7. Research on map design

City transit maps such as the London Tube or the New York subway map are more complicated than our NTU shuttle bus routes; however they are a great example of how complex travel information can be quickly grasped by commuters through distinct colours, simplified route lines and striking visual elements.

The main bulk of our map design research stems from this blog http://transitmaps.tumblr.com/ run by graphic designer Cameron Booth, who critiques various maps around the world on their design merits and flaws.  We also looked at the design process of some other maps, including the Sydney Festival Map, Berlin’s Transit System, and the Glasgow Transport Map, and other tips and tricks which might be useful.

In designing a transit map, information hierarchy must be strong, with the most important elements of the map made obvious. According to CHK America, a transit mapping company based out of California, people will only look at a transit map in a real-world environment for eight seconds. It is therefore imperative that the designed information is clear, concise and distinct within that short period of time, with as little reference to a legend to interpret the map as possible.

There are several design elements to take into account when designing a transit map:

  1. Thickness of the route lines
  2. Curved or straight edges where a line changes direction
  3. Station markers: if they should be ticks, dots or some other visual element
  4. Legible, simple typeface

The initial process of designing a transit map often begins with examining an actual map of the area, and paring down the routes to their essential elements. For city transit maps, it is necessary to identify the most complex interchanges as they would require a lot of design attention – as we are dealing with shuttle bus routes instead, this step would not be necessary. However it does serve as a reminder that we should take note of unique road features such as roundabouts, which NTU has a few of. Moreover, Booth mentioned that geographical transit maps – where the map lines follow the geography of the actual place – are generally suited to depicting bus routes because they can give the transit user a better spatial awareness of how the bus connects to the neighbourhood.

The labelling of stations also bear serious consideration, as it is necessary for the titles to be clear and legible. The design of the map has to have enough space so that type isn’t crammed together and preferably without overlapping route lines. The set and angle of the type should also be standardized. For example, have all type set horizontally or alternate station names above and below a horizontal route line to save space. The angling of the type should be done in only one direction to minimize the amount of head turning needed to read the names, and having your type read from the right (or tilting one’s head to the left) is preferable.

The colours of the different route maps also have to be distinct – for both non-colour blind and colour blind commuters. Depending on their condition – whether it be deuteranomaly (a reduced sensitivity to red light), protanomaly (a reduced sensitivity to green light) or the rarer tritanomaly (a reduced sensitivity to blue light), colour blind commuters have difficulty differentiating red vs green for the former two conditions as well as blue vs yellow and blue vs green for the latter. It is therefore necessary that the shades are contrasted enough for colour blind commuters to identity different bus routes in a single glance.

Ultimately, a well-designed transit map not only helps convey information easily and efficiently, but also acts as the visual form of the transit networks it portrays. A transit map that makes its transport system look simple, fast, modern and easy will have a positive impact on its commuters. Even as the NTU shuttle bus system is a free service and therefore seemingly does not need to appear attractive to its commuters, the amount of frustration which could be mitigated by a clear presentation of information would improve the bus experience as a whole.


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