Tutorial: Station Labels Using the “Core Type Area” - Part 3: Angled Labels
While it’s true that I don’t really like the use of station labels that are angled — being very much in the Erik Spiekermann camp that believes horizontal labels aid comprehension and create a cleaner looking map — I do realise that there are times when their use is necessary.
If you do use angled labels, then I strongly advise that you keep the number of angles used to the absolute minimum required — type that reads from many different directions is always going to cause headaches. This is one thing that the Sydney rail network map (both the new version and the previous one) has done well: it only uses labels angled in one direction, reading from the bottom left to the top right.
Once you’ve decided that you absolutely have to use angled labels, the rules for their placement are exactly the same as in the previous two tutorials, except that you rotate everything 45 degrees around, using the placement rules that used to apply to one type of route line to the other.
The first image shows what it looks like if you take labels that were used for a route line angled at 45 degrees from top left to lower right and rotate the lot another 45 degrees counter-clockwise. Use the corners of the Core Type Area to determine positioning. It’s pretty easy to see how this would also work if your labels were angled the other direction. The same technique would also apply to a vertical route line, but exercise common sense here — there’s even less reason to angle a label on a vertical route line!
The second image shows a vertical route line that’s been rotated 45 degrees clockwise to show how angled labels for a 45-degree route line should look. Use the edges of the Core Type Area in these cases.
One more post in this series to come: labels where route lines intersect!
Tutorial: Station Labels Using the “Core Type Area” - Part 2: 45-Degree Angled Route Lines
Following on from last week’s tutorial, here’s how to use the Core Type Area to make your station labels align perfectly and consistently when you’re applying them to 45-degree angled route lines.
If you use the edges of the Core Type Area when you’re aligning labels to horizontal and vertical route lines, then it should make perfect sense that you use the corners of it when you’re labelling angled stations. The first GIF shows the defining setup — using the bottom right corner for labels above and to the left of the route line and the top left corner for labels below and to the right of the route line. I’ve shown this setup first because it always looks right: there’s always a capital letter in the former, and the bottom right edge of a lower-case letter in the latter.
The second image shows what happens when you apply the same rules to the opposite angle. That is, using the top right corner for names to the left and below the route line, and the bottom left corner for names above and to the right. When the route line is angled like this, it can be harder to see that you’ve got the placement right, because the letterforms are more varied.
In the first instance, the last letter of a word could be an “n” (as we have here) or a “d”. We need to allow space for the “d” to fit comfortably, hence the use of the Core Type Area, which shows us exactly that. Whatever you do, don’t nudge labels without a final ascender up until that letter aligns with the station marker: this is what leads to uneven and inconsistent baselines as seen on the recent Sydney Trains map redesign.
Labels to the right and above aren’t quite as bad, but there’s still some variance: the first letter could be a “T”, “B”, or “W”, all of which have a different visual relationship to that bottom left corner. Remember to use the Core Type Area — the box that defines the maximum size the label could take up — and not the letterforms themselves to align text to markers and you should always be okay.
The last image shows a mistake I see quite often when designers try to align their labels to 45-degree lines by simply moving the label sideways from the marker, instead of across and up/down an even amount. I personally prefer not to do this, as I think it creates uneven spacing, but it can look effective and interesting when done right.
However, be aware that labels that sit on the lower side of the route line need to hang from the top of the Core Type Area (by their cap height) or they’ll end up being too close to the route line, as shown in the image. Type that sits on the higher side of the route line can sit on its baseline.
Tutorial: Station Labels Using the “Core Type Area” - Part 1: Horizontal and Vertical Route Lines
A lot of transit maps that I’ve seen and reviewed on this blog are badly let down by their labelling. Sometimes it seems that the labels have been applied without much forethought or planning, or just slapped on at the end and placed wherever they will fit. But labels are arguably one of the most important parts of a transit map: it should always be immediately apparent which station marker a label belongs to, and labels should be applied according to a consistent set of rules.
My first common rule is to make sure that there’s enough space between the route line or station marker and the text: I see way too many maps where the labels are jammed right up to the line (often in a vain effort to save a little bit of space).
That said, let’s take a look at how I like to approach labels on my maps. The first image shows a sample label: I chose the name “Washington” simply because it has a good mix of letters that work well as an example: importantly, it has both ascending and descending letters. I’ve marked out the four main vertical typographical elements: these are the cap height, the x-height, the text’s baseline and the descender line.
Behind this, I’ve shaded an area in pink that I like to call the “Core Type Area” — the height from the baseline up to the cap height. I use this Core Type Area to determine how to align labels to other elements of the map. I discount the height of the letters below the baseline simply because sometimes a word doesn’t have any descending letters at all. This becomes important when setting up labels that sit above a horizontal route line, as we’ll see below.
The second image is an animated GIF that shows two different ways to align labels to station markers on a vertical route line. It shows magenta guides indicating the Core Type Area and thicker cyan guides that simply indicate that all the labels are a consistent difference away from their station marker. I’ve shown the two most common types of station marker: dots and ticks.
The first and third sets of labels centre the type vertically using the baseline and the x-height, while the second and fourth use the height of the Core Type Area. Both of these approaches produce good results, although I personally believe that the Core Type Area method looks slightly better regardless of whether the label is to the left or the right of the line.
The last GIF shows how using the Core Type Area gives consistent results when placing labels above and below a horizontal route line. As you can see, the cyan guides are the same length each time, but though we align labels beneath the route line to the cap height (the top of the Core Type Area), we align labels that are above the route line to the type’s baseline (the bottom of the Core Type Area), not the descender line. That’s because a lot of words don’t have any descenders in them: in these cases, the label would look as if they were too far away from the station marker in comparison to labels that are below the line. The trick here is to make sure you’ve got enough space between the descender line and your station marker/route line to ensure that they don’t touch or overlap.
Next time, we’ll tackle labels on diagonal route lines.
Here’s a fantastic follow-up post from Owen Lett (the man who brought you this neat fantasy transit map of Victoria, BC) in response to yesterday’s tutorial about point type in Illustrator.
There’s a lot to like about this approach, especially the integrated type point and station marker (two overlaid points define both elements and both can be placed simultaneously) and the use of paragraph styles (an often-overlooked feature in Adobe Illustrator) gives the ability to quickly change things if required later on. The downside is the need to adjust margins via the tedious Character palette, although is that actually any worse than manually nudging with arrow keys?
This post is in response to Cameron Booth’s Point Type Label tutorial on his rather excellent Transit Maps blog. I’m writing this here because it feels a bit more efficient than bombarding him with a few dozen tweets.
I too use point type for labels on transit maps. But I also like to integrate paragraph and character styles wherever possible. I do this because, in theory, it makes it easier if I decide much later that I need to make a broad sweeping change (like choosing a new typeface or updating the character colour).
What I’ve also found is that by adjusting indents and baseline shifts, I can place the text point right in the middle of a station dot or at the intersection of two gridlines (see the second and third pictures for example; I’ve also shown how it can work for different station markers). If you’re using Smart Guides, everything should snap nicely into place.
Here’s a sample set up, which you can see in the first picture:
- A character style for the basics, such as font family, size, leading, tracking, colour. I made a second style for a terminus station which is the same as the base, but with bold weight.
- A number of paragraph styles for a variety of station type alignments. Here I’ve got a map with lines at 45 degree angles, so I’ve eight styles and named them after compass directions.
- I made one bonus style to show how you can set one up for text that’s been rotated (and yet the text point remains in the middle of the station marker).
Now the whole point of Mr. Booth’s post was to show that Illustrator doesn’t actually align text precisely; some manual adjustment is necessary to get everything looking optically correct. He moved each label manually. My method doesn’t solve the problem of requiring some adjustment. But now instead of moving each label, you leave the label in place and adjust the left or right paragraph indent (see last picture).
There are some downsides to this technique The primary problem I run into is with multiple line station labels. If the label has a positive baseline shift, then you’re going to need to update the baseline manually or create a new paragraph style. And then you might start to end up with an unwieldy amount of styles.
Another downside here is that manual adjustments override the paragraph style. So if you update the style at a later date, it may not affect something you’ve adjusted manually (it depends on what you’re updating).
Lastly, there is the issue of Illustrator itself. Its paragraph and character styles palette just isn’t that great, especially compared to InDesign. I don’t blame it; Illustrator is meant for… illustration. But having spent years building books in InDesign, you really notice what’s missing in Illustrator’s style options. InDesign has so much more; you can create keyboard shortcuts for specific styles, you can have styles based on other styles, you can reorder the styles. Illustrator does well, but I often find myself frustrated with it.
Is this an ideal solution? Not entirely. it is very mathematical, so to get everything looking perfect you’re still going to need to do a lot of eyeball adjustments. However, I find it’s a good way to get everything set up initially and keep things consistent throughout a project.
Tutorial: Working with Point Type Labels in Adobe Illustrator
Here’s a small but important tip when it comes to working with station labels in Adobe Illustrator. Most of the time, it’s easier to use what Illustrator calls point type when setting labels — that is, you click once with the Type Tool and then type your text, rather than dragging out a text frame with the tool. It looks neater in wireframe view and is generally less cumbersome to work with.
However, you need to be aware that the text you type almost never aligns with the point that you’ve created. Because of the letter spacing that’s baked into each character, there’s a small — but noticeable — gap between the point and the adjacent character (the last letter if the type is right-aligned; the first if it’s left-aligned).
Take the example above. I’ve drawn up a quick “Red Line” with station ticks to the left and right. I’ve then drawn cyan guidelines at the distance away from those station markers that I want the text to be. The fanciful station names simply illustrate a variety of starting or ending letterforms — straight, rounded, and so on.
As you can see on the example on the left, although the text point is perfectly aligned to the guides, the letters actually never quite touch them. Worse, the gap is a little bit different in each case. It may not look like much, but consistency is the key in well-designed transit maps. In my opinion, the little details like this are worth fussing over to create the very best work.
The sample to the right shows the difference when you individually nudge the labels across so that the text touches the guideline: much better! Note that the rounded letterforms overlap the guidelines slightly, while straight-edged letters like “d” at the end of a word or “B” at the beginning align perfectly. Much as rounded lowercase letters like “o”, “e” and “s” actually sit a little below the baseline, so too do these characters need to sit a little across the guidelines here to look optically correct. It’s the same for the initial “J” and “T” in the left-aligned names: the empty space around the characters needs to be compensated for slightly to look right.
Stay tuned for more tips regarding labels, as I think their implementation is one of the most neglected parts of transit map design.
Historical Map: Berlin U-Bahn Connections, late 1930s
Staying with Berlin for another day, here’s a neat, compact little connections map from the late 1930s. The presence of the “Reichsportsfeld” U-Bahn station means this map must be from no earlier than 1936, while “Adolf-Hitler-Platz” stands as a stark reminder of the dark days that Europe was about to face.
The map is very simple (but not crude; the draftsmanship is excellent), and is embellished with some understated but gorgeous hand-lettering — there’s absolutely no typesetting here that I can see. The little arrows that point to the connection information from each station are also quite lovely.
Transit Map Typefaces: Other Styles (Part 4 of 4)
To be honest, this is a pretty small category and I’m only including it for completeness’ sake.
Included in this category are san serif fonts that don’t fall into any of the three major categories, veering more towards the decorative or ornamental. Examples of this include the Madrid Metro’s severe, squared off typeface (that matches the aesthetics of the map almost perfectly), and the similar, but less successful, square font that was once used in Naples. Most famously of all, there’s also Lance Wyman’s custom font for the Mexico City Metro.
Use of an unusual typeface like these needs to be considered very carefully: while they can give your map its own unique look, they can also date very quickly as design trends and fashions change.
The last typeface I want to share with you is that rarest of beasts: a serif font. Of all the maps I’ve featured on Transit Maps, the Tyne & Wear Metro is the only one that has serifs used on the labels on the map itself. It helps that it’s a beautiful slab serif face, both designed by and named after the famous Margaret Calvert. If anyone can find another example of a serif font on a transit map, let me know!
Transit Map Typefaces: Humanist Sans (Part 3 of 4)
The third — and most diverse — category of sans serif typefaces is known as humanist sans. Compared to the grotesque and geometric categories, humanist sans typefaces almost calligraphic, with a natural variation in line weight and open characters that enhance legibility. With less “rules” to their construction, there’s a much greater variety of letter forms — meaning it’s easier to find a typeface that projects its own unique personality upon your map, which can be good to give that vital sense of “place” to your map and help it stand out from the crowd.
One of the most popular humanist sans serif fonts used in transit map design is Erik Spiekermann’s FF Meta — I’ve featured examples from Zurich, Vancouver BC and Rio de Janiero, which does some terrible things to a lovely typeface.
(You actually can’t go wrong with most of Spiekermann’s sans serif typefaces, as many of them were specifically designed for wayfinding or road signage.)
Adobe’s Myriad Pro is also used quite a lot: it has a lot of weights and widths, so it’s very versatile. Hong Kong’s MTR uses it, and I’ve used it pretty extensively in my own maps.
As well as these commercially available fonts, many transit agencies use their own custom typefaces that are humanist sans serif. The London Underground’s Johnston Sans is probably the most famous of these, although I see it as a geometric/humanist hybrid, rather than a true humanist sans. Other custom humanist sans include the Paris Metro’s Parisine, and the similarly named Brusseline for Brussels’ Metro system.
Next: Other typefaces!
Transit Map Typefaces: Geometric Sans (Part 2 of 4)
Geometric sans serif typefaces — as their name suggests — are based on geometrical shapes, especially circles for their “o”. Many of these typefaces have their roots in the 1920s and 1930s, and often reflect the Art Deco aesthetic of that period.
Of the three sans serif categories, this is my least favourite for use on transit maps. Their rigid reliance on geometry makes them a little inflexible in use, and because many of the characters are so wide, the x-height is almost always small. This contributes to that Art Deco feel, but doesn’t help legibility very much. In general, the condensed versions of geometric sans typefaces don’t match their standard variants very well, as the “perfect circle” of the round letterforms has to be sacrificed in order to achieve condensation.
Use of geometric sans serifs on transit maps include: Avant Garde Condensed on the Dallas DART map, Geometric 415 on the Maryland MTA map (actually works pretty well), Futura on Atlanta’s MARTA map, and Futura Condensed on this Freiburg im Breisgau map.
If you really need an Art Deco vibe to your map, then you could use a geometric sans, but I’d stay clear otherwise.
Next: Humanist sans serif — the big category!
Transit Map Typefaces: Grotesque Sans (Part 1 of 4)
This series of posts is inspired by an anonymous poster, who requested some information on typography in transit map design.
Almost without exception*, modern transit maps use sans serif typefaces for their labelling. Sans serif literally translates to English as “without [a] serif”, and denotes that the typeface does not have serifs: those little nubs at the top and bottom of characters that can help the eye follow large amounts of text.
The practice of using sans serif typefaces in transit maps dates right back to Harry Beck’s first London Underground diagram (Johnston Sans) and even earlier. Today, a transit map that uses anything other than a sans serif typeface would just look “wrong” to our eyes, although there is still a huge and ever-increasing variety of fonts from which to choose.
Within the general category of sans serif typefaces, typographical designers define smaller subsets. Generally speaking, sans serif typefaces can be split into one of three categories: Grotesque (and the Neo-Grotesque fonts based on these early designs), Geometrical and Humanist. We’ll cover each of these in the first three parts of this series.
Of these, the “Grotesque” typefaces are the oldest, with some designs dating back to c. 1816. At the time, many thought the style of type extremely ugly and strange — the disparaging moniker “grotesque” stuck, right up to the present day.
The most famous of the (neo) grotesque typefaces is, of course, Helvetica. This almost ubiquitous font is — unsurprisingly — heavily used by transit maps, including those of Washington, DC and Boston. New York’s current subway map uses Helvetica Condensed.
Grotesque fonts are a good, safe choice for transit map design. The letterforms are clear and the x-height of the lower case letters is generally large, which aids legibility, even at smaller point sizes. The main problem is that they can sometimes feel a bit sterile: their simple, unstressed letter forms can make it hard for them to project any sort of personality onto the map. Helvetica suffers somewhat from overuse, but it is undoubtedly powerful when coupled with that clean, minimalist “Swiss” style of design that was so prevalent in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
Next: Geometric sans serif typefaces
* Of course, there’s always exceptions to rules, and we’ll cover those in Part 4!