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Exhibition explores usability and aesthetics
Since revolutionising map design in 1933, Henry Beck’s iconic diagram of the London Underground has set the standard for the mapping of transport networks worldwide but is this template always a success? Is it time to look at an overhaul of the maps and the underlying design rules we have followed since the 1930s?
That is the subject of an exhibition of maps, by University of Essex researcher Dr Maxwell Roberts, which is being hosted at Studio 3 gallery, University of Kent from 3 to 27 July 2012, and sponsored by Diagrams 2012, an international conference.
Underground Maps Unravelled: Explorations in Information Design investigates the use of Beck’s basic design rules: replacing chaotic, twisting routes with straight lines, horizontal, vertical or diagonals at 45 degrees only and explores the usability of schematic network design. Starting with the London Underground map as a benchmark, it asks why traditional design rules help people, whether they are adequate for today's complex networks, and if we can improve design by breaking the rules.
The exhibition presents a selection of Dr Roberts’ own work: maps that break all the rules, maps that are easier to use, maps that teach us about good design, maps that challenge our preconceptions, and maps that are just intended to be decorative.
He explained: “With today’s emphasis on using public transport, and the ever-increasing complexity of networks around the world, it is vital that designers create the best possible maps. All too often, the general public is faced with designs that are poor quality, off-putting, and perhaps barely usable. We need to take a good look at whether fresh approaches are required.”
With the Olympics coming up, no sign of a clear map showing all London's railways, and Crossrail set to add to the confusion, there are all sorts of design pressures stacking up for the immediate future that designers will need to address. Breaking the rules might be the only way forward.
The exhibition has toured internationally, previous venues include: Minories Gallery, Colchester; Scott-Brownrigg, London, Schloss Dagstuhl, Germany; and IEEE Visweek, Providence, RI, USA.
Curated by Priscila Buschinelli
The University of Kent,
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School of Computing