1. Transport
June 13, 2016updated 28 Jul 2021 3:05pm

We kind of love this new, circular take on the Paris metro map

By Jonn Elledge

Paris is a serious contender for the title of the most beautiful city in the world – a city famed across the globe for its panache, its style.

Odd, then, that its metro map should look like a cartographer had some kind of breakdown with a plate of spaghetti and some crayons, and yet there it is:

Click to expand, if you must. Image: RATP.

The colour scheme is confusing, with yellows/golds/browns and pinks/purples blurring into each other, so that you’re never sure if you’re following the right line. Bits of the map are almost illegible…

What? Image: RATP.

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And occasionally, a line makes a sudden, unexpected right angle. This isn’t a metro map, it’s a screenshot from Nokia phone classic, Snake:

Mind that wall! Image: Nokia.

But fear not, for the world is full of designers, touting for business by redesigning some metro map or another. This week it’s the turn of Constantine Konovalov, of Moscow design studio Teeter-totter-tam, which has released its own take on the Parisian metro map.

Here’s the blurb:

We looked at Paris from a different perspective and it inspired us to create this fundamentally new map of Paris metro system, regional trains, and trams. Every line and all the elements of the map have been rethought and brought to a new visual form to enable fast and easy route finding.

So – the new map is intended to be comprehensive (it includes all forms of fixed transport in and around Paris). It’s meant to be more easily comprehensible (no more trying to work out whether this brown line is the same as that brown line). And it’s meant to be, well, prettier.

Here’s the result:

Click to expand. Image: Teeter-Totter-Tam.

The design team’s key decision was to depict lines 2 and 6 as a sort of Parisian inner circle. The tram routes T3a and T3b form just over half a middle circle, while the proposed metro line 15 will form a third, outer circle.

Usage of circular line pattern is the main principle of the map’s design. They simplify the perception of the map by putting the visual accents and dividing the map into round segments.

The designers also tried to simply the interchanges, and straighten lines wherever possible. They’ve abandoned the standard 45 degree grid employed by metro maps in favour of a 30 degree one:

Oh, and they chucked in some landmarks, to help tourists. Nice of them:

The colour problem remains. The designers, understandably, chose not to start abandoning the official colour scheme, so metro lines 1, 9 and 10, and RER line C are still a slightly all a bit close for comfort:

You see the problem?

And some of the big interchange stations are still a little confusing. Look at Chatalet-Les Halles:

The redesigned map.

To be fair, though, it is the largest underground station in the world, and it is at least clear which lines are served by Chatelet, which by Les Halles, and which by Chatalet Les Halles. (Line 4 is on both. See? They don’t help themselves, do they?).

And it is less confusing than the official version:

The official one.

The decision to straighten some of the lines makes them more comprehensible, too. Here’s the Left Bank stretch of line 4 on the official map:

In the redesign, it’s still a little twisty – a function of the geography, and how it relates to other lines – but it’s much less jerky:

It’s difficult to see this as the kind of game-changer that Harry Beck’s original tube map was in London. But it’s definitely clearer and more legible. The circles aren’t just visually pleasing, but create a reference point to make it easier to find your way around; and the inclusion of geographical features like tourism land marks and the Canal St-Martin, are a nice touch. RATP should take note.

(A footnote. Normally people want to sort out London’s tube map. It’s frankly a relief to see someone tackle another city instead. Just saying.)

You can find bigger versions of the map on this site here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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