09 December 2010

[map design] When Map Designers Bicker

In the past, I've commented a little on the evolution of the design of TriMet's maps, particularly those of the MAX system as it becomes more complex over time. Rail network maps are a product, just like many other things, of their environment, particularly visual styles and fashion; my take is that most systems try to follow the lead set by the justly-famous London Tube Map, which has become iconic of its own system.

New Yorkers are, in their way, like us here in Portland; they like things the way they like them, and tampering with something considered by them iconic can be as disastrous as New Coke was. This probably also extends to the Subway map - a map of something uniquely New York.

The website Gothamist reported very recently on a panel held by the City Museum of New York where designers who've developed the subway map over the years held forth on what they thought was good and bad. They were, in fun way, most opinionated.
The panel of speakers included Massimo Vignelli, the revered designer of the 1972 subway map; cartographer John Tauranac; Paul Shaw (of the Helvetica documentary); and Eddie Jabour, inventor of KickMap and its iPhone app. The four men traded barbs, and went into detail about their own relationships with subway maps; Vignelli talked about the criticisms of his '72 map design, and noted he never perceived the map as a navigational tool. He also made an impassioned plea for sleek, modernist maps like there are in Europe, which Capital New York said
was "a League of Nations-like response in a WikiLeaks era."
The '72 map design referred to above can be seen here, courtesy of the blog IdeaOrange. It completely abandons the geographically-oriented subway route display in favor of the utterly-schematic, almost electronic-diagram modernist style pioneered by the London Underground and similarly-styled maps, and works very well indeed. Of the current style, a member of the panel savaged the style of having "bilious" colors and the lack of a service guide.

I guess there's just no pleasing some people.

But the subway is part of the identity of NYC, and no matter what you do, there's someone who's going to point and say "her? Oh, she's had work done, you know"

Myself, I'm a fan of the way Vignelli did things. After all, it is in the Museum of Modern Art.

H/T Atul 666, on the web at http://cyclotram.blogspot.com, twitter @brx0

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1 comment:

Stella Gassaway said...

I would argue that the subway map isn't a map at all. It is an information graphic that gets you from one point to another without any need for geographic positioning. It isn't necessary.