Underground Maps Unravelled, Explorations in Information Design

by Maxwell J. Roberts

Travel by public transport in any city around the world, and the chances are that sooner or later you will find a stylised map whose routes have been drawn as straight lines — horizontal, vertical, or 45° diagonals — joined by tight corners. The geography has been considerably distorted, and most of the surface details are missing, but the people who produced the map hope that you will find it easy to understand, and that it will encourage you to make use of the network more often.

Schematic maps are commonplace, not just in trains and stations, but in art galleries and souvenir shops worldwide. They have become part of popular culture, but how successfully are designers achieving their basic objectives: do these maps really make life easier for passengers? This book is the result of over ten years of investigation by a psychologist, exploring the fundamentals of usability.

Too many schematic maps are not fit for purpose, commissioned by managers or created by designers who blindly follow tradition, lacking the ability or inclination to test the work in objective usability studies, and who do not understand how people identify and interpret information in order to make sense of their surroundings. Either such maps are poorly optimised, or else inappropriate design rules have been chosen, incompatible with the structure of the networks that are being mapped.

This book gives an in-depth analysis of how schematic maps assist the user, when they fail, and the psychological theories that explain why. It asks whether traditional design techniques are suited to today s complex networks, and explores what happens when the rules are broken. The result is an astonishing collection of maps for cities worldwide that challenge preconceptions about the nature of effective design.

Whether you are a graphic designer, transport professional, or just a frustrated commuter, maps will never seem quite the same again.



This is a sensational book that promises to become a milestone for studies into transportation maps. It is much more than a book about subway diagrams, it is about the very essence of graphic design, expressed as the interaction between information and visual discipline. It will have significant impact on the teaching of design in the new digital era, where more articulate design fundamentals could provide better results. Massimo Vignelli

This 224-page casebound book contains high-quality graphics throughout. Astonishingly, for someone with no graphic or cartographic training, the author has created what can only be described as masterpieces of design and beauty. He equally has created some truly vile monsters just to illustrate, good and bad, what can be achieved but remaining within the rules. There is enough here to make your jaw drop and your eyes burst. Douglas Rose

Published by the author, July 2012, 224 pages, 276 x 240 mm, £45.00, ISBN 978-0-9572664-0-7.