Thursday, November 19, 2009

Visualize Positive Change: The Eisenhower Interstate System

By rendering the United States’ Eisenhower Interstate System “in the style of H.C. Beck’s London Underground Diagram,” Australian born graphic designer Cameron Booth has created an image of which is part clever graphic, part empowering visualization for enacting change.

While there are many Americans who probably have never traveled on an underground rail system, most have taken some form of public transportation at some point in their lives in which case they likely would have spent considerable time scrutinizing a diagram that looked a lot like this one. This is because the style of H.C. Beck’s underground diagram was so successful that it has become ubiquitous in all forms of public transit. The three major elements of the design which make it successful are simplicity, clarity, and aesthetic appeal.

To achieve this simplicity the background of the diagram designed to be relatively neutral. As in Booth’s image of the Eisenhower Interstate System the only geographic elements included are major land-water borders and national borders. Moreover, these elements are not defined by dark lines but rather depicted only by contrasting white with washed out neutral color tones of tan and light blue. In order to enhance the clarity of the image all other information except that which applies directly to train lines and stations has been omitted. In addition, the paths of the train lines have been simplified to reflect the course of their travel in terms of straight lines arranged along a perfect horizontal, vertical, or diagonal axis. This gives the diagram a feeling of continuity and order. The color coding of the train lines is also important. Assigning a specific unique color to each train line not only contributes to the clarity of the diagram, making it easier to read, but also creates visual interest by enhancing aesthetic appeal. The use of vibrant color in contrast to the neutral background stimulates excitement while the diverse array across the spectrum of color induces positive feelings in the same manner as a rainbow or a bowl of brightly colored candy.

By rendering the Eisenhower Interstate System in this way Booth may help others to re-envision United States travel. Seeing our existing freeways adapted to a design this familiar and accessible makes the idea of continental high speed rail travel seem possible. The simple aesthetic appeal of the design makes the idea feel positive. In this way, Booth is going a step further than merely suggesting that the highways be turned in to railways; he is providing people with a positive vision of what this idea could look like.


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