08 July 2010

[design] PDX Iconized To The MAX: The MAX Vertical System Map

Here's something we missed ... and something that really took me delightfully by surprise.

First thing I want to note before I go there is that the all transit and rail maps eventually want to grow up to be the Tube Map. It's the serendipitous acme of transit map design. The "Tube" I refer to, is, of course, the London Underground, and its map, originally designed by Harry Beck in 1931, has achieved the status of icon, influencing the design of many systems since - it seems that almost every major European city rail system diagram echoes it.

Even though you probably had a version of it spring forth in your mind, unbidden, you can refresh your memory by checking out the Wikipedia version of its history at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_map.  It's correct enough. The premise is that, since you're travelling underground, simplification is the ideal goal - you can't orient yourself by landmarks when you can't see the land, and, if you're smart, you've entered the Underground knowing where you are, knowing where you're going, and having some idea of the line you're taking to get there. So, colored lines distinguish the rail lines, and simple dots and circles, evenly spaced, simply connected if they simply connect.

The result is orthographic, straight-line genius, and even though the basic graphic look has changed a little as the system has, the overall look of the map is more-or-less the same. You can see the kernel of the 1931 map in the slickness of the 2010 edition. The circuit-board-like design is, quite simply, timeless.

With the expansion of TriMet's MAX rail service map, which began geographically correct when the original downtown Portland-to-Gresham service took off in 1986, has increased in schematic aspect as the lines grew and the complexity increased. The current horizontal display, now viewable at TriMet's site as well as at MAX stations, does a magnificent job but retains just a little of that geographic familiarity. But the older trains (according to a quote in a Joseph Rose column that I missed back in February) don't have spaces that support a horizontal format as well. So, presumably, why don't we not only reorient the map but throw a little Europeanish redesign in it was well? We first saw this last evening, and since I missed the February column, I didn't know about it till then - and was most pleasantly surprised. This is PDX iconized.

Actually I don't know if they thought it was European. I will go so far as to say that I bet they know they thought it was smart. And I agree. Because, really, when you're riding on the MAX, what do you really need to know about where you're going? If you're smart, you have some idea of where you're going once you get off the train, and have a clear idea of where you got on and what line of TriMet's plethora of five glorious rail lines you'll need to use.

So, make sure you're on the right line, and count the stations. That's all you really need to do.

What I particularly find delightful is the little double-stripe connecting the Rose Quarter TC and the Interstate/Rose Quarter Yellow line stop. That the heart of the system - Pioneer Square - is represented by a big circle befits its iconic status in Portland geography. The bifurcated nature of the lines in downtown are simplified by combining the stations into one icon and merging the names with a slash.

And it, like great transit maps of its ilk, shows the loving influence of the great Beck design, the most iconic of all transit maps - the Tube Map - and we know this, because it works the same way.

We dig it.

Go see Joseph Rose's commuting column to see the map embiggened:
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