Information Graphics

Information Graphics

Pie charts and bar graphs are the crude “stick” drawings of the Power Point world — unimaginative and dull, yet easier to grasp than spreadsheets and algorithms. But in the hands of designers, infographics can be so much more.


New York Subway System 1972

The map of the New York Subway system, designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1972, is still considered a marvel of subtraction in the interest of logic and order. Vignelli color-coded each train line and represented each subway stop with a dot, and since passengers did not need to concern themselves with every idiosyncratic turn in the line, he depicted tracks with straight lines and 45 and 90 degree angles, but took great pains to show the sequence of stops and connections. Aboveground, Vignelli did not aim for geographic accuracy, but cited only those street names and landmarks that would help train riders orient themselves when they came up from the subway. To minimize visual complexity, distances were often condensed and non-relevant streets were eliminated – a point of frustration for walkers who tried to use the map at street level. Although revised maps of the New York subway have been introduced over the years, the Vignelli map is revered for its graphic simplicity and clarity.

Seoul Subway System 2008

Kim Ji-Hwan and Jin Sol, co-founders of Zero per Zero, an information graphics and illustration firm in Seoul, South Korea, have applied experimental design techniques to create city railway system maps that are concise yet abstract and symbolic. For the ancient city of Seoul, they used the natural curvature of the Han River that flows across the city to suggest the Taoist yin-yang symbol, or Taegeuk mark, featured on the South Korean flag. The shape of the map itself was inspired by the circular Taegeuk mark. The Han Yang territory, which was the old capital of the Jo-Seon Dynasty, is encircled by the green rail line, which also suggests the Four Gates of Seoul when it was established as a walled city more than 600 years ago. The rail lines that radiate from there show how the city has grown into a modern metropolis.

2 thoughts on “Information Graphics

  1. Is there any reason you have chosen two examples of network diagram which aren't actually used by the cities which they were designed for?

    The New York Subway map was abandoned 30 years ago and the Seoul map is a conceptual piece which isn't used by Seoul Metro.

    The fundamental requirement of a successful piece of information graphics is that it be useful in explaining complexity of raw data.

    Sure, Vingelli's map is a handsome image, but it isn't a great example of information graphics because it isn't a very successful tool in explaining complexity.

    As you say yourself it is “revered for its graphic simplicity and clarity” – perhaps it's better described as data visualisation. Not to say that its completely unsuccessful, I just feel there are better examples out there of information graphics.

  2. I'm a little bewildered on your choices too. And even more at a loss why you include transport maps that are no longer / ever used and ignore the obvious one: Harry Beck's London Underground map. A design classic created in 1931, only gently reworked in the years since, its still the benchmark.

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