Monday, May 14, 2012

Mind the Map

Image from BBC:

Humans Invent recently posted an interesting piece on a London Transport Museum exhibition called "Mind the Map," which examines evolving depictions of the Tube. The article explains how Harry Beck's 1933 design represents a transformation in the portrayal of the Underground from a geographic to diagrammatic style. Turns out, this seemingly sensible approach was considered quite revolutionary back then.

Responding to those critics who complain that diagrammatic maps are misleading, London Transport Museum curator Claire Dobbin explains, "A good map caters specifically for its usage, in the best possible way…. Beck’s diagrammatic map embodied the very essence of modern functionalism that underpinned the Underground’s design philosophy."

While appreciating this insight on how London's Underground map conveys a modernist sensibility, I am fascinated by how this article illustrates a nuance about omnitopia that is often lost is discussions about the topic. Reflecting on omnitopia, many folks say, "Oh, yeah. You mean homogeneity," when, in fact, omnitopia contains many heterogeneous elements.

Consider how London's Underground map connects to perception rather than particulars: "Other cities across the world have been inspired by Beck’s design, most notably Sydney whose map, despite the overall course the lines take, looks almost identical to the London one." Yet no one would confuse London for Sydney.

The maps we use may be omnitopian, yet our locations remain precisely local.

Read more: Breaking the rules: Harry Beck and the London tube map

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