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We worked with the team at Crossrail Ltd to develop a user-friendly, responsive and interactive map that highlights the detail and the scope of the Crossrail project

Background

Crossrail is the largest railway infrastructure project in Europe and Studio 24 have been digital partners for Crossrail for over 10 years. The Elizabeth Line is the new high-frequency metro railway for London and the South East. Once fully open, trains will travel on the Elizabeth Line from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, via new twin tunnels under central London.

The interactive map project has been a critical part of the long-term digital work we’ve done for Crossrail. It had three major releases between 2010 and 2015 as we made changes to respond to changing client requirements.

You can visit the Crossrail interactive map here – we have also included a video below on how it works.

Objectives

The goals for an interactive online map are:

  • inform and educate users about the project
  • display information on construction works
  • show the Elizabeth Line and stations
  • highlight areas of interest, e.g. archaeological finds.

First iteration

In 2010 we developed a custom CMS for the Crossrail website to help model the complex content required on the Crossrail website. The CMS had good support for multimedia and geo-tagging content which helped us to build the interactive map.

We built the first interactive map using Ordnance Survey (OS) online maps, this service was chosen since data on the Crossrail map was derived from OS, so we could not legally use other services such as Google Maps. Map data was supplied by the Geographic Information System (GIS) team at Crossrail, using GeoServer, a Java-based open source geospatial service.

While developing the map some critical data, such as the location of the tunnels, was off by up to 5 metres. We discovered this was due to the differences in map projections used on the online map and the supplied GIS data.

We love this sort of challenge! Working with GIS technology specialists we were able to overcome these critical issues and could then progress to the design and content of the interactive map.

We plotted the live location of the tunnel boring machine (TBMs) on the map of London. This data was managed via Studio 24’s CMS and showed the last TBM location accurate to within a day.

We also created an accessible text only version so users can access the information where there is slow internet connection or if the user cannot use the interactive map.

The original map was really successful and had lots of positive feedback from users.

Responsive redesign

Traffic to the Crossrail website from mobile had been doubling year on year since 2010,  by 2013 around 30% of users were using mobile and by 2015 this was 50%. Responsive design had been gaining traction since Ethan Marcotte’s A List Apart article.

In late 2012 we embarked on a mobile-friendly redeisgn of the Crossrail site, which launched in Jan 2013.

Introducing new features

The key feature was to make the map responsive, no easy feat with the complexity of an interactive map. We moved from an embedded map on a page to a full-screen map which gives more space to the user on smaller devices.

We also switched the map service to ESRI mapping, which is more flexible than Ordnance Survey’s service.

While we were working on the responsive redesign we also took the opportunity to add more content, including information about how the tunnels were constructed and details of the different archaeological finds uncovered during the construction of the railway.

Focussing on user experience

We continued to iterate on the map, responding to changing business requirements and user feedback. By 2015 a refreshed design was launched across the Crossrail website, including the interactive map.

Following the completion of TBM tunnelling in 2015 we removed the tunnel boring machine location and focussed on improving the usability to make it easier to find content.

To make a better user experience we:

  • carefully considered the usability of the map. For example, we designed clear navigation icons and added helpful animations to make it more intuitive for users to explore the features of the map
  • custom built the map user interface to match Crossrail branding
  • built search tools to help users zoom to a station, or location of their choice, to see current construction works and other things of interest.

Results

The result is a highly successful interactive mapping tool which has proved to be the most popular section of the Crossrail website after the homepage. We used our experience working with GIS teams and different mapping technologies to create a simple, easy to use online map for users.

The iterative approach in the design and development was essential to the success of this project, it resulted in a better quality product and better value for money for the client.