An Illustrated Subway Map of Human Anatomy
What comes to mind when you think about your body?
Most people might imagine an intricate network of blood vessels or the complex neural circuits of the brain. Or we might picture diagrams from the iconic medical textbook, Gray’s Anatomy.
Today’s visualization puts a unique spin on all of these ideas – interpreting human anatomy in the style of London’s transit system. Created by Jonathan Simmonds M.D., a resident physician at Tufts Medical Center, it’s a simple yet beautifully intuitive demonstration of how efficiently our bodies work.
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From Point A to Point Z
Right away, we can see that each system is broken down into a few major colored ‘lines’. Here are a few:
- Vermillion system (Pink line)
This covers one of the smallest surface areas, namely the boundary around the mouth from the cupid’s bow to the bottom lip.
- Airway system (Black line)
This represents the sections from the nose and mouth, down the windpipe and into the lungs. The system also works with bronchial arteries and veins – the striped blue and red lines respectively.
- Nervous system (Yellow line)
This starts from the temporal lobe of the brain, and reaches all the way to the body’s extremities, such as the fingertips and feet.
- Portal system (Purple line)
Approximately 75% of blood flowing from the liver passes through portal veins, which are one of two sets of veins connected to the liver.
- Special system (Magenta line)
This includes organs responsible for four of the five traditional senses – sight, hearing, smell, and taste – as well the reproductive organs.
While dashed lines represent deeper structures, sections with ‘transfers’ show where different organ systems intersect. The head is also helpfully categorized into three ‘zones’.
Of course, it’s not as straightforward as starting in one place and ending up on the opposite end – as with city transit systems, there are multiple routes that can be taken. If you’re still daunted by where to start with this map of human anatomy, there’s a helpful “You Are Here” at the heart.
To counter common biases in the medical field, Dr. Simmonds has noted that he will soon update the illustration to include racialized and female versions.
An Enduring Symbol
From a broader design perspective, this anatomical subway map draws inspiration from the famous London Underground design.
When engineering draftsman Harry Beck debuted this map back in the 1930s, it caused quite a stir. Many argued that it wasn’t geographically accurate, and that its scale was wildly skewed.
But that didn’t matter to most commuters. Beck’s map offered something that no one else did – it combined all the different lines into one pocket-sized diagram.
Beck’s map was revolutionary in its simplicity.
– Sam Mullins, London Transport Museum Director
As a result, the Tube’s linear, color-coded aesthetic is arguably the most recognizable transit map in the world today. Many major cities hopped on board with the timeless new look, such as Sydney and Paris.
This iconic subway map design has been used as a visual reference for everything from Ancient Roman roads to the Milky Way. That’s what makes it such a good application for the most complex network of all – the human body.
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