July 9, 2004, 3:46 pm
The Tube as Template
U.K. designer Martin Kay has taken the Harry Beck map of the London Underground and turned it into a template for process diagramming:
“The standard box, circle and arrow style of flowchart is the main style of process map used in business, but these are often poorly produced and even with good ones, you do not get the users saying ‘I want one’. The tube-map style creates really good process awareness because people just like looking at them. Adhere to the design principles and you create familiarity even if the process itself is unfamiliar to the user — especially if they are someone who uses the London tube to get to work!”
It’s a quirky idea that brings up some interesting points. Successful visual explanations often build upon a viewer’s experience with such visual tools as maps, graphs, and charts. Reusing a well known visual model can be an efficient way to present data with a similar structure and may reveal unexpected possibilities as the model is tailored to the task at hand. Other data sets demand a completely new approach. When this happens, the challenge is developing a visual system that still triggers a viewer’s intuitive understanding.