under the ground

I found Lessons from the London Undeground in my inbox this a.m. and read it with some doubt: […]

I found Lessons from the London Undeground in my inbox this a.m. and read it with some doubt: yet another metaphor for IA? When do IA’s find time to do IA when they apparently spend so much of it explaining what it is.

Then I was sucked in. And utterly charmed and intrigued by the metaphor of the London Underground for the web.

If you’ve ever emerged from the underground (or the metro, or the subway) dazed and perplexed and disoriented, you know what I mean when I say that is much like coming up from a long stint of surfing to stagger to the kitchen for a soda (and accidently walk into the closet. or maybe that’s just me). We learn a new set of navigation rules to the point of almost unlearning our native ones.

It’s a whole different world underground, with all our usual wayfinding devices (sky, wind, square walls, windows) removed; to be replaced only by signs. Signs get to be very important.

It’s an apt and intriguing metaphor, complete with solutions we have hardly begun to tap into.

Thought-provoking article. Check it out.


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  1. 3
    Celia Romaniuk


    I was interested in your comment, but after discussing it with some tube-geek friends, and travelling on the Northern line this afternoon, I decided that the directions of the ‘spokes’ don’t actually indicate which way the doors open.

    Rather, they’re placed that way to deal with labelling issues. There’s only so much space for labels to fit on the horizontal map. Hence some labels are written above the line, and some below.

    This is why the maps on the platforms and corrdors have all the spokes pointing the same way – there is enough horizontal space to write the labels (compare to http://www.btinternet.com/~jason.hobbs2/articles/tube/four.html).

    Interestingly, the labelling issue is also why some stations on, say, the Northern line, are spaced out on the map. The distances between stations does not represent geographical distances. They just give room for the stations’ names.

  2. 4

    Something that I’ve talked about with Jones the IA: you can be disorientated on the Tube, but you can’t get lost. Which is why real Londoners prove themselves by taking the bus. And why, incidentally, the new set of London bus maps look more like Tube maps.

    And Bill: thanks for that tip. In a decade of visiting London, I never knew that the station markers indicated the side the doors open.

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