Psychologist inspires map used by millions of commuters

  • Date

    Wed 5 Jan 22

photo of Dr Max Roberts

An influential psychologist inspired a stunning map which will be used by almost 800,000-passengers every day.

Psychologist inspires map used by millions of commuters

Cologne, in Germany, has unveiled a new circular design for its public transport network on the heels of the work of Dr Maxwell Roberts.

Designer Benedikt Schmitz says Dr Roberts' pioneering principles were “invaluable” in his creation and said if more cities followed his ideas public transport would be “less hectic and chaotic”.

Mr Schmitz also revealed Dr Roberts gave him valuable feedback and praised him for a “push in the right direction”.

The academic from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex specialises in creating unconventional designs which are easily readable at a glance.

Dr Roberts blends psychology and art to make maps compatible with how the brain makes sense of information so passengers can make easy inferences.

In 2016 he identified Cologne as an ideal candidate for a redesign based on concentric circles and spokes as the city and its major lines of communication follow these.

Now the passengers at Cologne’s 233 stations that stretch across 12 lines will benefit from his work as they make an estimated 214million journeys a year.

It was introduced last month at stations by rail operator Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe and has been praised by commuters.

Dr Roberts said: “I am delighted that KVB have chosen a concentric circles design for their new network schematic.

“It matches the shape of Köln almost perfectly and provides users with a great foundation for understanding the city.”

Mr Schmitz submitted his design last year to the city and lobbied for its adoption, which took place in December.

He said: “Dr Max Roberts' work was invaluable to my thesis as his research on different constructional methods helped me to understand that the standard way is not always the best way.

“Dr Roberts' work helped me visualise the way the city is actually built, making it easier for passengers to understand where they are and where they want to go.

“If every city and transportation company in the world followed the rules and guidelines Dr Roberts presents in ‘Underground Maps Unravelled’, our travels would be much less hectic and chaotic.”

And added: “It's an incredible feeling, having contributed such a big part to improving the image of the city I have lived in for so many years – hopefully leaving a long-lasting impression.”

Dr Roberts aims to match mental models of cities with well-designed schematics in a bid to enhance understanding of city dwellers’ surroundings.

As well as his map for Cologne Dr Roberts has produced hundreds of other designs for cities across the world.

His first concentric circles map was created in 2013 for London and then rolled out across the globe, creating over twenty circular charts including Paris, Moscow, New York, Tokyo and even the Essex coast.

Dr Roberts’ work on effective map design began in 1999 and he has authored four books and numerous academic papers.

His own designs have been exhibited locally, and in London, Germany, Austria and the USA, and published worldwide.