After using subway maps in New York, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Chicago and other places I can’t quite remember, and after feeling constantly surprised by how confusing it is to try to understand New York’s tools for guiding you through the MTA labyrinth, I came up with six principles that make subway maps/signs/info displays useful for getting around a city.
After thinking about my list, I felt like it was valuable not just in terms of maps, but in terms of, you know, life, man.
So, to live a well-designed life, or to just make a frigging subway information system that works, it’s … easy! Here’s the information you need as you traipse about:
1) Know where you have been.
2) Know where you are.
3) Know where you are going.
4) Know when you have to make a decision.
5) Know what choices you have and will have.
6) Know the results of your choices, extrapolated as deeply as possible without inducing decision paralysis.
Hong Kong by far has the best transportation system I’ve ever used, and I credit the information displays in its trains for at least the first three items on the list. New York’s transportation system is the most difficult to use. No, really. It is. Even the simple act of trying to visually identify the station you’re pulling into is like trying understand these cats: