Work in Progress: Label Placement
Still going with the big project! I’m getting really serious about the accuracy of label placement now, as you can see from this screenshot. The light blue guide lines (they’re drawn lines, not Illustrator guides) use a global colour that occurs nowhere else in the document, so I can easily select and delete them all when I’m done (There are literally thousands of labels on the full map). I’ve set up master labels for all eight cardinal positions, and all the other different situations for labels as well, including cities where multiple lines intersect.
When I need a label, I copy and paste it into my main document and simply snap the guides to a station marker: right away, I know it’s in the correct position, no guesswork involved. Then I type in the name for the label and nudge it left or right until the text lines up precisely with the the outer guide. Don’t think you can simply align your type perfectly based on the type point: each letter is different and will require some adjustment!
Of course, there’ll always be some places where these master placement rules will have to be broken, but these guides will give me instant visual confirmation that the rules have been broken, which can only help!
Note that the guides for the type on the left of the route line in this example align with the cap height, not the height of the lower case ascenders (which are a little taller than the cap height).
Oh, and check out my Layers palette, too: nice and neat and hierarchically organised!
A Better Denver RTD Strip Map?
People have already asked me what I’d do to make the Denver RTD strip map better. Well, here’s what I’ve come up with in five minutes flat. Even from this quick little “art director’s sketch”, I’m pretty certain that this concept would work better than the current iteration.
Once a transit system is past a certain size or complexity, some level of abstraction on these narrow oddly-shaped strip maps is a necessity. Once the rider is actually on the train, the most important information that they need is “how many stops until I get off/change trains”, not the physical reality of the system. Extraneous information like fare zones and street grids can be stripped out, leaving only the vital information behind.
Non-Entry for the MBTA “New Perspectives” Map Challenge
I love the idea of re-designing Boston’s clunky quasi-decipherable Rapid Transit Map. When I heard that the T was putting together a challenge to re-design the map I seized the opportunity. My enthusiasm cooled once I read the fine-print, but more on that later. I spent the weekend tweaking Bezier curves and aligning dots (so many damn dots), using references like Google maps and subway maps from around the world and came up with this.Notably absent from the current map is any green space or any of evidence that humans live and work here. Olmsted’s parks have the decidedly un-manly name of “The Emerald Necklace” which I why I suspect they are absent from the current map. The parks really are a treasure though, and some believe that Franklin Park is Olmsted’s masterpiece trumping his more famous Central Park in New York. ( I confess that I have never been there, though I try to ride my bike to the Arboretum every summer). I did my best to tweak the parks’ geography to the rigidity of the map, as well as keeping them to scale with the Common and Rose Kennedy Greenway.
I named relevant waterways and some government buildings and landmarks. The choice not to overdo it with too many of them is a conscious one. The downtown region where all the lines meet is busy enough already that I simply could not include certain important landmarks. Also, station names that match locations like “Museum of Fine Arts” and “Aquarium” already do the job.The handicap accessibility symbol is necessary but also robs any map of rhythm and intent. My work-around was to create descriptive keys for each major lines listing the sub-lines and their teminuses (termini?) with a statement identifying stations that do not have accessibility. The Red Line only has one non-accessible station, the Blue Line -two. The Silver and Orange Lines have access to all of their stops. I feel this solution is an aesthetically stronger choice than to have the symbol at every accessible stop.The Green Line, however, requires such identification because the inaccessible stops outnumber the accessible ones. I’m not sure how ADA-compliant my idea is in the real world.
Also, naming all of the stops on the Green Line became important. Easy enough to do with the C, D, and (especially) the E lines. The B-Line with its super long names and
1918(!) stops proved a challenge. I’m guilty here of omission and abbreviation (The “Griggs St/Long Ave” stop is now just “Griggs St”) but -hey- the T really should shorten those names. While they’re at it, they should eliminate some stops if they can.
I also took liberties with the names of the Silver Line, um, lines. “S1” simply fits better on a map than “SL1”. Personally, I think it looks better too and is potentially less confusing for the commuter.
So there it is… I would say that its kind of a love letter to this place that I have lived in for 12 years, but that’s over-stating it. It was just wicked fun.
Creating something and then surrendering copyright is tantamount to Work for Hire. With this ‘challenge’ (note, they are shrewdly not calling it a contest), the T wants Work for Hire… for Free. It’s unclear what the incentive is to enter the challenge if there are no prizes and especially if, according to T spokeswoman Kelly Smith:
“Replacing all of the maps in the MBTA system would represent a significant expense and not one that is being contemplated at this time.”
So, from here it seems that the T is claiming copyright on all the entries so when they do re-design the system map, they can pick and choose great ideas from each without compensating anyone for them. Classy!
Even the perpetually cash-strapped T can throw a bone to graphic designers that need to put in at least a weekend of work to make something look decent. If they really, really wanted designers to care, they could put some meat on that bone. I ride the commuter rail 4 days a week… I’ll take a yearly pass. I’m not alone in thinking this. In fact, American Institute of Graphic Arts points out that designers should never provide anything of value if they are paid nothing of value. So, T… pay for quality graphic design. Oh, and get rid of “forward funding” to finance yourself. That’s just common sense.
Transit Maps says:
Dave’s map has some neat new touches that I really like — the inclusion of Boston’s extensive parklands is lovely — and he’s really put a lot of thought into everything, as his commentary above shows.
Some elements aren’t quite as successful as others: while his “Line Keys” work well, condensing accessibility information into easily digestible blocks, his repetitive naming of the commuter rail lines (especially the quadruple naming on the south-eastern branches) is just redundant. I’d also have to say that making the B, C, and D branches of the Green Line the same length on the map would be confusing for most users — the D branch extends much further out to Riverside and operates more like a normal train service than the at-grade B and C branches.
However, one thing I totally agree with Dave on is his stance against the MBTA’s shameless grab for free creative ideas, as I’ve already posted about here.
Fantasy Map: Victoria Integrated Transit Authority
Introduction: This is a fantasy/proposed transit network for Victoria, BC, Canada. I’ve been working on this off-and-on since the summer of 2011. It’s been a long process because I’ve tried to make this work not only as a nice looking graphic, but also as a maybe, somewhat, kinda plausible and functioning transit network. No destroying entire neighbourhoods and no monorails. However, with that in mind, I should mention I have absolutely no background in urban or transit planning. I have a few transit books and I follow @humantransit. So if you do this for a living and I’ve just made your head hurt, sorry.
Full size map here.
This proposed system consists of 5 light rail lines, a single commuter rail line, and modifications to the existing Victoria bus network. For the most part I’ve tried to utilize existing right-of-ways and minimize the construction of new structures. All the light rail lines would be at grade, and mostly mixed with traffic. Some lines/sections would be closer to a streetcar/tram than light rail, but the definitions of these types of system are getting a little blurry.
This line is very close to the existing Victoria Regional Rapid Transit proposal. I have made some changes though. South of Hillside, I choose an alignment of Government Street. Government Street between Yates and Wharf is almost already a pedestrian mall and I think it would be less obtrusive to put rapid transit down this corridor.
The existing proposal seems to favor the Galloping Goose trail, parallel to the Trans Canada Highway. To me this seems like the best corridor, but I’d be really curious to if they retain the trail or not. I’d love to see the trail kept because if there’s anything I like more than transit, it’s cycling.
The downtown terminus station would involve repurposing the Crystal Gardens. I have no idea if the engineering would work, but it’s such a great building and it seems sadly underutilized.
The Bay Street station would be north of Bay, and a bus loop would be built in one of those car lots between Government and Douglas. It’d be a major transfer point for bus routes and future LRT routes.
Lastly, I think the Wilfert station is probably going to be the least utilized in the entire network (I think it only exists for the casino).
This would be the second line built. It basically replaces the 4, which apparently is one of the busiest routes in the city. I looked at a bunch of different routes from downtown to UVic. To me, this one was the most plausible. It served multiple regional centres (Quadra Village, Hillside Centre, Camosun College and UVic), Hillside had the widest right-of-way, and the grades seemed the shallowest. I think it would be possible to run this line on its own right of way along most of Hillside, but it would probably need to run with mixed traffic along Foul Bay Rd.
Also I expect there would be a lot of NIMBYism in Oak Bay about this line.
A crosstown line that replaces the western part of the 6 route. It also historically mirrors some of the old Victoria streetcar network from the earlier part of the 20th century.
The downtown section would run along Yates Street because, again, I think it has the widest ROW. Convert Yates to two-way traffic, and do the same to Fort. It’s probably too late now, but it’d be great if the rebuilt Johnson Street bridge had space for tracks. Otherwise, it’s going to need its own bridge (or tunnel) over (or under) the inner harbour.
There are two eastern spurs, mostly because I couldn’t decide if the Royal Jubliee hospital or Oak Bay Village was more likely to generate more passengers.
This one is probably the least plausible line. It’d certainly be hard to build in sections.
The eastern end runs along McKenzie, alleviating bus services running crosstown to UVic. McKenzie has a nice wide ROW for most of its length, but it’s also a very, very busy street. Taking vehicle lanes away would probably be problematic. And then getting from Quadra to Uptown is also problematic. The most direct route would be along the Lochside trail, but I really don’t want to destroy this trail either. It would take some effort to keep both the LRT and trail.
I’m not sure if there’d be enough passengers to justify running two lines to the West Shore.
Lastly, the extension to Royal Bay is would be entirely dependant on whether or not Royal Bay actually gets developed. But this would run parallel to the Veteran’s Memorial Parkway.
This line is the least necessary line, but also would be easy to build if you wanted to build something down the median of the Pat Bay Highway. It’d alleviate some of the passenger load on the 6 bus route at the north end, plus provide connections to buses to the Saanich Peninsula.
Ideally I’d like to see a rail line up the Peninsula, but finding the right route that connected all the population centres was difficult to pinpoint. The old V&S doesn’t serve Brentwood bay and the old Interurban line doesn’t serve Keating X Road.
Utilizing the old E&N rail corridor, this would be a Train-Tram line. Vehicles would be able to use the street-level tracks in the city, but would operate more like a commuter train otherwise. This service would probably only run during peak hours. The Bastion Square terminus station would be in place of the current Yates Street parkade (unless its cheaper to tear down/repurpose something else nearby).
Frequent Transit Network
Many of these routes already are close to, or already run at, 15 minutes or sooner (though not seven days a week). A few new routes have been created because the rail network has severed some connections. The 5 is the southern portion of the 30/31, the 20 is the western end of the 14, and the 23 is the rest of the 11.
It’s just a dream, but I welcome any feedback/comments/anger via this Tumblr or Twitter.
Phew! That’s a pretty comprehensive overview of an imaginary transit system there! Having only been to Victoria for four hours on a very wet, rainy and cold December day a few years ago, I can’t really comment on the feasibility of all this.
Fortunately, the map looks great: a nice combination of diagrammatic route lines and stylised geography that works really well together, although the type for the bus route labels seems a little small to me. The dramatic circular loops that the buses take around the Medical Sciences light rail station seem a little at odds to the style of the rest of the map at first, but I can see from Google Maps that the road really does transcribe a perfect circle through the university campus there.
Historical Map: Washington, DC Metro Map, 1977
This is a Metro map from March, 1977 — about a year after the system first started carrying passengers. At first glance, it looks very similar to today’s modern map… but then you realise that the only section that’s actually in service is the Red Line between Dupont Circle and Rhode Island Avenue, denoted by black outlines around the station circles, rather than the plain white circles used for future stations.
The uncanny resemblance to today’s map comes about because the whole system shown here — up to and including the opening of the Green Line segment to Branch Avenue in 2001 — was planned for right from the start of the project. If you look closely, there are actually quite a few differences: the Blue and Yellow Lines south of Pentagon are reversed from today’s configuration, and a number of station names have changed from these initial plans. Bigger visual differences include the lack of the kink in the Yellow/Green line around Columbia Heights and a much greater sense of visual clarity: short station names (note that it’s only “U Street” here!) and no secondary information like cross streets, hospitals or timetable/routing callout boxes give the map room to breathe. While not quite the mimimalist classic that Massimo Vignelli’s New York Subway map is, this version of the map is definitely far more deserving of the “iconic” tag than its modern descendants.
Our rating: An unadulterated look at the far superior original concept. Four stars.
(Source: Subchat.com thread about the map: the thread originally dates the map to March 27, 1976, but later revises it to March 17, 1977 because of the stations that are shown as being open — Dupont Circle and Gallery Place stations opened after the rest of the Phase I Red Line stations)
Historical Map: Circular London Underground Map Sketch, Harry Beck, c. 1964
For those who thought that the two circular London Underground diagrams I featured earlier this year — by Jonny Fisher and Maxwell Roberts — were a completely modern twist on an old classic, here’s a reminder of just how forward-thinking Harry Beck really was.
This is a sketch, dated to 1964 at the earliest (due to his adoption of Paul Garbutt’s dot-in-a-circle device for main line interchange stations), that presents the Circle Line as a perfect ellipse. Quite a stunning contrast to his usual rigidly rectilinear diagrams, if perhaps ultimately not a huge improvement — much as the two modern maps are exercises in design, rather than a replacement for the original. Note also that this beautiful sketch is entirely hand-drawn: not a computer to be seen in it’s creation.
(Source: Scanned from my personal copy of Mr. Beck’s Diagram by Ken Garland, Capital Transport Publishing, 1994)
Design the Boston MBTA Map — For FREE!
So the MBTA is having a friendly little “contest” for people to design a new “T” map, ostensibly in celebration of National Transportation Week. How sweet and fun!
Let’s get real here, people.
This is speculative (“spec”) work, pure and simple. The MBTA wants to harvest ideas for a future map from entries, but doesn’t want to pay a red cent for them. The winner gets nothing but kudos and the “privilege” of having their map displayed on the MBTA website and at the State Transportation Building for an unspecified period of time.
Meanwhile, the MBTA gets it all:
“All submissions shall become the sole property of the MBTA. The MBTA shall own the entire copyright in all submissions selected, in whole or in part, for use in the final map design.
Competitors whose submissions are not selected, in whole or in part, shall grant to the MBTA a worldwide, perpetual, gratis license to reproduce and/or use the submission in any way, in any medium now known or hereafter devised, for any purpose, including but not limited to publication, exhibition and archive of the competition results.
Submissions will not be returned to competitors after the contest and access to the submission will not be allowed at any time. Therefore, it is important that competitors photograph their submissions and/or retain at least a copy of the submission materials. Once received, submissions become the sole property of the MBTA.”
That’s right: the MBTA owns everything, lock, stock and barrel. You, on the other hand — no longer owning the rights to your own hard work — probably can’t even put it in your portfolio.
Simply put, this competition is insulting to designers and cartographers — skilled practitioners of a difficult and complex discipline of design — who deserve their talent to be recognised and rewarded. There are plenty of amazing professionals in America who make their living out of designing maps — good, usable, beautiful maps — all of whom would love to work on this project, and would do an excellent job of it.
As long time readers of this blog know, I’m not a big fan of the current MBTA map, and I’ve already done my own redesign of it, which I’m actually very proud of (seen above and in more detail on my design blog). My map isn’t the perfect square that MBTA design standards require, because I made a conscious decision to show and name all the Green Line stations. Eventually, I was going to get around to making a square version, but not now. Not now that I know the MBTA is looking for free ideas for their map. If the MBTA likes my ideas for their map — and they’ve surely seen enough of my body of work to know that it’s good — then they can bloody well pay me for it.
(For more on spec work and why it’s bad for the design industry, visit nospec.com)
This design is and always will be ©2012 Cameron Booth
Book Review: “Vignelli Transit Maps”, Peter B. Lloyd with Mark Ovenden
As a graphic designer with a keen interest in transit maps and a fairly thorough knowledge of their history and usage, I thought I had a decent understanding of Massimo Vignelli’s diagrammatic version of the New York Subway map, which was used from 1972 to 1979.
This outstanding book has proved me almost completely and utterly wrong.
So much of what we think we know about the Vignelli map is simply hearsay and legend, repeated Chinese whisper-style across the internet, until we’re left with something that almost, but not quite, resembles the truth. Fueled by excellent research and interviews, and presented with beautiful (if occasionally a little small) maps, photos and illustrations, this book is essential for any lover of transit maps and good graphic design.
More than anything else I’ve read, this book places the Vignelli map in a proper historical context — what preceded it and why that left the door open for a modernist design firm (rather than cartographers) to produce something new, but also what led to its abrupt and premature death in 1979. There’s definitely more to the story than the usual “New Yorkers didn’t like a diagram/square Central Park/beige water” reasons that you often hear.
As well as a thorough analysis of the map itself — reproductions and accompanying text are presented for every version of the map — the book also delves deeply into the labour-intensive and time-consuming production methods required to create a map as complex as this in the days before computer-aided design. Asked to come up with an initial conceptual “trial map” in 1970, junior designer Joan Charysyn (who also independently created this New York Commuter Rail diagram in 1974) had to hand-cut pieces of PANTONE colour film into 1/8” strips and then assemble the route lines onto a one-foot-square board, adding station label type as well. Of the work, Charysyn simply states, “the execution of the comp was tedious and done in as few pieces as possible.”
The book also deals with Vignelli’s work for the Washington, DC Metro: he designed the wayfinding and station signage that is still largely in use today, but the contract for the system map was given separately to Lance Wyman. The book shows some of Vignelli’s very early (and very minimalist!) conceptual sketches for the map, and explains exactly why Lance Wyman’s proposed station icons (similar to the ones he had designed for Mexico City’s Metro) never got off the ground.
The book also discusses the reintroduction of the Vignelli map in 2008, comparing and contrasting it against the other modern player in the New York Subway map market — Eddie Jabbour’s Kick Map (Jabbour writes a preface for the book, and his admiration for Vignelli’s design philosophy and body of work is obvious).
This book is absolutely essential for any lover or student of transit maps or graphic design. It’s well written, thoroughly researched and beautiful to look at: what more do you need? Five stars!
Published by RIT Press, December 2012. 128pp.
Order page is here — Book is $US34.99 plus shipping.
(Note: Transit Maps purchased their own copy of this book, and did not receive any compensation for this review, financial or otherwise)
For those of who you missed it, Transit Maps did a quick little Q&A over the weekend with the amazing Spanish design magazine and blog, Yorokobu. (Seriously, go take a look, even if you don’t speak Spanish. Totally inspiring!)
Anyway, for those of you that don’t speak Spanish (like me) and can’t/won’t use a web translation service, here’s my original answers to their questions in English. It may differ slightly to what was published because of editing, but it’s substantially the same.
Q. When did your fascination for metro maps begin?
My love of transit maps really began on my first visit to London in 1997. As a graphic designer, I was fascinated to see just how deeply embedded in the fabric of the city the map was: it was known and loved by just about everyone, and I certainly found it useful for navigating around an unfamiliar city. I bought a book from the London Transport Museum about it, “Mr. Beck’s Diagram”, and immersed myself in it. The history behind the Tube Map is quite fascinating, and it is amazing to see how it has evolved with the growing system, but still stayed true to its origins.
After that, I began dabbling with making my own maps, and have picked up quite a bit of attention over the internet for them in recent years, especially for my maps of the U.S. Interstate System and U.S. Highway system in the style of a metro map.
Q. Give me your three favourite transit maps…
The London Underground map (an easy choice) — the forefather of almost every transit map in the world. If I had to pick one absolute favourite version of it, I’d have to go with this unpublished Harry Beck version from 1961 that shows the then-planned Victoria line as a beautifully straight line.
Massimo Vignelli’s 1970s New York Subway Diagram is another beautiful piece of design, although I actually prefer the modern revival as seen on the MTA Weekender site. It’s still got the clean, minimalist look of the original, but the modern route line colours work a lot better. It’s the epitome of paring back unnecessary information to only show what’s really important: where to get on, where to transfer, and where to get off.
My third favourite map is a bit of an oddball — the S- and U-Bahn map from Stuttgart in around 2000. It’s presented isometrically, which is something I’ve never seen anywhere else, and it works very effectively. I’ve always had a soft spot for this one — details like the subtle three-dimensionality on the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) really make this something out of the ordinary.
In Spain, an honourable mention to the Barcelona Metro map (especially in conjunction with the excellent wayfinding system at the stations), but I’m not such a huge fan of Madrid’s recent strictly rectangular map.
Q. What elements do they have to have to be successful?
A good transit map has to give the end user (the transit rider) the information they need to get from Point A to Point B, and it needs to do it quickly and effectively. Information hierarchy is paramount — the most important information (such as station names and route information) always needs to stand out clearly. Supporting information (connecting bus routes or hours of operation, for example) should be lower in the hierarchy — it’s there if you need it, but it shouldn’t distract from the main focus of the map.
Consideration for colour-blind users is important as well: there should always be good contrast between route lines that run closely together, so that they can be easily distinguished and followed by all users.
And if it can be beautiful as well, that’s just the icing on the cake!
Q. Are there any maps that stand out as not working or doing their job properly?
Plenty! Many smaller transit agencies don’t have much of a budget for map development, and try to produce their own maps internally without the specialist design knowledge it takes to create a truly useful and attractive map.
Others are simply reaching the end of their useful lifespan — I believe that the Washington, DC Metro map’s distinctive “fat” route lines are now unsustainable with the upcoming addition of the new Silver Line route — or are guilty of trying to cram too much information into a single map: the current New York subway map is a good example of this: there are callout boxes and extraneous text covering just about every pit of spare space on that map.
Q. What projects have you been involved in around transit urbanism?
I work as a graphic designer for a multinational civil engineering firm, so I get to see the “behind the scenes” look at the origination of a lot of transit-oriented projects. We do a lot of work with light rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit (BRT), so it’s fascinating to see the thought processes behind this type of work. Making my own transit maps is something I do on the side, although I feel my design is better informed because of the work I do in my day job. Recently, I also helped with the beta testing of Kick Map’s new London Underground iPhone app, which was an awesome thing to be involved with. Their “hybrid” style of mapping — diagrammatic, but with a healthy nod to the actual geography of the area being mapped — works very well on a device with a small screen like the iPhone.
Q. Is it possible to make a living from something so niche as this?
Absolutely! There are multiple companies here in the U.S. who do nothing but design transit maps and wayfinding systems, and some of them do fantastic work as well.
Q. Who do you consider the God of transit map design?
Harry Beck — the original designer of the London Underground map. While he certainly didn’t develop the idea of a diagrammatic transit map in complete isolation (there is similar contemporary work by other designers both in England and Germany), his work did popularise what we now consider to be the template for almost every transit map. Of modern transit map designers, Massimo Vignelli (NY subway) and Erik Spiekermann’s (Berlin’s post-reunification S- and U-Bahn map) importance cannot be denied. Spiekermann’s continued work with typefaces optimised for transit and wayfinding purposes increases his importance to designers.
Q. How do you convince someone that designing a map like this is incredibly complex?
The simple answer to is ask them to start designing one and see how well they do. Once you start explaining all the variables and objectives and how they all have to balance out to create a useful, aesthetically-pleasing final piece, people get the idea pretty quickly. Part of running the Transit Maps blog is definitely the “education” aspect of it. Not all transit maps are created equal, and I present my opinions (no matter how brutal they might be) so that readers can start for make their own informed decisions about how graphic design affects their lives every day.
Q. Do you often dream of redesigning certain transit maps?
All the time! I’ve already produced some very popular unofficial redesigns of the Washington, DC Metro map, Boston’s “T” map, and that of my home town, Portland, Oregon. The Washington, DC map won the readers’ vote (and came second in the juried voting) in a contest on the Greater Greater Washington website a couple of years ago. I keep my eyes out for other maps that could use a redesign…
Q. Are 2D maps the most effective or do you think we will be seeing more interactive transit maps in the future?
I think we’re already starting to see a shift away from paper to digital. New York’s just about to install interactive map kiosks at a number od subway stations, Paris already has them, and smart phone/iPad map applications (like Kick Map NY and London) are becoming more popular and useful every day. Personally, I love the feel of a printed map in my hands, but digital definitely seems to be the way of the future.