Think First, Design Later

(From Malofiej20 Blog)

Germany has a long design tradition. Just having a quick look into the history of design, both the Bauhaus and the ULM Schools are still the most influential schools of design. In addition, German designers, such as Lucian Bernhard, Otl Aicher, Jan Tschichold, and Erik Spiekermann among others, have been pioneers in different areas of design throughout the xx century. Particularly in terms of information design, effective projects have been developed in this same country. A well-know example would be the design of the wayfinding system of Berlin transportation network and its diagrammatic map. However what amazes me most, it is that (well-defined) information design examples could be found all around the country. Today I would like to share a lovely map I encountered last week in Berlin in my way to Weimar.

I had quite a long journey ahead when I left London that morning: first I had to fly to Berlin, then get the bus to Berlin and finally take two trains to Weimar. So, once I got to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central train station), I went to double-check that I was in the correct station (you never know!), and then look for the appropriate platform. While waiting for my train, a group of posters next to me caught my attention. From the distance, they seemed to be timetables, but one of them in particular had a complex and too colourful layout to be displaying only textual information. So, I went to check it out. On closer inspection, I realised that that poster wasn’t (only) a timetable but a floor map of the ground-floor platforms.

Timetable of arriving and departing trains from Berlin main train station (Berlin, 2011)

Zoom-in of the timetable-map (Berlin, 2011)

So, let’s have a proper look to this floor map. First, the map shows departure and arrival times and destinations, route numbers, and directions of each train which gets into this level of the station (Berlin Hauptbahnhof has four floors). After this, the quantity of carriages of each train, and where in the platform each train will stop can also be seen in the map. At the same time, each carriage is colour-coded according to its class and function, e.g. green for second class, yellow for first class, and red for the restaurant carriage. This is complemented with a series of icons, which indicates the facilities of each carriage, e.g. WC, seats for less-able travellers, information spots. Each platform is divided in zones: A, B, C and D, and, of course, these zones are marked in the map. Finally, a red circle points out the zone where you are standing in the platform. Four of these posters are located along each platform, one per zone to help travellers to easily find their seats. On the bottom part of the map, a reference box explains each of the icons, colours, and acronyms that have been used to code the information.

In short, what makes this map to be extremely interesting for me is that it visualises a great amount of information organised into a cohesive whole, creating a clear layout. To be able to achieve this level of visual clarity, it is necessary to have a complete understanding of the content that will be used to create the infographic or information design project, before start designing.

PS: Thanks to Gregor’s comment I would like to clarify that this map is not a floor-map, as ‘the map does not show each train which gets into a certain level of the station (of which, as pointed out correctly, Berlin main station has four). Instead there’s a unique map for every platform of the station, of which Berlin main station has more than 20. So it’s not a floor map (which would be very useful, indeed) but a timetable of all trains you would see if you would stand on that particular platform for 24 hours.’

One comment

  1. Pingback: Reconciling Beauty and Function | Mapping Complex Information. Theory and Practice

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