The development of computational approaches in systems biology has reached a state of maturity that allows their transition to systems medicine. Despite this progress, intuitive visualisation and context-dependent knowledge representation still present a major bottleneck. In this paper, we describe the Disease Maps Project, an effort towards a community-driven computationally readable comprehensive representation of disease mechanisms. We outline the key principles and the framework required for the success of this initiative, including use of best practices, standards and protocols. We apply a modular approach to ensure efficient sharing and reuse of resources for projects dedicated to specific diseases. Community-wide use of disease maps will accelerate the conduct of biomedical research and lead to new disease ontologies defined from mechanism-based disease endotypes rather than phenotypes.