Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Peripheral Vision and Curvy Transit Maps

NPR's Science Friday had a nice piece last week on redesigning transit maps. The program features MIT’s Ruth Rosenholtz, a cognitive scientist and the University of Essex’s Max Roberts, a transit map researcher and lecturer. According to Rosenholtz, 99% of our visual field is peripheral. She analyzes maps from this standpoint and has an algorithm to show how they look in peripheral vision. For examples, Boston's MBTA map does pretty well...
while New York's subway map is much more blurry.
I do wonder if the white background version from the Other Map Flavors page would work better. Also we are comparing two very different levels of complexity here.

Max Roberts has designed circular maps for several cities, including New York. 
When I first saw this map, I was underwhelmed and a bit bothered by the geographical distortions but after hearing him explain it, I can see how it does help untangle the lines and make trip planning more straightforward. His Paris map on the other hand is an obvious (to me) improvement. 
Compared to the original.
These curvy maps do better on Rosenholtz's peripheral tests (though no examples were provided) and also did better on tests by Roberts. In his tests subjects were able to plan a trip in much less time.

I really like his treatment of Washington DC.

Chicago is interesting too. I'm not fond of the giant loop-a little too distorted for my tastes. Roberts explains that a diagram should show you how a network works rather than where things are. From that standpoint these maps work well. Just don't expect to be able to walk from Rosemont to Harlem on the blue line in the same amount of time as it would take to get from Jackson to Washington.

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