Pie charts and bar graphs are the crude “stick” drawings of the Power Point world — unimaginative and dull, yet easier to grasp than spreadsheets and algorithms. But in the hands of designers, infographics can be so much more.
The map of the New York Subway system, designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1972, is still considered a marvel of subtraction in the interest of logic and order. Vignelli color-coded each train line and represented each subway stop with a dot, and since passengers did not need to concern themselves with every idiosyncratic turn in the line, he depicted tracks with straight lines and 45 and 90 degree angles, but took great pains to show the sequence of stops and connections. Aboveground, Vignelli did not aim for geographic accuracy, but cited only those street names and landmarks that would help train riders orient themselves when they came up from the subway. To minimize visual complexity, distances were often condensed and non-relevant streets were eliminated – a point of frustration for walkers who tried to use the map at street level. Although revised maps of the New York subway have been introduced over the years, the Vignelli map is revered for its graphic simplicity and clarity.
Kim Ji-Hwan and Jin Sol, co-founders of Zero per Zero, an information graphics and illustration firm in Seoul, South Korea, have applied experimental design techniques to create city railway system maps that are concise yet abstract and symbolic. For the ancient city of Seoul, they used the natural curvature of the Han River that flows across the city to suggest the Taoist yin-yang symbol, or Taegeuk mark, featured on the South Korean flag. The shape of the map itself was inspired by the circular Taegeuk mark. The Han Yang territory, which was the old capital of the Jo-Seon Dynasty, is encircled by the green rail line, which also suggests the Four Gates of Seoul when it was established as a walled city more than 600 years ago. The rail lines that radiate from there show how the city has grown into a modern metropolis.