Monday, 18 October 2010

Tube maps with a twist

Video also available on YouTube here.

I spent a gloriously geeky afternoon last week, helping Geoff Marshall (former world record holder for travelling around the entire London Underground system in the fastest time possible) make the above film about psychologist and designer Max Roberts.

Dr Roberts' exhibition of alternative London Underground maps is on until the end of this week (Friday 22 October 2010). It's free and is a must for tube and map fans, as well as anyone interested in usability.

Underground Maps Unravelled: Explorations in Information Design explores the use of Beck’s basic design rules: replacing chaotic, twisting routes with straight lines, horizontal, vertical or diagonals at 45 degrees only. The exhibition explores the usability of schematic network design. Using the London Underground map as a framework, it explores why traditional design rules help people, whether they are adequate for today's complex networks, and whether we can improve design by taking fresh approaches, breaking the rules.

The exhibition presents a selection of Dr Roberts’ own work: maps that break all the rules, maps that are easier to use, maps that teach us about good design, maps that challenge our preconceptions, and maps that are just intended to be decorative.

He explained: “With today’s emphasis on using public transport, and the ever-increasing complexity of networks around the world, it is vital that designers create the best possible maps. All too often, the general public is faced with designs that are poor quality, off-putting, and perhaps barely useable. We need to take a good look at whether fresh approaches are required.”

Still plenty of Thames-less Tube maps left; will they become collectors' items, like Frost Fair programmes?

Londoners have made it clear that designers tinker with the Tube map at their peril. There was outcry a year ago when the Thames was removed from the Tube map (see photo above) in an attempt to declutter the design, and it was hastily reinstated.

However, it's the familiarity of Harry Beck's iconic Underground map that makes it a great place to experiment and challenge accepted design ideas. It's led to parodies such as Barry Heck's anagram tube map and Simon Patterson's Great Bear.

Should the Tube map take a radical new turn, and could it change the way Londoners and visitors perceive the city itself?

Underground Maps Unravelled is on at Scott Brownrigg architectural practice, 77 Endell Street, London, WC2H 9DZ until 6pm Friday 22 October 2010.


Rob Blackie said...

What I want to know Helen is what you are doing in the video? :)

Helen Duffett said...

Geoff asked me to give him a hand with filming it, so some of the camerawork is mine :-)

It was fascinating to meet Max too - recommend you catch the exhibition while you can!