Historical Concept Map: Circular Berlin U- and S-Bahn Map, c.1990
Circular transit diagrams are certainly all the rage at the moment. I’ve reviewed two different takes on London here and here, and Maxwell Roberts’ circular New York diagram is generating a lot of internet buzz at the moment.
That’s not to say that it’s a completely new and original concept, however. Harry Beck tried his hand at a circular Underground diagram in 1964, and Berlin’s Ringbahn was abstracted into a perfect circle as far back as 1931.
Also from Berlin, here’s another addition to the pantheon of circular diagrams, one that I haven’t seen before and I’m pretty excited by. Designed by the famed German typographer/designer Erik Spiekermann, these photos were taken at an exhibition of his work at the Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin in 2011.
Judging by the stations shown, the concept seems to be roughly contemporaneous with the work he did in the early 1990s to design the first post-reunification diagram for the BVG. At first glance, the concentric circles, arcs and spokes make a compelling visual image, but many of the routes have to jump around all over the place to accommodate this visual metaphor, weaving in and out to retain their correct relative position to other lines. Station spacing — a prime consideration in the design of a diagram — becomes very uneven as a result, especially along the outer edges of the map, where huge virtual gaps open up between stations.
The Spiekermann-designed diagram that was eventually used by the BVG was far more traditional than this, and still governs the visual language used by Berlin’s diagrams today, 20 years after its completion. What we see here is almost certainly a concept that was explored and then abandoned as unworkable or too radical a departure for public acceptance (I note that the second mock up has angled type for just one station label — something that Erik has always held as a mortal sin in transit diagram design).
However, as an insight into the design process and thinking that goes into making transit diagrams, I find pieces like this absolutely fascinating.