Mapping the Mumbai local

Finding your way through Mumbai’s four (Western, Central, Harbour and Trans-Harbour) distinct rail lines can be an ordeal, especially for the out-of-towners. Most commuters rely on fellow passengers, while others use maps available on the Internet, poorly printed timetable booklets or charts pasted at railway platforms. While these act as helpful guides, few are as aesthetically appealing and informative as the recent versions created by two students -- Snehal Patil and Jaikishan Patel -- of Visual Communication at Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay.

The new map on display at Kanjurmarg Railway Station

Another map, why?
“There were multiple maps floating on the Internet but these weren’t user-friendly or pleasing to the eye. A map has to be inviting for people to use it,” believes Patil. But while aesthetics were important, it was equally important to make the map user-friendly. With this in mind, both students worked for over six-seven weeks, to create three different versions; they ran several user tests before zeroing in on the existing one. “We planned the map in two ways: one for display at railway stations as YAH (You Are Here) map and other, as a portable map. Bu if a portable map is large, and doesn’t fit into a wallet, people won’t use it. The challenge was to make it compact, yet not cluttered. We think we managed it well,” maintains Patil.

Jaikishan Patel and Sneha Patil, students of Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay, with their portable Mumbai suburban rail map (also left)

The portable map presents a colourful approach to the otherwise busy and crowded Indian suburban rail lines, offering a list of all the existing lines -- Central, Western, Harbour and Trans-Harbour as well as the upcoming lines -- the Metro and the Uran-Nerul line. Patil says that the map is equipped with a new navigation system, presented in the form of a modified alphanumeric box grid and an index on the back of the map, which lets the users locate their stations within seconds. The map also lists all train codes on the map itself, to help one locate the right train. Besides, the map also accommodates the colour-blind population, and the use of colour gives it a very aesthetic look.

It’s different
Professor Mandar Rane, who was in-charge of the project, is now looking for an efficient distribution model to make the map available to as many people as possible. “We want the map to be reproduced in high quality which can do justice to my students’ effort. We can have vending machines at the airports and televisions displaying advertisements in the buses, why not have maps installed at railway stations,” he adds. Though the duo have a design copyright of this map, they want people to own this map. They can use it, discuss it, suggest changes or ask for more information. “Commuting on Mumbai’s locals is an amazing social experience for tourists; this map will invite them for the same and reduce their anxiety and uncertainty,” shares Rane. The IDC and the makers are also looking at developing phone applications and merchandise for tourists.

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