[UPDATE: Through a translator, we managed to secure an interview with Artemy Lebedev, the elusive founder of Art. Lebedev Studio]
FastCompany.com: Why redesign the subway map? Is the official one really that terrible?
Artemy Lebedev: We've decided to redesign the map because the official map didn't show any symptoms of getting better. I call it "explosion of a bicycle chain factory." That describes it perfectly.
What sort of research did you do? Were you consulting other subway maps? If so, which ones?
London is classic, NY is nice, Tokyo is nightmare. We've had them all. Moscow is really circle-based, so we have our own identity which we needed to preserve.
The map took nearly four years to design! Why so long?
Actually, it took us about a month to design it. We spent four years on redesigning. We were coming with some ideas, tried to live with them, then went ahead. We didn't want any short-term attention (anyone designing new Moscow subway map would gain short-term attention). We needed something that could be The Map for the next decade.
How are you going about getting the map officially adopted?
We will make it as widespread as possible first. We have had similar experience with promoting the rouble currency sign, which is used all over the country while not being "official" yet.
You're really open about your design process online. Most designers are too worried that people will steal their ideas. Why divulge your methods?
My method is simple: share all the ideas as wide as possible because there are more ideas on the way. I have no shortage of them so I'm not worried that someday there will be have nothing to share.
And just in case someone worries: this method works very well.
Are there other transit maps, public signs, facilities etc. in Moscow badly in need of a redesign? Any plans to take those on next?
Actually, this is the only widely known scheme in Moscow. So now we may concentrate on redesigning Saint Petersburg subway map, which is just as ugly as its Moscow cousin.
—Original story below—
Russia's powerhouse design firm Art. Lebedev Studio (of Optimus keyboard fame) recently unveiled a striking new map that at long last drags the Moscow Metro out of the Soviet era. The design, though not an official replacement, took nearly four years to complete. It costs 350 rubles (around $14) and comes in various sizes and levels of detail.
Studio founder Artemy Lebedev released the map publicly in hopes that it will be adopted as the official map, and told us via email that he thinks that could happen in less than five years.
Sure, stations are still organized within and around a central ring, but the similarities end there. Lines are thinner. Stops are represented by ticks; transfer points by dots; and larger transit hubs by mini rings. The distance between stations is wider, making the whole thing less reminiscent of a crowded breadline. Overall, it feels lighter, cleaner, and more spacious.
Online, the studio
has an excellent play by play of its design process, which seems rather
courageous in a country that doesn't exactly encourage the sharing of
information. There was obviously tension between updating the map and
maintaining the old aesthetic. Spacing out stations was a clear
nod to contemporary information design. "We paid particular attention to how the stations
are arranged," the studio's Web site says. "We employed mnemonic
hints along with thoroughly balanced overall design. If one station on
the map appears above the other, whether on the same metro line or at an interchange, it is actually further to the north."
In other cases, old ideas prevailed. Here, the designers toyed with arranging the map around different shapes.
But ultimately ruled in favor of the ring, because it's recognizable to Muscovites.
They also considered adding shading a la the Tube.
But ruled against it, because the Moscow Metro doesn't have ticket zones.
Here it is in black, with greater detail that includes light rail showing the system in 2100:
Hats off to Art. Lebedev Studio for a nice, clean map that brings Moscow's subway system into the modern era. Now if only the rest of the government could be so nice and clean.