I just saw Chris Erb’s post over on the Spacing Montreal blog about the STM’s new metro map. I don’t have too much to add (since he included the link the the Super Mario Bros. 3 version of the map), but let me offer a couple thoughts.
There’s certainly not too much to complain about since the update is pretty conservative. Aside from the subtle branding updates it maintains the iconic shape and colour of the 2007 version. That said, there really isn’t much to praise here either. The salient question is whether the STM missed an opportunity to make the map better instead of just tidier.
When I think of the issues that come up regularly when I ride the metro, they tend to involve orienteering and wayfinding within the station and the immediate vicinity. Stepping off the train, there tends to be only the barest minimum of signage in the more complex stations and a busy map of the entire island of Montreal. Then when I step out of a station I often make a wrong assumption about which direction I’m facing, or have to spend a couple minutes geting my bearings before my mental map is facing the right direction.
Could a metro map help us with this? Admittedly, the beauty of the metro map is the simplicity of its message. It lays out the order of the stations, indicates the stations where lines cross, and gives basic geographical context to the system as a whole. Would it be an imposition or detraction if each of the little circular stations had a subtle arrow indicating the direction in which the main entrance faces?
A well designed metro map is the perfect little infographic: iconic, informative, and simple. Have we reached the limits of map design? Is simplification and tidiness the final task for the metro? I’ll be thinking about these questions when I take the metro for the next little while. Please comment if you can think of any other tweaks that could pack more useful information into the map without detracting from its simplicity and cleanliness.