Debating the merits of various subway designs is a classic NYC pastime. There's Massimo Vignelli's 1972 design. There's the geographically accurate current version designed by Michael Hertz. There's the Vignelli-inspired 2007 Kick Map from Eddie Jabbour. And now, to blow everyone's minds, there's the Max Roberts' Circles map.

Roberts, a psychologist who lectures at the University of Essex in the U.K., focuses his studies on schematic mapping and wayfinding information. He designs maps and conducts studies to see how usable they are (he's consulted for Transport for London, the transit agency that runs the Underground). He created a London tube map based on concentric circles for fun earlier this year and has now created one for NYC.


Click for a larger version—used with permission from Max Roberts

Roberts, who has also created circular maps for other cities like Berlin, Paris, Tokyo, Washington DC, and Chicago, tells us, "I don't think that these maps are particularly easy to use, and they do distort geography, 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).

"New York shouldn't work in this style at all, it is a grid city, not a radial city, and you can see which parts I got into a fight with, but overall it is quite striking," Roberts adds. "Diagram purists (such as Vignelli fans) will love it, geographical purists will be after my blood!" But that's part of the fun, right?!

1958map.jpgFurther, he says, "I've always liked the 1958 diagram by George Salomon [pictured at right], it is tricky to work out what all the lines are doing, but very elegant. Salomon suggested to use more then three colors, but the MTA wasn't ready for that innovation. Vignelli's 1972 map is much maligned and misunderstood. His original has a much more powerful shape than the new reworked Weekender version, but the chaotic line color-scheme of the original made it off-putting to use, even for people who like diagrams."

"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. Paris and Berlin offer both, London only a diagram, New York only a semi-geographical map," Roberts 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."