This is Not a Trick Question: Do You Know What These Are?


The T, MBTA – Boston                                                                          The Tube, London Underground                                                       The L, CTA – Chicago



Everyone recognizes them, and if you said a metro or subway maps you would not be wrong but the answer I was looking for is colored lines that represent, simplify and convey useful information to the end user. I am not sure I need a self-help group for my obsession but I will not lie I am a cartophile.

Ever since I was little boy I was fascinated and loved maps. I used to collect maps and to date myself, AAA trip tix that my parents would receive to guide our family vacations. The idea that spaces and places could be captured on a piece of paper to help navigate the sojourner was intriguing to me. Along with my not so youthful nowadays wanting to understand the socio-economic fabric influences that topography and distance made on people. Maps also let my mind wonder as child to places unseen and thankfully to some places no longer required to be on my bucket-list.

I was introduced to Orienteering in the Boy Scouts, but not sure I have used a compass since, or would think to carry one when needed to escape the wild. In my college years, l was introduced to the word wayfinding, which initially referred to how a traveler would use natural markers (i.e. stars) to direct themselves in unchartered waters and territories. Wayfinding’s modern reference has the same basic premise that mariners would use long ago (orientation – determining where you are, decision – where you are going, monitoring – confirming you ae on the right path and destination, recognition that you have arrived), but it usually refers to a system that guides people through a building, campus or cities. In design school we learned how signage would guide and how finishes and graphics would confirm… but in recent years the trend has been reversed for graphics and finishes to be our sherpa and signage to confirm where our Global Positioning Systems (GPS) left off.

Which brings me to my point… Maps and Wayfinding can be a spaghetti with gravy hot mess to those who can easily be disoriented. As crass as the VA hospitals wayfinding systems were criticized to be, ‘follow the yellow line to the urology department’ they were effective and as I watch my parents grow older I realize how important clarity is in the simple things. I recently read Dr. Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal. His honesty of how the Medical Profession has failed to address life ending closure is transparently eye-opening and has confirmed to me how those in the design profession have a duty to serve as metro maps attempt to do, guide people to their destinations. Ideally not just in a from-here to-there mentality but in an artistic and meaningful way. Simple lines and good wayfinding systems can give clarity of under and above ground complex-city but done well in my opinion they could stand next to other fine art in museums.



Hiromura Masaaki                                                              Mayer/Reed                                                                                  Seesaw Studios

We are bombarded with information constantly and the greater ability to synthesize and simplify the data the more confident we can be to make way to our end goals. Graphic clues and designed wayfinding systems not only eliminate confusion but can add to the joy of the journey because as we all know “where ever you go, that’s where you are” and it would be hard to get to Emerald City without a yellow brick road map.



Posted on April 6, 2017 in Culture, Design, Education, Fun, Journal, Places, Travel

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