The current MTA Subway Map, based on the 1979 design by Michael Hertz Associates, has become a celebrated hallmark of the city, aiding tourists and locals alike to navigate the five boroughs. It’s easy to take such a quotidian tool for granted, but there may in fact be a better way to display the public transit system. Max Roberts, a British psychologist and mapping expert, is bringing this very design into question with a new map based on a series of concentric circles.
The current map is loosely based on the city’s geography, with modifications made to maximize legibility; Roberts argues that while this is a functional approach, it can be deceptive to users who think that the map is closer to geographic reality than it actually is. According to the mapping expert, as quoted in Fast Company, ”every city should produce an outstanding geographic map and an outstanding diagram.” The former gives users the geographic grounding necessary for wayfinding, whereas the latter allows easy comprehension and navigation of the network itself. Roberts’ circular design falls into this second category, and while it may lack geographic reference, it successfully streamlines a messy network into a much more organized structure.
Roberts has previously applied the same circular technique to the London Underground, and intends to continue his mapping explorations with at least ten more iterations of the New York subway system. In the future, he plans to conduct usability studies of the maps.