Mark Ovenden, “Transit Maps of the World”

This might win the prize for nerdiest book I’ve ever read.

Published: 2007, 144 pp.
Obtained via: Library
Date started: 2.6.08
Date finished: 2.11.08
What I liked: This book is a collection of maps for practically every metro system in the world. (Metro being defined as mostly underground urban public transportation.) It compares historical and modern-day system maps and describes the evolution of each system. The book is divided into “zones” based on complexity and historical significance of the system. Insane.
What I didn’t like: Ovenden judges all the system maps against the gold standard: the landmark London tube map. I agree that the London tube map is iconic and a wonder of the design world, but judging the quality of a system map by whether it has standardized 45-degree angles and dodged geography for straightened-out paths says little about how effective the map is for locals and whether it’s good design. For example, the Mexico City map on page 60 breaks a lot of his “rules”—but it’s an absolutely charming map that is still totally useable.
Also, Ovenden remarks four times (by my count) how similar the system maps of Asian cities are to a Chinese/Japanese/Korean character. Yes, they are squiggly lines—but they don’t look that much like kanji.
What I learned: Moscow’s underground stations are a tourist attraction in their own right. A lot about map legibility.


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