Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Maps don't have to be oriented North/South

If you have a paper map then commonly it'll have a north pointer on it and it'll be oriented such that north is up. This works great if you don't know where you'll be standing when you look at the map: you figure out where north is, turn the map, and away you go. But fixed maps don't have to be oriented like that. In fact, they're better off oriented so that the person looking at the map is presented with a map oriented based on the direction they are facing.

Here's the map outside my office for the new London bike hire scheme:

The You Are Here arrow points in the direction the viewer is facing along the road they are standing next to. The north arrow is still present for people who want that piece of information. To my mind this is far more sensible because you eliminate worrying about which direction you are facing.

Here's another from central London with the same system. This time north is in a different direction.

And here's a section of the New York subway map. All of Manhattan has been falsely oriented north/south so that the designations uptown and downtown make more sense:

Of course on some mobile phones with maps a compass is included to oriented the GPS-based map the correct way. Here's my iPhone map application orienting itself down Dover Street in London:

There are probably lots of other examples of maps that are oriented in a more ergonomic fashion than north/south. Can you point me to examples?


Colin said...

Here is an example of a map series following a route using OpenStreetMap data: http://lorien.ancalime.de/rotated.html

martijn said...

As it doesn't change the orientation of street names, I think the iPhone map thingy is only useful for people who don't know they can rotate their phone. (Disclaimer: I don't own an iPhone. It is well possible for Apple to have explicitly forbidden users from using their phones in anything but the default orientation.)

Do these bike scheme maps make it very clear that north isn't where you think it is?

Scott said...

For years, the Chicago Transit Authority has oriented its on-board subway maps with west facing up so the system will fit on a placard above the subway doors.

Here's an example: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3238/2675118855_5dc0028fe4.jpg?v=0

Central Chicago is located on the shores of Lake Michigan and radiates north, west and south from the Loop, so it makes more sense to put the lake at the bottom for horizontal maps.

Blankity Blank said...

I'm a bit late to the party, but you may find this of some interest: http://flourish.org/upsidedownmap/

Blankity Blank said...

I'm a bit late to the party, but you may find this of interest: http://flourish.org/upsidedownmap/