The best graphic designers are problem solvers—and as we all know, those problems tend to show up whether you’re “on the clock” or, say, on vacation, in Paris, riding the subway with your friends. During a visit to the City of Light a few years ago, Russian designer and animator Constantine Konovalov found the Paris Metro map wanting, so he decided to fix it.
You had worked in Moscow’s transit department for years, and even designed its well-known red “M” logo, so you’re pretty familiar with this world. But what made you decide to take on the redesign of an entire system as a personal project, without an actual assignment from Paris Metro?
I went to Paris with my friend to shoot a couple of video projects and I thought about creating a new map during my first ride on the Metro. The map is rather forbidding—there are numerous lines twisted about chaotically, and the eye lacks a clear anchor because there is nothing characteristic or memorable to grasp onto. Naturally, if used frequently, maps become customary and familiar, but for a city that has more tourists than local residents, the map has obvious shortcomings. So I decided to see if I could make a better one; I started making rough drawings on that very first day.
Your site says the work took 2.5 years. How many hours did you spend on it? What was the biggest challenge?
I didn’t dedicate every day of my life to the map; I even took long breaks to focus on other important projects. Most of the work was done in the evenings, weekends, and holidays. I spent about 600 hours on the computer, which doesn’t include all the time spent with a pencil and paper. It was a long process, partially because I really enjoyed it, and because there were a number of challenges: I had to find a balance between the principles I started with— ring-shaped lines, the 30-degree grid network, and a simple and visually pleasant geometry.
I’m guessing you have some personal connection to cities/transit, or you wouldn’t invest so much time and energy into a project like this?
I live in Moscow, one of the biggest cities in Europe. The transport problem is very topical here, because the population grows very fast. Russia is not the richest country, so millions of people come to Moscow to find a better life and [better-paying jobs.]
Right now, Moscow suffers from heavy traffic, and the metro is overcrowded during rush hour. The city government attempts to reduce the number of personal cars through paid parking, car sharing, and other measures; change is slow to come, but ten years from now, I believe these reforms will make Moscow a more comfortable city. For now, I promote cycling and prefer riding my bike if the distance is less than 10 kilometers (6 miles). For longer trips, I use Moscow’s metro, which is one of the most beautiful in the world; tourists come specifically to ride it.
Have you shared your system with Paris Metro authorities? Have they shown any interest?
I never contacted the city of Paris, but the Paris transport department (RATP) has already shown their interest in my map and asked me for permission to post it in their social-media feeds.
Your site explains that you move toward more circles and straight lines for simplicity and memorability. But that means you’re “fudging” a lot of the actual map coordinates, right? Over time do those little “mistakes” add up?
There are two types of metro maps: the ones that are tied to the city geography and the “schematic” ones. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and both perform different tasks. If the map copies the actual geometry of the city, then it looks stodgy and difficult to understand. In Paris, such maps are usually used on platforms where passengers have time to examine the details (see below). The small font doesn’t allow printing on a small-scale, but these maps are convenient if you don’t know a city very well and you have plenty of time to plan your trip.
When it comes to small-size printed media, the map should give a maximum of information about making a route from point A to point B, without going into details. The schematic drawing with straight lines and transfer stations indicated in the same style definitely make it easier to plan your route. You don’t need to know how the metro tunnel meanders under the ground—you can’t see anything behind the windows anyway. Metro in a modern city is a kind of a teleporter: You go down underground in one place, and 30 minutes later, you go from underground in another; you don’t even think about the streets or buildings you’re moving beneath at any given moment.
Are you a map nerd in general? Do you get excited when you see printed maps, map apps, and wayfinding tools in everyday life?
I can talk about map development until most people are quite bored. Navigation (wayfinding) and maps create a language used by the city to communicate with its citizens and visitors, and to talk about itself. I find it interesting to examine maps, and I often detect mistakes in maps, which other people wouldn’t even notice. Once, a fabricator printed an error in some street-navigation signage that I’d created and the signs were displayed in Moscow; I couldn’t leave home for three days because of the stress. Fortunately, no one noticed—people just assumed that was how it was meant to be.
Learn more about the project at http://metromap.fr/en.
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