Universal subway map design rules

Designer Jug Cerovic proposes a standardized approach to subway mapping, encompassed by 7 simple rules:

1. The city center sits at the center (because, duh).
2. The center is a basic shape, like a circle or square (for visual simplicity).
3. The center is zoomed in (because that area is always congested with lines).
4. All lines must run vertical, horizontal, or at 45-degree angles (again, for visual simplicity).
5. Their angles should be smooth (to feel more familiar, city to city).
6. Their colors and connection iconography are standardized (duh again).
7. All text must be listed in local and Latin lettering (for the tourists, aka all of us).

The subtext to subway remapping projects is often "London basically got this right 80 years ago, deal with it."— so his version of The Underground, above, is interesting food for thought.


Notable Replies

  1. Really? How is New York's so hard to use? Having an actual map showing me where the lines go is really useful, and beyond that I just don't see what's hard to understand about it. Not trying to be snarky, just curious.

  2. Chicago's standard map (http://www.transitchicago.com/assets/1/maps/ctatrainmap_2013oct.pdf) fails the rules in an attempt to be more accurate to the real map: angled routes follow the streets (e.g. Milwaukee for the blue line), and there is no exaggeration of the size of the downtown Loop (instead, an inset is used). The in-car maps are more schematic -- typically a straight line, or line with a loop (for those which go around the Loop), but that's mainly to fit the above-the-door space.

    However, I don't think it suffers much for these, mainly because of the small number of lines, and that they're all basically radial from the center. With a few ring or crosstown routes, this would be a lot harder to display... but there's too much NIMBY to get those built.

  3. In Madrid they switched from a (stylized) geographically conscious map (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f5/Mapa_esquem%C3%A1tico_del_la_red_de_metro_de_Madrid.jpg) to an idealized version (http://www.nocturnar.com/imagenes/mapa-del-metro-de-madrid-mapa-metro-madrid-metro-madrid-mapa.jpg) similar to the one described here . Most people (me included) hated it so they're going back to the old style now. A map that doesnt accurately (or at least closely) portrays the distance between stations and their position is effectively useless as a map.

    A geographically conscious map wont be as clean, pretty or minimal as the idealized version, but remember: function over form. This is extremely important specially when you are a tourist trying to make sense of the city layout trying to find the nearest station.

  4. The problem with the idealized map is that it doesn't give you an idea of where you'll end up geographically. People aren't trying to get to subway stations. They are trying to get to geographical locations.

  5. I find it's most useful to have two standardized maps for each city; one that is fairly comprehensive and geographically accurate and one that just shows you how each station connects to another. Take San Francisco's Muni system for example:

    If you were trying to figure out how to get to a specific location or landmark you'd use the map on the left. But by the time you're on a crowded train car it's likely you just need to know how soon your stop is coming up or which station you can transfer from, which the map on the right can tell you at a glance.

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