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GLWPCM commentary track

2010 March 15

As I noted in the original post, the Great Lakewood Pub Crawl Map turned out to be a surprisingly difficult project. The concept was simple enough — a map showing drinking establishments on Detroit and Madison Avenues — but perhaps it was finding a way to achieve that simplicity which made it so complex to design.

I began with the idea of two straight, parallel lines, as a pure representation of the concept: moving up or down the street between various stops along the way. Rotating the map 90 degrees was also there in my very first thinking, as that would make it easier to include names next to each dot, and I definitely wanted to do that, rather than simply have numbers referring to an index, e.g.

With the iconic London Underground map in mind, I started some early versions of the map which were pretty abstract, such as this draft:

Abstract draft version of Great Lakewood Pub Crawl Map

Note remotely complete or up-to-date, FYI

I made an exception to the straight, parallel lines idea because Detroit Avenue really isn’t close to a straight line at the northern end, but in this version I did nonetheless impose a great deal of regularity on the main streets.

You’ll also note that this version has actual dots, which I was in the process of reluctantly replacing with square boxes. My motivation for the switch was to more precisely depict businesses’ locations, i.e. on the northwest corner of such and such intersection rather than a dot placed directly on that intersection. In retrospect, though, I think the boxes also stand out from the line of the street much better.

The tension between a mostly-aesthetic preference for abstraction and a desire to include as much relevant information on the map as possible was an ongoing challenge. In particular I struggled with what streets to include, and how realistically to depict their various quirks.

Lakewood, while at first glance a very regular grid of north-south streets crossed by a few east-west avenues, is in fact as quirky, in its way, as any spaghetti-maze east side neighborhood (though IMO still much easier to find one’s way around). The main deviation from a regular grid is the fact that the north-south streets vary, almost randomly, in their distance from one another, and also break at Madison and Detroit in all but a few cases.

Artificially forcing regularity on these streets, were it even possible, would have taken the map too far away from reality, as I saw it. But I didn’t want to just leave them out. They provide relevant information, and I really didn’t feel there was any good reason to just leave that much space blank. Honestly, it was impossible for me to place the various bars without north-south streets to use as points of reference, so why expect other people to use the map without them?

With all of those irregular north-south streets, the artificial abstraction of Madison and Detroit Avenues just looked out of place, so at that point I opted for a largely-accurate street grid. I even tried a version with north at the top of the map, but the ease of displaying names on the rotated version still seemed to favor that approach instead.

Horizontal draft version of Great Lakewood Pub Crawl Map

Text is just easier to read when horizontal than when at a 45-degree angle

After going back to the vertically-oriented map, I was close to the final result. I basically added in streets that felt “related” to Madison and Detroit, or that just helped visually round out the map. Throw on a splash of color, some accompanying typography driven largely by what I have available in the way of compressed typefaces, and Bob’s your uncle.

I think the final product makes an interesting comparison with another map of Lakewood businesses, published by Downtown Lakewood:

February 2010 map of central Detroit Avenue businesses

Locally-hosted copy of map by Downtown Lakewood

Visually, I really like this map. It’s pleasingly simple and regular, yet looks very fun thanks to the colored dots.

In terms of usefulness, as a map, I’m less sold on it. In fairness, it’s probably best to think of this map as a supporting graphic for the categorized list of businesses (below or on the reverse side, for web and print versions, respectively) rather than vice versa. Find a business in the list, then see approximately where it is and where there’s nearby parking, basically.

Otherwise, as a primary reference itself, the map is a bit wanting. For example, Blue Onion Catering is an orange dot halfway between Bunts and Belle (which FWIW does not continue entirely straight through Detroit and also has a different name on the north side). But there’s nothing to indicate its location any more precisely.

For practical purposes this isn’t a big deal, because the distance from Warren to Bunts is a short walk, but there’s no scale on this map; one might infer a very zoomed-in scale from the size of blocks assigned to the hospital, library, etc., but the density of dots on the other hand might suggest larger distances between the four north-south streets shown.

Would I have designed this map differently? Hard to say; I’m not entirely sure what the concept was. As noted, the map seems to be a supporting graphic for the list of businesses, but visually, the map looks much more like the primary element. It has the Downtown Lakewood logo, it’s more visually interesting, and on the web it’s displayed above the directory as well. Resolve that, and it would probably knock most shaky aspects of the map into place.

Ah, usability vs aesthetics, form vs function. Will we ever tire of this game…

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