The different designs of the New York City subway system have always piqued my curiosity. From purely schematic representations to quasi-geographical maps, visual presentations of subway systems run the gamut, and as the debate over Massimo Vignelli’s infamous 1970s-era map shows, they can lead to some strong opinions and lively debates. The latest entry making the rounds this week comes to us from Max Roberts, a U.K.-based psychologist, who has used his training and study of the human mind to present a map of circles.
After posts appeared on Gothamist and Co.Exist last week, Roberts supplied me with the version of the map I’ve posted above. He corrected some of the errors pointed out in other forums as he expects my readership to pick up on those even quicker than others have. In discussing his map with other outlets, he shared some of the rational behind the design.
The maps, he noted, are clearly not geographic in nature, and the partisans who hate the Vignelli map will dislike this representation as well. But, he noted, the map “isn’t trying to show where the network is. It’s trying to show how the elements of the network relate to each other.”
Still, Roberts himself isn’t too sure of the practicality of his maps. “I don’t think that these maps are particularly easy to use, and they do distort geography,” he said to Gothamist, “but they force a city into an unprecedented level of organization, and people find them fresh and exciting (or horrific, but I feel that if I delight half the people and horrify the other half then I must be doing something right).”
His solution though would bridge the gap between design purists and geographical advocates. “Personally, I think that every large network should always issue two maps, a good geographical map and a good diagram so that people can choose which they prefer,” he said. “You just can’t please all people with just one design, and the gulf between the desires for simple straight lines versus geographical precision is almost always impossible to resolve. That’s probably why there are so many independent maps of the New York subway on the internet and that you can buy.”
So there you have it. It may not be the most functional map of the subway system, but it will certainly make anyone who sees it pause. That, of course, is half the battle when it comes to constructing a useful map.