Five years ago, Max Roberts's reimagining of the NYC subway map as one based on concentric circles blew our minds. Now, he's got an updated version of the concentric circle map—but now with Massimo Vignelli's design principles!
For years, Roberts has been applying his knowledge as both a psychologist who studies human reasoning and intelligence and as a map collector towards subway maps of the world. The Vignelli Circles map, which was published in December, "definitely has something that the original Circles Map doesn't, in a style much closer to New Yorkers' psyche," he tells us.
"The idea to create it came out of the blue, but is obvious looking back. Vignelli's original was a masterpiece of precision, and circles maps force the New York City Subway into unprecedented levels of organisation, so putting the two genres together gets you something hyper-organised!" Roberts explained, noting it was created for his 50th Edition newsletter last year.
This was a completely new map, nothing from the original was reused, and there were new challenges. The thick bundles of lines have to be be packed together carefully in Manhattan, otherwise the design runs away and becomes too big. I needed five attempts at Manhattan before I was happy, but the unintended consequence was a rather nice solution for Staten Island.
Creation was as follows: Start at Lower Manhattan, work out the central point of radiation, working upwards to the top of Bronx to give the map its dimensions, trying to keep the design regular and compact, then across to Brooklyn and the horrible tangle of lines converging and diverging along Flatbush Avenue, and then on to the more forgiving, but not trivial, mesh down to Coney Island, then up to north-west Queens (and resignation to the extreme distortion necessary along Queens Boulevard).
I put a lot of effort into this map, for example, lining up station dots on circular arcs to match the lines, it took me four weeks, four times as long as the original Circles Map.
The original Vignelli map scored highly on visual power. Its other problems were fixable, but I think that the modern weekender map is an insipid compromise compared with Vignelli's original vision. If you are going to have a diagram of a great network, you need something that is clean, clear, organised, and makes a statement.
Back in 2013, Roberts reflected on his concentric transit maps, including ones for Berlin, London, and Tokyo, "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)."
Also, he noted, "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. Diagram purists (such as Vignelli fans) will love it, geographical purists will be after my blood!"
An original 1970s Vignelli map was unearthed at a Manhattan subway station last fall.