I began learning Illustrator nearly five years ago. My first project was creating a map for a fictional self-designed light rail system in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Working on a project close to my heart really kickstarted my love for design, and led to Illustrator being my favorite program and tool of choice.
Transit maps in general are a good way of practicing and learning the features of Illustrator. There is a lot of precision and repetition that will help you learn shortcuts and new functions to speed up your work, otherwise you'll get bogged down in tedious work.
One of the most effective and satisfying ways to practice and get better at Illustrator is redesigning existing maps that have been deemed inadequate in some way. There's no better source for finding potential redesign material than the blog Transit Maps by Cameron Booth.
Wayfinding maps like these are an interesting genre of design work. Because their purpose is to be easy-to-read for the general public, almost anyone can tell right away what works and what doesn't. If you can't easily find all the information you need to get around, then it's not a good map.
Still, there are so many official maps that just aren't up to snuff. Just the other day, Cameron reviewed the official map of the Miami Metrorail system, which recently updated but still is not the most appealing work, garnering a justified 1.5 stars (out of five). It's visually drab, cluttered with too much information and yet lacks any information regarding its sister peoplemover system downtown.
Having just upgraded the latest version of Illustrator CC (better late than never), I figured it would be a good project to try my hand at this map. I put an emphasis on speed to try and capitalize on all of the functions and shortcuts that Illustrator has at its disposal. The below map was created in less than a 24 hour period.
Far too many cities don't put enough care into their transit maps. There is a lot of value to good wayfinding. If it is clear and easy to read, it can help bring in new riders. If it is visually appealing, it can become an iconic symbol of the city.
I put together a new project page featuring a selection of the transit maps I've redesigned over the years, and I will continue to update it as new projects strike my fancy. If you're looking to learn Illustrator, I highly recommend this activity. Transit Maps also has several very handy tricks and tutorials to help you learn.