A Silver Thread: Washington Metro's New Map

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This past Thursday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority unveiled the new Metrorail map, featuring the first phase of the soon-to-open Silver Line. The map, thankfully, looks very much like the original, only with the Silver Line threaded in between the Orange and Blue Lines, providing a nice contrast and emphasizing that the Silver Line runs on the main East/West core route for much of its run.

Detail of Final Silver Line Map from http://planitmetro.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Final-Map-without-addresses-07-13-600x671.png

While Metro’s map may not be quite as iconic as the London Underground’s map, the relatively clean look of it is unmistakable at a glance. Even video games set in Washington use riffs on the snaking colored lines to conjure up the map without having to get permission to use the real thing, as in Fallout 3.

Fallout 3 Metro Map

Metro brought the original designer, Lance Wyman, back to revise the map, and according to Metro’s blog, PlanItMetro, he and his design team made the following adjustments:

  • Made street abbreviations consistent
  • Improved the geographic accuracy of the stations where possible
  • New icon for stations that are serviced by three rail lines: the traditional station dot with white extenders
  • Made the rail lines 24% thinner to ensure room for the Silver Line
  • Added the Anacostia National Park
  • Added the Metro Transit Police phone number
  • Added a note that the map is not to scale
  • Lightened the Beltway and jurisdiction borders to improve readability

I’m quite pleased with the final result. There’s a high density of information on the map, but it’s not cluttered at all. One perhaps wishes that the station names didn’t overlap the iconography of the monuments, but that’s a small quibble. I look forward to seeing the full-size versions of the new maps on trains and in stations soon.

(Image via PlanItMetro.)

Rolling the Dice on Kickstarter

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I’ve backed enough Kickstarter projects by now to fully understand that it’s not really a “pre-order” site. You’re supporting a concept, a product, or an idea, and hopefully said concept, product, or idea comes to fruition. As a wiser person than I once said, “You pays your money and you takes your chances.”

Indeed, of all the Kickstarter projects I’ve backed, only two have, thus far, delivered, though I’m not worried quite yet. I knew the lead times would be long, and my investment is hardly large. I received my most recent Kickstarter backer rewards just last week, a set of four Precision Machined Dice, and the results are quite stunning.

Precision Machined Dice

These anodized aluminum dice were machined from solid blocks of aluminum and have significant heft (and sharp corners). They’re not really practical for actually rolling, but they make lovely display pieces. I consider them propitiations to whatever forces control the flow of luck in the universe.

Thankfully, though, the creator of these dice, Amber Rix, has launched another Kickstarter project for Precision Machined Metal Gaming Dice, a little smaller (at either 16mm or ½”) than the casino sized dice from the original project and with rounded edges. As with the original project, they will be available in a variety of metals and, for the aluminum, a variety of colors. Plus, looks like you could roll them without damaging a table, though you’d still likely put your glass dice cup at risk. The creator of these projects has also mooted the possibility of metal polyhedrons as a future Kickstarter project. Yes, please!

Because at a certain point in every gamer’s life, you have to ask: Why roll plastic?

Covering Gatsby

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald by Penguin Books UK on flickr.comOn their blog, Penguin Books UK recently posted the covers for their new hardback re-issue of several of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works. The foil artwork, by Coralie Bickford-Smith, is Art Deco in nature, echoing Fitzgerald’s times. The not-quite-symmetrical scallops on the cover of The Great Gatsby are quite striking, a commentary, perhaps, on the not-quite-harmonious contents within.

Every attempt at creating a cover for The Great Gatsby has to contend with Francis Cugat‘s iconic cover image, and I think Coralie Bickford-Smith takes the right approach here. Cugat’s image hews so perfectly to the novel that you can’t compete with it, and the Penguin cover instead takes a more muted, subtle tone—not an image but a feeling, a movement, an emotion.

And, one must add, the Penguin cover looks great with the other volumes in the re-issue series. Coherence of artistic cover vision within a series of books is so very important, and Penguin tends to get that aspect of series design correct, as seen in their Ian Fleming re-issues.

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Skilcraft Still Kicking

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Growing up in a military family, I just took for granted the ubiquitous Skilcraft ball-point pen. They were practically the only pens in the house. They’re what I wrote (and wrote and wrote) with as a student. They wouldn’t quit and they took the beating of the backpack in stride. Only when I branched out on my own did I realize that these pens weren’t everywhere.

Skilcraft Pen image from http://www.abilityonecatalog.com/products.aspx?sid=4

So I greeted the Washington Post‘s appreciation of the Skilcraft pen (“Low-tech Skilcraft pens endure in a high-tech world“, Ylan Q. Mui, Sunday, April 18, 2010, A1) with delight:

For more than 40 years, standard black pens have cluttered the desks of thousands of federal employees, hung on a chain at post offices across the country and slipped into the pockets of countless military personnel. Yet few have realized that this government-issue pen has a history to rival that of any monument.

I might need to order some of these. While I’m very much a thin-point plastic tip user (Pilot Razor Point for life!), sometimes you need a ball point pen, and these are the best around: a classic design paired with legendary writing endurance.

(Image from the AbilityOne Catalog).

Penguin's Fall Foliage

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Cover of 1939: Countdown to War from The Penguin Blog

Over at The Penguin Blog, the house blog for venerable publishing house Penguin Books, art director Jim Stoddart has unveiled some choice cover selections from this fall’s releases.

My favorite of the bunch has to be the cover to Richard Overy’s 1939: Countdown to War, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, combining the typically clean Penguin cover look with a sense of movement.

And I think I’m going to need to get the collection of 100 cover postcards being released in November. They’re just crying out for mounting in small frames.

(Cover image from The Penguin Blog)

Re-Branding a Time Lord

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Funny thing about Doctor Who is that the show’s visual identity has always centered on the current iteration of the Doctor and in the swirly title graphics; the title logo has never really been a focus for fan identity.

Current Dr. Who Logo

The lens-flare-esque logo for the Ninth and Tenth Doctors is a case in point. It’s just sort of there, really, not entirely memorable as it flips and flops in the time vortex as impatient viewers wait to for the show to start.

Prior logos were similarly utilitarian, as a nice BBC image gallery demonstrates.

io9 brings news that the BBC is updating the logo for the Eleventh Doctor, incorporating that most iconic of Doctor Who images, the TARDIS:

New Doctor Who Logo

While I’m admittedly circumspect about Matt Smith’s casting as the Eleventh Doctor, fearing that the new show runners are playing to a younger demographic than, well, the demographic that I inhabit, I like this new logo. Bit of a visual pun, and it’s surprising that the TARDIS hasn’t been used in the logo before.

But that lens flare is killing me!

(Images from the BBC Doctor Who site.)

Sign Me Up: Washington Metro's Sign Shop

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The soul, if you will, of a subway system is in its signage. From the clean lines of the London Underground and its Johnston typeface through the mish-mash of typefaces and styles in New York City’s transit system, signs do more than direct passengers. Subway signs tell a story about the aspirations and history of the system.

Be Smart: Ride Metro by wheelo541 on flickr.com, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial license

Today’s Washington Post story by James Hohmann, (“Metro’s Sign Shop Points Riders in the Right Way“, Tuesday, August 25, 2009) details the efforts of the people responsible for keeping the Washington Metro‘s signs updated and functional:

The sign shop provides a glimpse into the aging system that Metro is struggling to maintain 33 years after it opened. The transit system has about 127,000 signs, which need to be repaired or replaced when they become outdated, vandalized or broken. Or when someone asks for them.

“Every time a new initiative comes down the pike, that number is growing,” said sign shop project manager Paul Kram. “We don’t make policy. We make signs.”

Metro’s signs are just as memorable as the station architecture; while perhaps not as grandiose as the vaulting arches of Metro Center, the signage is distinct and legible, even when the station names grow to unwieldy lengths to satisfy various community constituencies (U St/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo might be an accurate description of the stop, but it’s about six words too long for a station name).

Of note is the trend towards electronic signs, with their limited capacity for stylish typefaces. One hopes that technology will improve sufficiently that we aren’t forced to suffer design limited by the lowest-common denominator of the LCD . . .

(Image courtesy of wheelo541 via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial license.)