Chris Smere: “I always needed change to get on even if it meant starting over again with something completely different.”

Chris Smere AKA @transitdiagrams creates fantastic transit maps of cities all over the world—we first noticed him on Instagram and have been impressed with what he can do with Affinity apps! We caught up with him to get some insights…
Who is Chris Smere/@transitdiagrams?

First of all my name is actually Christopher Smerietschnig but due to the fact that it is quite complicated and long I used to be called Chris Smere by friends and colleagues, and I prefer that!

I was born in a small south Austrian city called Ferlach near the border to Slovenia, attended a school with focus on electrical engineering, studied philosophy afterwards and now I’m a public servant working at the building-department at a city hall. At the moment I live and draw in Klagenfurt.

Graphic design and especially designing transit maps and diagrams are merely a more recent hobby which I do after work in my spare time and it started only few years ago.

All I know about graphic design and transit mapping I learn by myself by reading books, blogs and tutorials which eventually brought me to what I do for fun now.

To sum it up: my life wasn’t exactly a straight way from A to B. To be honest, I always needed change to get on even if it meant starting over again with something completely different.

Why transit maps and diagrams?

Trains, buses, trams and public transit were always something that I was fascinated by since I was a child. When I was younger, I became a member of an association for preserving the transit heritage of our local railway line by running nostalgic steam trains, collecting vehicles and artefacts of all kinds of transportation in the form of a museum. That passion and love has survived till today, in the more abstract form of transit maps and diagrams though.

The main reasons why I started making my own versions and interpretations of transit maps in the first place were actually very simple:

First of all there are so many suboptimal maps in use out there to put it nicely.

Secondly, some transit companies don’t have any (up-to-date) transit maps at all. So I got a vector program, taught myself basic skills and began to draw slowly map after map. Soon I started to realise that it was a rather satisfying task and process.

The pace and number of map designs increased over the years too. If you’d asked me what my first self-made map was I honestly could not tell you anymore. I am also not able to tell you even the exact year when it started, it might be 2014 or even earlier.

I have made so many—the number must be around one hundred by now—and back then I used to overwrite original files. My guess is that it was a—still not published map—of the electric means of transportation in San Francisco.

Originally, I had never thought about publishing my maps as I considered them a private fun and also works of a laymen. Fortunately I changed my mind as I thought it would be a pity if nobody would ever see them except for me. I eventually made the step and started publishing them in social media groups of equal minded people. And what can I say—it was the right thing to do!

I got so much positive and helpful feedback and input that I became more and more confident about my projects. I just had to push myself and I’ve not had a single regret since then. I still rely on that open feedback for my maps, this open process works best for me and I try to value and incorporate as many inputs from my followers as possible.

Apart from my long connection to public transportation and railway systems and the issues mentioned above there is another reason why I draw my transit maps and diagrams. Somehow, I discovered that by making them I am able to relax after a long stressful day. It helps me to calm down, to focus my thoughts and bring order to my mind again.

Whenever I am doing the diagrams it is like as being separated—disconnected—from the world. I used to compare it to meditation although I am not focused merely on myself but on those routes, structure and connections of the transit system I am working on at that specific moment.

How did you discover the Affinity apps?

After university I was looking for an alternative vector drawing app to the programs I had used before. At first I used an open source app but I was not fully satisfied with the handling. Back then I already owned a copy of the DrawPlus software by Serif (I still sometimes use PagePlus for some older projects) but didn’t really use it as it lacked some features that I needed to draw my transit diagrams.

So Serif was a company I had known a long time before I found out that they launched a completely new suite which finally was a perfect fit for my needs.

What features do you find most useful in Affinity Designer?

My favourite and always used features are definitely the grid and snapping functions. I need them to keep the routes properly aligned going exactly through certain points in the design. That can be easily done with those two functions while I still have the full control over every node of every line.

Also the possibilities that the customisation settings allow me to do with grids are wonderful and essential.

What I do love the most is the recently introduced multi stroke functionality—before I had to use a staple (or group) of strokes each with different attributes on top of each other. If I had to change a transit line, I had to change also all corresponding lines too. That was very time consuming and now it’s really a time saver. It helps also to keep the design consistent.

Last but not least another important functionality for me is the Corner Tool as it lets me round and align the lines kinks and bends perfectly. Before I had to do it manually which is a very time consuming task even with predetermined sets of rounded corners.

What is your favourite destination and where has the best transport!

My personal favourite destination is definitely Barcelona—both for holidays and having a wonderful time with my boyfriend and also for its diverse transportation possibilities. I haven’t yet been to a place with better public transit.

The metro, tram and buses work perfectly together you have an integrated fare system and you get around without a car all the time. That’s of course my personal opinion—and I’d be also happy and interested to hear about cities with better transportation.

What goes into creating a transit map, what is your process?

A lot of love, time and passion. But honestly, I don’t have a specific process. Maybe the only thing that might deserve to be called a process is that I constantly browse through the internet looking for trolleybus, tram and urban rail networks and their official transit maps.

If a network “speaks” to me and I have a preliminary design on my mind I just start to draw the first lines and stations.

Then it might take hours or even days—depending on my mood and free time available—until the design has matured to the point that I think it is ready for publishing. After one more night I normally post it on my social media channels and ask for feedback.

As I initially make that maps all on my own, I have to rely on this way of publication to get input about corrections as I cannot see everything what might be wrong. This way I am able to improve my maps and also keeping them up-to-date.

Furthermore, many of the cities and their transit systems I draw I haven’t never been to. So any feedback and input is very welcome. And I try to make updates according to that feedback as soon as I can.

A thing that I really love to do is to let my followers decide what map should be next. It’s always interesting for myself as most of the time my favourite map doesn’t make it in the voting’s which I do via my social media channels.

Overall, I like to include other people into my designing as much as possible. I guess this pretty much sums up my “process”, if there is any in the traditional sense.

What other creative outlets do you enjoy?

I do a little bit of photo editing in Affinity Photo with photos taken with my cameras on the computer but nowadays most of my photo editing is done on my phone with the pictures taken with it.

But that is only a fraction of my creative time and energy—I still enjoy manipulation of my photos though. I can be dragged into that as into map design too but only on rare occasions. This used to be more extensive before I started with my transit map design.

I also make layout designs (brochures, posters, flyers, web graphics) at work mainly with Affinity Publisher which I do love too although I am not as free in my designing as with my personal projects.

What’s probably notable too is that I like to do sketches of transit systems and/or maps on paper—sometimes as a kind of preparation for a digital map, sometimes just to explore the nature of a transit network in a certain city. Using paper and pen is really a way for me to experience a system—to feel it.

What is your favourite book?

Well, that’s an easy one if it is about graphic design: Vignelli Transit Maps by Peter B. Lloyd with Mark Ovenden. That book gave me so much inspiration and also support to make something new just by seeing what Vignelli did back in 1970s. Some maps of mine reflect his style but I am always try pushing it further. Which is developing slowly into my very own style(s).

As I have mentioned above I studied philosophy which also provided a non-graphic design favourite book too: “Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (literally it can be translated as “The Antiquatedness (or Outdatedness) of the Human kind” by Günther Anders, an Austrian philosopher which I admire and relate to so much.

It’s basically about how humankind is always behind all its technological progress and the gap it opens between them. We invent more and more technological tools and gadgets by pushing things too much forward so that we as humanity as a whole can’t cope with it anymore. Humans fall behind their own inventions and therefore seem sometimes to be ashamed of themselves for not being as good as their technology which results in even more inventing to cope with that etc.—that’s roughly the conclusion I tend to agree with.

Are there any features you’d like to see added to Affinity apps?

Right now I am very satisfied with what Affinity apps are providing and offering. All the features are there that I need for designing transit maps.

One thing I really want to see though is support for Arabic and Hebrew languages (right to left, RTL) so that I can finally do bilingual maps in these languages. Another function I really would like to see is a pre-flight (prepress check) functionality to prove whether a file is okay for print or not.

And what would also be awesome is a suite wide colour management and an overall preference administration. These features would be really helpful additions.


To see more of Chris’ work, follow him on Instagram, Twitter and Behance.


Artist relations
Umar is part of our artist relations team. He likes to tinker with computers, build things and play competitive games. His favourite colour is green and he enjoys bouldering, which is basically climbing without any ropes. It’s less dangerous than it sounds.
Credits & Footnotes

All images copyright of Christopher Smerietschnig and used with permission.