12 Hours in New York

Mahima Pushkarna
Digital Dialects
Published in
4 min readJan 13, 2015


My husband and I decided to take an impromptu trip to New York City last week. We visited New York for lunch and dinner, before returning to Boston. It wasn’t the best weather for sight-seeing, and possibly the coldest it got in Boston, when we returned home. In this intense weather, what is the best way to spend 12 hours?

Between time and temperature, I condensed my original plan of seeing 8 places in 12 hours to 3 places in 12 hours, and prioritized indoor spaces. Since this was our only “vacation” in two semesters, we decided to stay away from retail and museums. We chose places close to the subway network, and this led me to look for a nice, user-friendly, paper map of New York.

Google Search for “Printable Maps of New York City”

A simple google search of “printable maps of New York City” shows up so many options, but for my purposes, the “perfect” map would convey three main sets of information:

  1. How to get from A to B:
    The map should enable me to locate my position and give me a sense of spatial orientation. I should be able to find the best possible routes, pick up on the best possible visual landmarks, and get a sense of the “spatial flow” of the city from this sheet of paper.
  2. The Girl with Too Many Eyes:
    A tourist would like to see New York City in all it’s grandeur, the New York City that Hollywood portrays, and more. We would like to easily identify the Empire State Building, Central Park, and Brooklyn Bridge on the map, and get there just as easily. Ideally, it should show us the icons, the landmarks.
  3. Train or Taxi, Foot or Ferry:
    Because it was very, very windy when we were there, we used the subway to get around instead of walking, which is what I would have preferred. Nothing lets you take in a city more that walking around it. So ideally, the map should have bus routes, bike stands, subway stations and routes marked out on it. Mostly, subway stations and routes.

Other things that would be nice: When I moved to Boston, the only reference of “space” that I had was Google Maps. That’s how we picked the apartment we live in. We were gearing up for a long walks to school, and toying with the idea of bicycles and even international driver’s permit. But lo behold! We were barely 5 minutes away from school. Everything was so close, and we were reveling in Boston’s high walkability. A bonus in a map, will be it’s ability to showcase how “walkable” New York City is — How comfortably can one get from Penn Station to South Street Seaport?

Being a designer, I have the patience to navigate through a range of visually different maps. My husband does not: he is a good representation of people whose first choice is functionality. After much searching, I found a simple, neat map that won’t frustrate my husband too much when he’s reading it.

The NYC Bike Map.

But this is not the map I ended up using. I ended up using a combination of
+ Google Maps
+ Google Search: since google maps simply refused to triangulate my position, and kept on showing Times Square as an hour’s drive away — when I was standing there.
+ and the NYC Subway Map, in part.

For an outsider, the NYC subway map is actually difficult to figure out: I’ve heard several complaints but never really thought about them, since I spent a couple of weeks in 2009 and never had a problem. This time, I saw a couple of tourists struggling with identifying which way to go. It made me think about ways in which the map could be improved, and here are my top 3 suggestions:

  1. Clearly stating which train ends where. Physically tracking where lined 4,5, and 6 end can be cumbersome to the tourist, and stymie other commuters. A legend that depicts which train runs between which stations would be very, very useful.
  2. Express Trains? What are the chances that one hops onto an express line that doesn’t stop where we want it to? No idea.
  3. I, personally, found it hard to read which station to enter when there were multiple trains meeting at a point. Do the downtown bound trains pass through this station, or the one across the road? Simple signage systems could prove effective here.

As information increases in complexity, and relevant data is available in increasing abundance, we find that the product lifecycle of apps is reducing. There is a debate that software is unable to keep up with hardware, but in my case, I found that hardware was unable to keep up with softwares. The lesson learned is as a designer, the more number of vague and uncommon scenarios I cater to in my workflows, the more holistic my end product. Outliers can no longer be ignored in a world where there is a proliferation of digital services. Of course, it would not make sense to cater only to the outliers, but it would certainly improve practice if extremities were considered and included.



Mahima Pushkarna
Digital Dialects

Design @Google, People + AI Research. Designing 'stuff' for human-AI understanding since 2017. Opinions mine.