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Here, in chronological order, a roundup of historical, replicas and future iterations of the New York City subway map.
As a directionally-challenged designer who loves to travel, I can appreciate a well-designed map.
Over the years, transit maps have evolved from geographic representations to simplified diagrams. Its soft color palate, thin line weights and use of white space make Madrid’s metro map very pleasant to navigate. Amsterdam’s green and blue topography complement the geometric representations of the rail system. This map feels very soft and romantic in comparison to the popular geometric maps we are used to seeing. New York City is referred to as the “biggest,” “best” and “trendiest” city for a variety of reasons. Interactive Designer from Google Creative Lab, Alexander Chen, turned the Vignelli map into a digital, real-time instrument.
New York-based design duo David Heasty and Stefanie Weigler of Triboro Design builds upon the Vignelli-style map using only one color—Florescent red. Eddie Jabbour designed the KickMap with ease of use to encourage more people to ride New York City’s complex subway system. Who Are WeWe are a strategic design studio that designs and builds identities, websites, and a broad range of strategic communications to create brands that are graphically beautiful and economically awesome.
SubwayAl Railroad Memorabilia LLC — 1974 New York City Commuter Rail Guide, Metro North, PATH, NICE! This map shows the different commuter routes available to passengers leaving New York City.


Railroads highlighted are the LIRR, PATH, Staten Island Rapid Transit, Metro-North, and more! Until the 1940s, the subway was run by three competing companies: Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT), and the Independent Subway (IND).
When traveling to a new city, transit maps often represent the first impression of that destination.
However, Harry Beck, mastered the art of communicating a complex system into a minimalistic diagram when he designed the London Underground map in 1931. The map’s iconic status is due in part to its exemplary design principles and its utility for easy journey planning. I also appreciate the icons that direct tourists to important sites (Arlington Cemetery, the Smithsonian), while others direct locals to commute options (parking lots, buses, and light rail stations). I love everything from its soft color palette to its faintly transparent rivers and streets. Because the city’s rail is pretty simple (with only four lines running in a small area), a black background suits this map, making it extremely easy to navigate routes and transfers. The routes flow more in correlation to their actual paths and the lines have icons that add character, almost as if the map is telling a story. The weights of the circles for each station are thicker than the lines, helping give more white space to the map.
Most aren’t practical in functionality, but all are uniquely interpreted through beautiful design. Though the Windy City’s map isn’t “I-want-to-scratch-my-eyes-out” awful, it doesn’t quite make our list of greatest designs.
If you are reading, CTA, give us a call and we would love to show you how your map could look.


Pushing geographic accuracy aside, Harry laid out underground routes using beveled edges turning at clean 90- and 45-degree angles.
Although geographically inaccurate, its timeless design has become the prototype for most of the world’s transportation systems. NYC’s subway is one of the oldest and most extensive public transportation systems in the world.
Vignelli simplified New York’s complex subway system into a clean graphical diagram, using bold bands of color that turned at 45- and 90-degree angles. Jabbour felt strongly about offering his design as the official map to replace the current MTA map.
Conversely, if a rail map is easy to navigate and pleasing to look at, it makes exploring that city much more enjoyable. Not to mention, the design of the subway map can directly influence ridership numbers and can indirectly have an effect on traffic congestion and pollution. Many feel it attempts to convey too much information in a single diagram—resulting in a congested, overall ugly design. However, the over-simplification of geographical elements left many New Yorkers confused, and the MTA replaced Vignelli’s map with a more traditional, typographic map that persists in revised form to this day.
But, nothing sets it apart from other maps, nor does it visually do justice to the great city of Chicago.



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