Choreographing Data: IA & Tokyo’s Rail System Map

Choreography is a large part of organizing data. Knowing how to synthesize and structure the content is what breathes life into data in order for it to flow. Information architecture is an important step to knowing what to do with all the data around us. To put it simply, IA is about organizing “stuff” and things and trying to make sense of it all.

Information architecture is the term used to describe the structure of a system, i.e the way information is grouped, the navigation methods and terminology used within the system. An effective information architecture enables people to step logically through a system confident they are getting closer to the information they require.” (source)

IA is about designing information and data and just like Dieter Ram’s 10 Principles of good design, good information architecture follow IA Heuristics, which is the 10 principles of good IA. While IA is often talked about in the context of technology and web design, a great analogue example of IA is the design of a rail system map.

There are only a few cities that make the list of cities with the best transportation system and according to CNN, Tokyo is one of them. Having visited Japan just this past year, I was at first intimated by Tokyo’s vast transit line map, but soon got used it based on how well it was designed. A map is all about taking the user closer to the information they seek through the grouping and compilation of data. Let’s break down the heuristics of IA using Tokyo’s rail system’s map. Because we’re discussing an analogue map there will be some limitations as the heuristics usually refers to digital products. We’re excluding controllable,


Sans serif font is used to clearly mark the stations, clear visual hierarchy with bold fonts is used for the station names. In the map legend, it provides color coded lines, alphabets used for easy identification of the station name and use of different patterns to differentiate lines.


As an analog map example, this might be limited for users with disabilities. The transit map can be found at each station and wherever public information guides are situated. The city has created an app of the map which makes it much more accessible across different platforms and users.

Clear & Communicative: Elaborating more on my earlier point above, this map is packed with details but with the use of circles, outlining of stations, different weight of alphabets and different thickness in lines, the map does a good job communication its purpose.

Usable: The user’s intention is met if they follow the map correctly with the exception of natural mistakes or errors as tourists.

Crediblec: The current map provided on the website is up to date and information is provided by the city itself.

Valuable: The map is desirable to the target user, provides value for providing direction and satisfies the user’s inquiry in direction finding.

Learnable: The map is educational and provides answers in clear and direct fashion. It is broken down in an organized manner so the information can be grasped quickly.

Delightful: Though normally, if we were referring to a digital product we would ask how it stands up against its competitors and if it offers anything unique. In this case, maps should be standardized for the most part so that users have a foundation when it comes to reading and understanding directions. In this case, the map is unique in terms of the different lines and stations of the city but similar enough to be consistent with other subway maps.


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