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Co.Design

Terminal Velocity

These 7 Rules Could Create One Subway Map For The Entire World

One designer has taken it upon himself to change the way we commute across the globe. Here are his rules.

Even the boldest urban dwellers can get lost on the subway. Maybe not in their own city—*scoff* never! *scoff*—but when traveling abroad, train lines can transform into labyrinths. Why? Well, every city is different, sure. But more importantly, there’s no one standardized approach to mapping trains.

Architect and mapmaker Jug Cerovic would like to change that. He’s developed a universal mapping standard he calls INAT.

You can break his methodology down to seven 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).

His resulting maps sacrifice geographic literalness for something that’s more important: approachability. Flip through the maps he’s made so far—whether it’s London, Seoul, Shanghai, Barcelona, or even the infamously complicated Tokyo—and everything is familiar and, for lack of a better term, not so scary.

Now if this work seems superficial, I’d urge you to read more about the science of subway mapmaking. Put simply, visual clutter really does blur a map inside someone’s mind. Distinct lines with clear, horizontal typography, are vital in conceptualizing a transit network in a glance.

And while one can’t be certain if Cerovic’s approach is scientifically optimal—in fact, it seems likely that thicker lines, like those in Massimo Vignelli's infamous NYC subway map, might appear sharper in our brains—a universal map system seems like a pretty good idea. If only the whole world didn’t have to agree on it.

Read more here.

[Hat tip: Taxi]


These are subway maps by Jug Cerovic.

Even though they're technically of different cities (this one is NYC)...

...they follow the same rules (this one is Madrid).

The city center is always at the center of the map, and it zooms into those congested lines.

The train lines only run specific, simplified angles. The colors are standardized.

Text runs horizontally, and it's always presented in Latin characters.

As a result, every city map is a bit familiar, no matter the city you're in.

Though maps like Beijing's still have a distinctive, octopussian flare...

...and Tokyo will always bit a bit complicated, no matter how you slice it.

But these maps are more than a design exercise.

There is strong science supporting simplified, visually poised subway maps.

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