70 million people visit Paris each year. For nearly 2 million of them, jumping on one of the tourist boats that ply the Seine is a great way of getting around. That’s also where you will find a great example of an infographic. Not as famous as the London Tube map, but starkly elegant in its simplicity, it does exactly what it needs to — tell passengers where they can get on and get off, visiting the major sites of Paris, and how long it takes to get between them. Versions of it are used as marketing on the side of the boat and in flyers and leaflets around Paris, as well as a way-finding tool once on the boat.
You can see that the graphic shows what interests tourists, the big destinations easily accessible by boat and foot, and how long it takes to get between them. It works for a variety of languages, even though it’s only written in French. The colored pictographs of the iconic buildings and their names suffice for non-French speakers. It’s not hard to look at a tower shaped picture with TOUR EIFELL written underneath it and figure out it’s the Eiffel Tower. It works if you’re a Spaniard wondering where the TORRE EIFFEL is, a Dutchmen looking for the EIFFELTOREN, or a Croat searching for the EIFFELOV TORANJ. The arrows and timing are minimally efficient too. The word minute translates seamlessly from French to English, and is close in a host of other visitor languages.
Batobus didn’t get there easily, they’ve had a number of iterations of these graphics, moving from artistic to effective over the years. The final product is an object lesson in design — the art of leaving things out. Something that’s difficult to achieve in a typical corporate environment where a host of parties input their opinion. Imagine…
You produced the infographic, and the first draft is pretty much the version seen above. Time for some feedback. First the boss, who’s transferred over to manage the team as part of a rotational assignment. He’s a fast track MBA, a numbers guy and pretty literal – “But you don’t show the river. And we’re a boat company that makes its money on the Seine. You’re showing it as a straight line. Won’t putting the river in make it more realistic? It will also show the distances between the points better.”
[Version 2 with River shown, and places/ hop on hop off to scale]
Now the design goes to marketing. “Can you please put our logo in there? And also the color palette you’re using. It’s not part of our palette. Can you use our color palette?”
[Version 3 with logo and reduced (mostly blues) color palette]
At the next meeting the head of corporate partnerships and tourism weighs in, “Our five stops service a much broader selection of tourist destinations than the ones you’re showing. I’d like you to include more destinations. I’ve also struck a deal with the metro authority to do some cross-promotion and joint products, so put the metro stops in.”
[Version 4 with more destinations and metro stops]
Back to your boss for final approval. “Perfect, I still think we should stick the boat in though”
[Version 5 with the boat]
Sometimes, your first thought is your best thought, and editing that adds, is not as good as editing that takes away. The famous designer of the Mini, Sir Alec Issigonis said, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” That sums up what’s happened here. A sleek racehorse has become a balky camel. All will work for getting you around, but clearly the first is the best.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.