Korean Subway Maps Aren’t Oriented to North
Am I the weirdo, or does this not make a lot of sense?
The above picture is a map of the area immediately surrounding a subway stop. It is a completely mundane navigational feature that one expects to see in a mass transit stop. On first glance, there is nothing unusual about it.
Look closer, though, and you’ll see that there is an oddity about this map that makes it extremely misleading, and in fact these maps have sent me in the wrong direction several times even in the brief period I’ve been here. You see, my expectation has always been that a flat map is oriented in such a way that up is north. This is, I feel, a sensible assumption.
Take another look at this map. I’ll give you a hand and zoom in on the relevant feature:
On this map, north is right and up is west. If you choose to leave the station assuming that up is north, you will exit on the wrong street.
Most of the Korean subway maps I’ve seen are not oriented to north, though exactly how they are oriented varies. As best as I can tell, the notion is that the map is turned so that it puts the focus on what the designers felt was the most relevant feature. I suppose that they thought this would be easier.
The above map is for the City Hall stop, so the designers felt that city hall was the most important nearby feature — note that entrances 1 and 2 both face city hall. Were the map oriented to north, city hall would be in the lower left quadrant. Instead, they have rotated the map 90 degrees so that city hall (along with all the other administrative buildings) is in the top half of the map, thus calling more attention to it.
I suppose that this makes to someone. All I know is that I keep leaving in the wrong place because entrance 6, which is the one I actually want, looks like its going 90 degrees in the wrong direction.
It’s not always this obvious. The subway usually runs underneath a major road, and there’s an assumption that people leaving at that stop will follow that road. Thus, at many stops, the map is rotated as much as 45 degrees to orient that road to one of the cardinal directions. At least in this case, the map just plain looks wrong, so it’s harder to end up the walking in the wrong direction without knowing it.
It probably doesn’t help that Korean subway stations can have somewhat confusing layouts anyway. Some of them are several floors deep, with the ticket vending machines tucked away in some odd little corner where you wouldn’t expect them and identical-looking staircases leading to different platforms with trains headed in different directions. The misaligned maps are just one more fun little feature to make a newcomer’s head spin.
So the question for the day: Have you encountered maps (in subways or anywhere else) that are oriented to something other than north?
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