Email of the Week: Enlightenment Through Rotation

Mosmetro2010 Interesting.  From David Marlor:

I’m wondering if I’m the only person that does this. When looking at a city map or any network map, I like to look at it sideways or upside down. Our eyes are designed to see things horizontally, but we’re not that good at seeing things vertically (probably why we like wide-screen TVs). So when we scan a map, we look left and right, more so than up and down.

We’re so conditioned to look at maps with north at the top, that I think we miss a lot of connections or don’t see gaps in those connections. I find that by turn the map sideways, I get a completely different appreciation for the city and instantly new connections or gaps in connections in the network stand out. That area of the city that looked insignificant when looking at the map with north at the top, suddenly takes on a new more important role in the visual view of the city.

I think we should encourage people using maps to make decisions to turn the maps around, post them upside down or sideways in a meeting, change the view in Google Earth (and I wish we could do that in Google Maps too), rotate the map PDF you were sent, and see the network from a completely different perspective.



13 Responses to Email of the Week: Enlightenment Through Rotation

  1. anonymouse October 19, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    Actually, the Moscow Metro doesn’t look too different to me sideways or upside down. One interesting perspective I’ve had with a subway map was the NYC Subway in Downtown Brooklyn. The first time I looked at it, it was a giant tangled mess of lines, but once I learned more of the history, I found that it was three more or less simple and logical networks superimposed on top of each other without much logic in their interconnection. There has to be some clever mapping technique that highlights the glaring lack of connection between the IND and IRT/BMT networks in this area.

  2. Alon Levy October 19, 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    Interesting… it could be an artifact of the schematic, but when it’s rotated, I see more clearly the relative paucity of east-west connections.

  3. Louis October 19, 2010 at 10:17 pm #

    Great points. Actually, Google Maps can be rotated using one of the Labs features. Just click the beaker in the upper-right corner.

  4. jamesmallon October 20, 2010 at 3:01 am #

    Map North is a pretty strong concept to break.

  5. ktraveller October 20, 2010 at 5:59 am #

    Excellent point–we are often oriented to an artificial compass axis. Presenting system maps or schematics in various perspectives could be useful when planning trips, routes, or just navigating the system.

  6. Tom West October 20, 2010 at 6:31 am #

    For a typical North American city built aroudn a grid system, the transit network *should* show rotatational symmetry, providing the underlying travel patterns do. If it doesn’t, then that a sign that either the network doesn’t work properly, or the travel patterns aren’t symmetric.

  7. J.D. Hammond October 20, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    Alon: Many of those Moscow lines aren’t actually north-south, but radial. For whatever reason (presumably to conserve space on the map), they’re diagrammed as kinking to the north and south in a highly figurative way. It makes the Washington Metrorail map look downright representative.

  8. Brian McCann October 20, 2010 at 10:17 am #

    A map in the late 80’s had south at the top of the page. A really interesting perspective; especially since it was introduced to me by an Australian friend.
    Also, Norman Davies’ “A History of Europe” has the maps with west at the top; again, interesting things get seen.

  9. JJJ October 21, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Brian, you’ll find those “upside down” maps in classrooms all over south america, which places that continent on top.

  10. Rolando Peñate October 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    Regarding rotating the map in Google Maps:

  11. Scott October 22, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    For a better idea of how Moscow Metro lines actually related to the city inside the outer ring road as of 2002, see: [ “Map of lines, laid on a city plan” ]
    What is always striking to me is how Moscow continues to prioritize the development of the Metro. I lived at the end of a line, hard on the outer ring road, in the early ’90s; now there are three more stations and an entire secondary line beyond. Wow! This map shows the era in which sections of the metro were built: [ “Chronological map” ; Explanation of colours is in the lower left, titled “Years of construction of stations and lines” and with the final colour grey defined as, “closed.” ]

  12. JayinPortland October 26, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

    Just thought of this post when I saw this –
    Map of the City of Portland from 1866. Note that it’s oriented with west at the top rather than north…

  13. James A. October 28, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    Do native speakers of many East Asian languages (Japanese, Chinese, Korean…) have the same horizontal, left-to-right tendancy concerning maps? If so, did they have it as well before the westernization of their written language’s orientation?
    I’ve noted this phenomenon myself when orienting myself in a city — I tend to always have a mental picture of my location on a North-oriented map everywhere I go. As a result, even rotating the map in my head is difficult, lest I wish to disorient myself!
    I’ll also note that I’ve seen several older maps of Germany with South at the top. This was due to the southern part of the country butting against the Alps — the cartographers simply put the higher land on top. It’s also the reason that the southernmost part of Bavaria is known as Oberbayern (Upper Bavaria), despite it always being at the bottom of the map. Tourists don’t find this amusing.