I recently ordered, through the arcane customer distribution department of John Wiley & Sons, a copy of Gabriela Goldschmidt’s “Linkography – Unfolding the Design Process“. This is the latest volume in MIT’s “Design Thinking, Design Theory” series. Aside from the thinking and the theory, her representation of the design process results in some quite beautiful abstractions that sparked off a series of childhood memories, the most striking of which was of a primary school game.
One of our classrooms was equipped with a box full of cards printed with simple lines, curves and dots in three colours. The players place cards, like dominoes, to link the relevant coloured lines and produce what, at the time, seemed like a vast network of red, blue and black connections. This became a favourite way of plotting, card by card, our escape down the corridor. It probably wasn’t part of the designer’s brief but the cards would always run out before we reached the playground.
It would be several years later that my trainspotting career took off. Numerous day trips to London led to a crash course in skim-reading Harry Beck’s map of the Underground. This was an essential skill if we were to get around every terminus of note and then get home in time for tea. Such practicalities aside I still find the various renditions of this map utterly absorbing whereever they are encountered across the network – in carriages, opposite platforms, on my iphone. It’s a personal preference but the Underground map is far more engaging (perhaps due to some yet to be explored notion of authenticity) when it relates to the railway network and much less so when appropriated to other purposes such as a loose collection of ideas in an artist’s head or a schematic representation of the pubs in Bristol.
I only recently remembered the existence of the primary school card game (the memory of trainspotting is less delible) and came across an interview with Ken Garland where he explains how he and co-designer Robert Chapman were inspired by Beck’s map when they were designing “Connect” for Galt Toys.
At this point the link between a buried childhood memory and an iconic and everyday design artefact became an obvious fact. The connection with linkographs may just be a passing resemblance – a series of lines and dots that are joined together to represent something. It may turn out that it’s the something rather than the representation to which I must attend.
In any event, having spent years harbouring a suspicion that the Underground map had some hidden depths – albeit in the end of little consequence other than a recapturing of my own past and the subject of this present post – I’m looking forward to reading the comprehensive guide that Goldschmidt has now produced in case it has any pointers to how I might go about recapturing my future.