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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Could Turn Your World Upside-Down, 26 July 2012
This review is from: Underground Maps Unravelled: Explorations in Information Design (Hardcover)
The 23rd July 2012 marked the publication of arguably one of the most important books relevant to the transport information fraternity. Yes, this is a powerful statement and one I do not make lightly.

I too, often make the point that every information solution should be carefully assessed at the outset, by a true understanding of users' needs. Though this book uses the London Underground map as its main focus (many others worldwide are studied too) this is not a book about Underground maps - the real messages are far wider. The sub-title of the book `Explorations in Information Design' is what it is really about. This exposition is just as relevant to type choice and layout (legibility and readability), signage design and configuration, and anything you can think of to do with graphic communication.

Dr. Maxwell Roberts is a psychologist of great experience, specializing in studying logic (or too often the lack of it). He penetrates deeply into questions that are seldom considered, let alone agonized over. The word `usability' comes up time and time again and I champion this cause.

The author examines and challenges supposed learned wisdom of the rules that are commonly used to design communicative products, such as maps and signs; he questions how much designers truly understand these rules, or if they are just blindly following them. Rules are one thing, but the successful execution of them is quite another. This comes through the narrative text like a laser beam.

Design principles are scrutinized, from the very fundamental basics through to some unimagined levels of sophistication. His own assertions too are scrutinized, through scientific testing of designs in real situations. Demonstrably, people's preferences (the product they may have `liked' best) have no statistical worth against their performance using them. It may be meaningful when changing the flavour of a chocolate bar's formula, to establish which flavour is preferred and therefore likely to sell better. However, information design has to test performance and not preference.

In one comparative test the author states: "The advantages that the best designs had over the worst were considerable; improvements in journey planning speeds of around 50 per cent were frequently observed, as high as 100 per cent in one study. These are not findings to be dismissed; all that time wasted for a busy network such as Paris adds up, not just for individuals, but also for staff who have been asked for assistance because users give up."

If money spent is to be turned into benefit, then the cognitive process of users is ignored to the benefit only of the red figures on the balance sheet.

This 224-page casebound book contains high-quality graphics throughout. Astonishingly, for someone with no graphic or cartographic training, the author has created what can only be described as master-pieces of design and beauty. He equally has created some truly vile monsters - just to illustrate, good and bad, what can be achieved but remaining within `the rules'. There is enough here to make your jaw drop and your eyes burst.

They say: location location location, but this book is about function function function.
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