"With the new orbital loop surrounding Central London, some people are
suggesting a mapping approach based on circles to emphasise this
feature. There is nothing new here, and Berlin, Paris, Moscow and Madrid
have all received this treatment in the past. Grounding a map in
familiar shapes such as circles can make it easy to comprehend. However,
it is also possible to push a design priority too far. As the old
saying goes, be careful of what you might desire, in case you get it.
"Let's start from first principles. Mixing straight lines and concentric
circles on the same map is fine if there are pure orbital lines, and
pure radial lines. This works well for Moscow, but in London the lines
tend to be a bit of a mixture, never quite deciding whether they are
heading for the centre or avoiding it. Circles are not particularly
bothered about whether straight lines are at 45 degrees, vertical, or
horizontal, with the consequence that the straight line and circular
elements can integrate poorly, impacting on the harmony and coherence of
the design. How can circles and straight lines be made to communicate
better? Answer, by using straight lines that are directly related to
circles: tangents and spokes (and, in emergency, lines that are parallel
to other tangents and spokes). If a map is to be based upon concentric
circles, then it might be an idea to rethink all the design rules from
the ground up.
"If we really are going to throw away the design rules, and switch
emphasis to orbital lines, then we need at least one full circle to make
the concept convincing. However, forcing the Circle Line into this
shape is a bad starting point. Its actual route is nothing like
circular, and the British have a preference for nice orderly horizontal
lettering, which tends to force out the width of the map. Going into
battle on two fronts (geography and typography) simultaneously is just
going to end in disaster: a horribly unbalanced design with areas of
dense hard-to-decipher stations, and gaping holes in others. The
Overground loop is far more suited to this sort of design abuse, and a
much more interesting shape is possible for the Circle Line itself.
"So, here are the results (the sharp corner version has some usability
issues, but is more dramatic aesthetically). Quite attractive in a
distinctly weird way. Although parts of the map suffer horribly
(Thameslink to West Hampstead for example), it is surprising just how
much of London is resilient enough to withstand the attack.
Intriguingly, this is the only map I have ever seen where Crossrail
looks convincing, especially in East London.
Overall though, I don't
think I will be sending this one to TfL for comments. No great advances
in usability here, but it was fun to make it."
What do you think of his maps? Fun? Usuable? Max would be keen to hear your thoughts. If you'd like to hear more from Max he'll be at the Design Museum of the evening of the 19th February giving a great talk - Underground Maps Unravelled - more details here.