Subway Maps Designed To Reflect A City’s Soul

Revised subway maps for New York, Paris, London, and Tokyo reveal more about a city than just the best way to get from point A to point B.

There’s a delicate art and sweet science to making a great subway map. The maps need to be geographically relatable, yet quick to visually process. Local charm, however, is not usually a design consideration.


That’s what makes this set of metropolitan subway maps by Seoul-based graphic design studio Zero Per Zero so much fun. They’re designed to be infused with the character of the city.

Image: Toyko subway map

An ongoing project, Zero Per Zero’s series of “City Railway System” posters are meant to represent a “new approach to projecting the identity of a city onto its subway map,” according to the studio’s website. In this approach, Zero Per Zero is just as interested in trying to relate the feeling of being in a city–its soul, its culture, and its character–as it is of getting subterranean travelers from point A to point B.

So far, Zero Per Zero has done maps for New York, London, Amsterdam, Seoul, Paris, and Tokyo. Some do a better job than others of conveying the character of their host cities. The New York one, for example, places the MTA’s map within a big ” I ♥ NY” heart. The London Underground map is superimposed on a big Union Jack. These designs look good, but seem a little lowest-common denominator to me.

The Seoul and Tokyo ones are more stunning though, going a long way to convey the overwhelming vortex-like nature of trying to navigate Asia’s colossal public transportation systems. The Paris one isn’t bad either, in which the various lines of the Métro snake up and through the framing of the Eiffel Tower. And the Amsterdam design is quite lovely, in which the lines of the City of Tulip’s various trains and trams open up into petals.

Designed by art director Kim Ji-Hwan and illustrator Jin Sol, Zero Per Zero’s subway maps aren’t likely to be adopted as the official maps of any real transportation authorities: they often obscure or gloss over entirely critical information like transfers between stops, express trains, and geographical accuracy. For lovers of the world’s greatest cities–and the subway systems that give them their pulse–these maps would look wonderful framed on a wall.

You can purchase prints of Zero Per Zero’s subway maps here.