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Speaking on Map Design: University Lectures

My advanced elective on the history, design and psychology of transit maps ran for the first time in the 2015/2016 academic year at the Univesity of Essex in the Department of Psychology.


Transit Maps: Past, Present & Future (University of Essex course code PS499)

This self-contained module is intended to provide a lively multidisciplinary overview of all aspects of transit map design, but delivered from the perspective of a psychologist. There are no course pre-requisites, and it is intended that any student with any background, who is interested in any aspect of transit map design, can enrol and engage with the content successfully.

The course overview and all course lectures will be made available on this website, and latest versions and updates will be posted here as they are completed. Currently, there are ten lectures scheduled for the course, although this could be subject to change in future years. Click on the headings or the thumbnails to download PDF files of handouts and lecture slides.


Course Guide Thumb
Course Guide

Includes details of assignments, general reading, and set reading.


Overview Thumb
Course Overview

A brief introduction with key information


Lecture 1 Thumb
Lecture 1

Introduction to 20th Century Design

How context shapes design, and design shapes context. From Adam Smith and the Industrial Revolution to the three Ms of the 20th Century: mass production, mass transit and mass communication. The Arts & Crafts movement to Modernism, via Art Nouveau and Art Deco: The events that shaped them and their influence on the railways.


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Lecture 2

Transit Maps History, Part 1:
Context and early design innovations

The special case of transit networks: their history and finance, the need to attract passengers and organise them efficiently. Developments in publicity, signage and architecture as a background context to map design. Traditional approaches to railway cartography, the effects of network expansion, and the resulting search for simplicity. The development of early schematic maps; the first half of the 20th century.


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Lecture 3

Transit Maps History, Part 2:
Modern designs; hits, misses, controversies

Significant designs of the second half of the 20th century. Modern maps; trends in design, innovations, successes, failures, controversies, and the psychological issues that they raise. The effects of network expansion and inclusivity on design effectiveness.


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Laboratory Class 1

Creating a Transit Map:
Introduction to vector graphics and design techniques

The development of printing and imaging technology and their influence on design. Use of vector graphics packages: bit-mapped versus vector graphics, basic facilities, typography. Step-by-step procedures for creating schematic maps.


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Lecture 4

Usability Testing: Basic methods and landmark studies

Methodologies for evaluating map design; journey planning, station finding, route choice, questionnaires, and map choice. Major published studies into map usability. Problems and pitfalls with usability testing. From prototypes to end product: an evidence-based program.


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Laboratory Class 2

Investigating Transit Maps:
Introduction to research methods and statistical concepts

The logic of experimental methodology, independent and dependent variables, between-subjects versus within-subjects designs. Measuring performance, basic summary statistics, experimental error and confidence intervals.


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Lectures 5 & 6

Psychology Meets Transit Maps 1 & 2:
Lower, higher and higher order cognition

Making sense of transit maps through the eyes of a cognitive psychologist. Includes: low level cognition (visual perception and visual attention); inference; route choice; problem solving strategies; expert-novice differences; intuitive scientific theories; intelligence and intelligence testing; working memory capacity; metacognition; expectations and prejudices; and aesthetic judgement.


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Lecture 7

Journey Into Maps:
A psychologist becomes an information designer

An autobiographical account of the module co-ordinator as told by his design work, and what he discovered along the way: origins of his interest, early investigations, seeking direction, developing usability testing and exhaustive exploration methodologies.


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Lecture 8

Framework for Effective Design

How to design a transit map: suggestions from journalists, London Transport, designers, computer scientists and the general public. Towards a framework for effective design, incorporating simplicity, coherence, harmony, balance, and topographicity.


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Lecture 9

Pushing the Envelope:
Different directions in transit map design

Automated schematic map creation. Maverick designs; official maps that shun octolinearity, and unofficial designs that seek to improve on official versions, including some of the stranger and more interesting maps from the internet, and designs that come with usability claims. Alternative information emphasis and exporting the transit map metaphor to new domains.


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Lecture 10

Transit Maps in Popular Culture: Navigation impossible?

Taking transit maps in unexpected directions, and maps of fictional landscapes. Maps as art, exploring different media and decorative designs. Map imagery used in publicity, advertising, and parody, and familiar iconography in unfamiliar settings.