Class 38: Introduction to Information Design & Visualization

Note: The video assignment is due Monday, February 4. Check the SSD for some more instructions.

In this unit we will study the idea of design from many different perspectives, identifying the purposes of design, different types of design, and strategies for effective design. We will learn how design impacts our lives, how to assess effective design, and how to become good designers ourselves.

Our study of design will be far ranging, but our primary emphasis will be on the design of information: maps, diagrams, illustrations, graphs. We are living in an information rich environment and good design allows us to produce and consume information effectively.

As an introduction to this unit we will look at an area of design that affects our daily lives: the design of subway and transit maps. By the end of class you should have an appreciation for the required choices that go into producing such maps and how important the design choices could be.

Please read the following article (hard copy provided in class):

Win, Lose, Draw: The Great Subway Map Wars (NYT, Sept. 3, 2006)

We will look at the Vignelli MTA diagram and the current NYT MTA design, and assess their strengths and weaknesses.

The following notes are taken from an academic paper called Mind the Map! The Impact of Transit Maps on Travel Decisions in Public Transit, by Zhan Guo. A search on the title or author should take you to the original source if you are interested in reading it.

  • The importance of maps to spatial behaviour has been documented in research studies.
  • Some key questions:
    • What kind of information is delivered from a travel map to a traveler?
    • How could that information affect a traveler’s decisions?
    • Could we use a travel map as a planning tool to improve individual’s decision making and the performance of a transportation system? And how?
  • A transit map depicts locations, directions and connections of stations and lines
  • Characteristics of transit maps:
    • Distortion: transit maps are usually not geographically accurate – compress and expand space between stations to make them equal
    • Restoration: a map including or based on geographic features
    • Codification: how stations, lines and connections are coded on a map
  • How a subway map affects the way we perceive and think about elements of the city:
    • Boundaries: defines downtown or east and west, fare zones may impact real estate values,
    • Landmarks: stations serve as landmarks
    • Distance: measured in stops not km or miles
  • Transit map can affect:
    • Mode choice: may reduce bus use
    • Location choice: can affect residential preferences, shopping choices
    • Path choice: preference for straight lines even if it is longer

Handout: Revised transit map for GTA (from Spacing Magazine)

Design Around the World: Metro Maps: Each student should pick one map and assess its strengths and weaknesses.


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