My lectures are lively, entertaining, and factually accurate and are always well-received. Recipients include the general public, professionals, and academics. Specialist audiences include computer scientists, cartograpers, graphic designers, and psychologists. I am always happy to discuss invitations.
Satisfied customers include the London Transport, Victoria & Albert, and Design Museums, the Sign Design Society, Crossrail, and FWT Studios. Non-specialist audiences include local branches of the National Trust, Cafe Scientifique, and the University of the 3rd Age.
For non-profit bodies, I am happy to speak as long as expenses are covered. For more details, email me at email@example.com
My five minute presentation at Ignite London 4
My TEDx presentation at the University of Sussex
For standard one-hour slots, choose from these lectures, or email me if you would like topics combined or expanded:
Transit Maps: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
A lighthearted look and historic and modern urban rail maps worldwide, discussing the design issues that they illustrate, and naming and shaming some of the worst.
A lively presentation is guaranteed, with many surprises along the way.
My top ten all time great historic maps; the innovative and well-executed ones that raised the bar.
My suggestions for five modern networks that consistently release high-quality usable designs (and London isn’t one of them).
My ten all-time worst designs; the ones that need(ed) urgent attention, or worse, should never have left the drawing board.
Taming the New York Subway Map
Untangling the unique network, past present and future
The New York Subway is one of the world’s great urban rail networks; massive and fiendishly complex, with a long and eventful history. It’s maps reflect this, and to this day, the debate about how best to depict the network remains unresolved, with different factions unable to reach agreement. Should the map be geographically correct? How should a schematic map be structured? Is a meaningful schematic even possible? This talk will present an overview of the history of the New York Subway map along with the underlying debates, events and politics that have shaped the official designs that we see today, and also some of the more interesting unofficial versions. I will then talk about some of my own creations, the reasoning behind them, and the problems that had to be solved, along with some of the surprising responses that they have generated.
Paris Metro: The Graphic Designers’ Graveyard?
The world’s densest and most mapped network, past present and future
Paris is the most visited city in the world, and its dense convoluted network of metro and regional lines provides endless challenges for any designer. Official maps have explored more design methods than any other network. For compilers of tourist guides who prefer to use an unofficial version, alternatives range from the unusable to the intriguing to the downright weird. More Paris Metro maps have been created than for all other rail transit maps around the world put together, and yet good solutions remain elusive, and truely bizarre design innovations, that seemed like a good idea at the time, challenge even the most determined users. So, what is it about this network that challenges designers, and often brings out the worst in them, and what have been the high points and low points of design in depicting it?
Purely Decorative: The
Journey Map is the Reward
Decorated and decorative transit maps from around the world
The obvious purpose of a map is to show the topography of the landscape so that it can be navigated effectively, but the skills of the cartographer can have a considerable aesthetic effect on the viewer as well. How many maps, proudly displayed on the walls of houses worldwide, are used as originally intended? Maps are not only beautiful, they can evoke strong emotions, such as memories of youthful exploration, and holidays to exotic destinations. The humble transit map fulfils these roles admirably, and creative designers often subtly embellish their work with artistic flourishes, alternatively the stark simplicity of stripped down unornamented designs, with their nod to Bauhaus philosophy, have their own powerful aesthetic, as achieved by Beck and Vignelli.
Through the ages, designers also have recognised that the map can be a work of art in its own right, and that if the navigational function is put to one side, works of stunning beauty can result. In this lecture I will explore some of the nicest examples of decoration on transit maps, and decorative transit maps worldwide, as well as some of the most aesthetic of the minimalist creations, and talk about the motivations and the creative process behind my own work.
Underground Maps Untangled
The History of the Underground Map Part 1: Searching for Simplicity, Seeking a Standard
Early railways in London made do with overprinted street maps, but their rapid expansion called for innovations to maintain usability and maximise publicity value. Henry Beck’s map was not created in a vacuum, and developments in advertising and signage point the way towards his achievements. This presentation traces the roots and context of the development of the schematic London Underground network diagram, leading up to and including Henry Beck’s career, ending with his controversial ‘sacking’.
Underground Maps after Beck
The History of the Underground Map Part 2: Wishful Thinking and Decades of Decline
In the 1970s, Underground map design shifted from amateurs to professional cartographers and graphic designers, and from hand-drawn artwork to computer technology. Characterised by political interference, and periods of stability then sudden transitions, the fortunes of the Underground Map are distinctly mixed. There has been a gradual erosion of design standards despite (or perhaps because of) new technology. This presentation begins with the worst Underground map ever designed, and ends with the challenges presented by the need for a genuinely integrated map of all London’s railways.
Underground Maps Unravelled
Design challenges and challenging Designs
As urban rail networks around the world grow and develop, so the challenge for designers to create attractive usable maps increases. What are the hallmarks of a well-designed map versus a poor one? Are Henry Beck’s rules (horizontal and vertical lines and 45 degree diagonals) really the best pathway to design excellence? What happens if we break the rules? There will be many surprises along the way: the quality of design matters more than the rules, and different rules suit different networks.
Underground Maps in Orbit
Concentric circles maps and the search for coherence
I completed my first concentric circles map, of the London Underground, early in 2013 as a cartographic joke. I was astonished by the positive response that this received, with similar enthusiasm generated for New York, Paris, and Berlin versions. Looking back, these maps tell us a lot about effective design, especially that elusive most and subtle of design goals, coherence. Concentric circles maps can force networks into unprecedented levels of organisation, revealing the structure of the system and how the elements relate to each other.
Underground Maps Uncharted
A parallel universe of unofficial designs
Step into any bookshop in Germany, Italy, Spain, or Japan, and look at the tourist guides to London. The chances are, the Underground map won’t be the official one that you are familiar with. Ever since Beck’s first design in 1933, others have modified or reworked this for their own purposes, and today mass tourism fuels demand, and computers provide the tools to meet it. Designs are often entertaining, reveal different traditions in different countries, and real gems occasionally surface. Relentlessly pursued as copyright violations by London Transport, and with little or no archiving anywhere, their history is a challenge to research.
Underground Maps Invigorated
Digitising design: recreating or reinventing history
Some maps fall by the wayside. Promising approaches are abandoned before being refined, interesting drawings never make it into production or, worst of all, all known printed copies are lost. With some educated guesses, we can try to recreate lost designs, and implement might-have beens that could have existed if circumstances had been different. Modern printing shows these works so well that existing historic maps pale by comparison, and need their own re-invigoration in order to stand up to them. What are the benefits and pitfalls of digitising history? Can we appreciate the intentions of the designers in enhanced glory, or are we embarking on hopelessly anachronistic wild goose chases?
Underground Maps Impeded
Information provision or information pollution: the design challenge
Henry Beck’s original design was breathtaking in its simplicity but, ever since it was first published, well-intentioned people have tried to make it even better. Whether the attempt has been to give geographical journey hints, or show service patterns or accessibility, the results have been decidedly mixed in their usefulness, at an extreme deluging the user with information pollution. This presentation traces the history of supplementary information on the Underground map, and shows why good solutions are almost impossible to attain.
London’s Secret Railways
Mapping the Underground’s Rivals
The London Underground network forms around one-third of the railways in the capital, and is entirely or virtually absent from many boroughs. Nonetheless, all of London is well-served by rail, and there is a long history of colourful diverse maps of rival systems. Today, with a fragmented privatised network, the ultimate goal of a good combined map of London’s railways evades us more than ever, but there have been numerous attempts in the past, and with continuing fares integration, this is set to occupy designers well into the future.