When Constantine Konovalov came to Paris two and a half years ago, he was struck with the difficulty of reading the metro map. He found it hard to orient himself, and too easy to lose track of where he was. For Parisians, the map is a familiar muddle. But for Constantine, an information designer, this was a challenge to solve.
As he says, for a city that has more tourists than local residents, “this element of urban navigation has obvious shortcomings.”
Constantine began his work by trying to base the Paris metro on a circle. “I noticed immediately that in Paris lines 2 and 6 interlock with each other, forming a ring, which you can’t visually grasp in the official map. If you look at our Moscow metro map, the first thing that catches the eye is the Circle line, which geographically speaking is not circular at all. For Moscovites, the mental map of the city is based precisely on the rings.”
The unpicking of the 2 and 6 lines from the rest of the spaghetti-plate is the first thing you notice about Constantine’s proposed new Paris metro map. They form a graceful ring around which the other lines arrange themselves, in a more sinuous fashion than the official map.
“Believe it or not, I was not the first person to try this,” says Constantine. “The first circle map appeared in 1936, but did not become the official map. The idea of circle map is a common one, but nobody during the following century drew a beautiful qualitative map. Because it was really difficult.”
It took over two years to complete and the amount of research and thinking that has gone into this reimagined Paris is beyond impressive. For a fascinating, detailed explanation of all the features of the new map and the thinking that went behind them, see Constantine’s article in Smashing magazine – for the real design nerds, there’s even a time-lapse video of the creation process.
Besides the introduction of the orienting circles, there are other improvements. Notice the treatment of interchanges for example (the chaos of Chatelet seems a little clearer now!), and the placement of iconic landmarks as graphics on the map – maybe this will cut down on the number of confused tourists looking for the cathedral at Notre-Dame-des-Champs.
The RATP are aware of Constantine’s map, and he’s had over 100 reports of satisfied users since its publication last June. You can download the map for free, or order a poster-sized version, on his website.