The design of the London Underground map has long fascinated me. It’s abandonment of conventional geographic layout was pure genius on the part of its creator, Harry Beck, in 1933 and continues to be the model for which the majority of MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) systems around the world base their maps today.

I’d been looking for an excuse for a while to produce my own ‘underground’ style map using similar principles but never really managed to justify it… until now! Using some possibly rather tenuous reasoning I decided to map Durham (where I live!) as part of my ‘Network Visualisation‘ project that I’m carrying out this year for my course. The preliminary result can be seen below, and I’m pretty pleased with it (click here for a larger version):

Durham MRT System

After sketching it out roughly on paper I produced it in a great piece of software called Inkscape which is an Open Source Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) editor (similar to Illustrator but free!). SVG is a language for describing two-dimensional graphics and graphical applications in XML – the cool thing about it being that you can scale the graphics to any size with zero loss of resolution.

I’ve tried to retain a high-degree of geographical relevance to the map whilst simplifying the details of its layout. Anyone slightly familiar with Durham should be able navigate themselves around (by foot!) using it. Once I’ve done a bit more research I’ll post up a more detailed overview but right now It’s still a work in progress – if you have any comments/suggestions I would greatly appreciate them!

Update (02/03): I’ve just updated the map to version 1.6 (from 1.4). It includes a number of minor improvements which have been made from feedback 🙂

David avatar

3 responses

  1. Wow, you are so smart!

    I am interested in designing a Metro Map for Wuxi. Can you help?

    My email address is: [email protected]

    Your project looks just fantastic!

  2. The software I use is called Inkscape which is an Open Source vector graphics editor. You can download it for free here – – other software like Adobe Illustrator is also good but very expensive. The advantage of vector graphic software is that you can save your design at any size without loosing resolution (i.e. the image still looks sharp at any size).

    To save as a PNG click File -> Export Bitmap… from here you can select the size and resolution you want to export.

    I would suggest you start with a physical map of Wuxi and then overlay the actual route of the lines onto it. From this you can then simplify and refine your design. Generally speaking most metro maps use "quasi geographic" layouts, meaning that they follow the physical geography loosely but without a true sense of scale or proportion. I also suggest using some simple rules such as only having 90 or 45 degree angles which can create a very clean map – the London Underground or Hong Kong MTR maps are a good example of this.

    To give you some inspiration I suggest you take a look at this page where you can see metro maps from around the world –

  3. luke avatar

    i love maps


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