Wivenhoe Bookshop Magazine & Newsletter | Friday 27 November 2015

Going Underground

‘Underground Maps Unravelled’ is the result of over ten years of investigation by psychologist Dr Maxwell Roberts, exploring the usability of schematic transport maps.

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It gives an in-depth analysis of how they assist the user, when they fail, and the psychological theories that explain why. Whether you are a graphic designer, transport professional, or just a frustrated commuter, after this book, maps will never seem quite the same again.

Schematic maps are commonplace, not just in trains and stations, but in art galleries and souvenir shops worldwide. Travel by public transport in any city around the world, and the chances are that sooner or later you will find a stylised map whose routes have been drawn as straight lines – horizontal, vertical, or 45º diagonals – joined by tight corners. The geography has been considerably distorted, and most of the surface details are missing, but the people who produced the map hope that you will find it easy to understand, and that it will encourage you to make use of the network more often.

They have become part of popular culture, but how successfully are designers achieving their basic objectives: do these maps really make life easier for passengers? Too many schematic maps are not fit for purpose, commissioned by managers or created by designers who blindly follow tradition. This book asks whether traditional design techniques are suited to today’s complex networks, and explores what happens when the rules are broken. The result is an astonishing collection of maps for cities worldwide that challenge preconceptions about the nature of effective design.

About the Author

Max Roberts lectures in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex. He describes his interests thus:

Dr Maxwell Roberts

             I have developed an interest in graphic design and the presentation of wayfinding information, focusing on the usability of transport schematics such as the famous London Underground map.
            It’s basic design features can be seen all round the world, but drawing upon findings from the reasoning and intelligence literatures, it is possible to identify considerable scope for improvement.
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