is the contrast between parallel route lines: more contrast means that they are easier to trace from end to end with a minimum of confusion, regardless of the user’s vision.

I definitely recommend adding this simple test to your workflow: it may not be completely accurate for every variation of colour-blindness, but it will give you a quick overview so that your design can be better informed.

See also this post from November 2011, where I compared the colour-blindness accessibility of different transit maps.

EDIT: An earlier version of this post only mentioned proofing in Photoshop, neglecting the fact you can do the exact same thing in Illustrator. Thanks to Oran Viriyincy and Xavier Fung for reminding me about this.