Does this map look like the Metro map we know today? It’s a direct ancestor.

Design by Massimo Vignelli via MetroMapArt.

Peter Lloyd, who writes the blog Metro Map Art, included this in a book he wrote about designer Massimo Vignelli. Vignelli notably created the 1972 version of the New York Subway map, which simplified the shapes of the lines into only verticals, horizontals, and diagonals.

Today’s Metro map uses those same orientations, while New York moved away from it toward a more curved, partially more geographically accurate version. But Vignelli also worked with Metro architect Harry Weese, designing the iconic pylons outside stations, the original signs inside, and more, including the above map.

But Vignelli was not the designer who created the final map. That was Lance Wyman, a designer with a much less severe aesthetic. Lloyd visited an exhibit about Wyman’s design in Monterrey, Mexico. The exhibit contains early sketches for the Metro map which strongly resemble the Vignelli map but also the modern one.

Photo by Reka Komoli via MetroMapArt.

As you can see, the colors changed, and so did the names for the ends of lines (that, of course, not being the designers’ doing). Nutley Road is now Vienna, Ardmore is New Carrollton. Greenbelt Road became just Greenbelt when planners moved the station closer to the Beltway. Initial plans to split the now-Yellow line to Franconia and Springfield (then Backlick Road) became one unified Franconia-Springfield station.

Another hallmark of Wyman’s work is the use of icons in wayfinding. As Lloyd explains, Wyman initially proposed having icons for each station, and in fact that’s a reason the map has large circles and fat lines.

Design by Lance Wyman via MetroMapArt.

According to Lloyd, Vignelli led an effort to reject the icon concept.

Metro’s service evolves as well

The map also has changed as the system grew beyond the initial plans. In 2011, Metro hired Wyman to redesign the map to fit in the Silver Line. The latest issue of Washingtonian looks at changes in the region over the years, including Metro; Angie Hilsman created this animated GIF of Metro service growth based on maps I drew:

These maps show the service patterns, not the actual maps in stations; as the system was constructed, the maps instead showed the then-planned lines with broken lines and empty circles for as-yet-unbuilt tracks and stations. You can see the full set of these images in this slideshow:

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.