City Identity in Subway Maps by Zero Per Zero


Many budding designers cut their graphic design teeth redesigning a metropolitan subway map because of the challenge it presents. Usually the objective is to create a map that’s easy to use and conveys all the necessary information clearly in a small amount of space. Typically, a good subway map is equally well understood by locals and tourists, and isn’t frustrating to read when trying to get from point A to point B. Zero Per Zero, a graphic design studio based in Seoul, has an ongoing project redesigning city railway system maps according to a different objective than the usual.

City Railway System is a new approach to projecting the identity of a city onto its subway map. Whereas conventional subway maps aim at conveying information as clearly and concisely as possible, the City Railway System by ZERO PER ZERO distinctively incorporates symbolic elements of each city into its map while preserving clarity.

In their subway maps, Zero Per Zero preserves some of the sensation of living in a city.


Zero Per Zero subway maps aren’t particularly easy to read and details such as transfers, express trains, and geographical accuracy are not emphasized. Train line colors blend together and station names are tricky to read. However, these maps should still be considered gorgeous works of design when considering the studio’s objective for making them. I’ve seen many redesigned subway maps good in their respective ways, but basically all seeking to be a tiny bit clearer than their precedents. Zero Per Zero isn’t aiming for crystal clear, flawless information design. They want to capture the essence of a city through reimagining it’s metro system.



They do still work as subway maps; they work better as overall pictures of cities. Each map uses a symbol of the city as a starting point—a heart for New York, the Han River for Seoul, and a tulip for Amsterdam. I particularly like the silkscreen postcards of detailed areas. In these tricolour versions a city’s main neighborhoods and landmarks are highlighted along subway lines. The detailed illustrations of famous buildings pictured alongside the railway system capture the feeling of bustling city centers.


Zero Per Zero consists of art director Kim Ji-Hwan and illustrator Jin Sol. Check out their city railway system project with completed railway maps of ten cities or their studio’s client work and exhibitions. Some of their products are available online and in brick and mortar stores in these locations. More photos of their work can be seen below and on the studio’s Flickr.