If you want to see the current London tube map, visit this page on the Transport for London site.
I set this page up in response to the BBC making a radio/blog item on whether the current design of London’s tube map is a lot less ‘classic’ than it used to be:
A classic that has lost its way
An amateur responds
For a large (3000 pixels wide), click.
Comparison in one graphic.
I think that this supposed ‘design classic’ has lost its way in the last twenty years. Some rules remain despite the reason for their introduction having long-since become out of date. One of these is making the map work when people photocopy the map and all colour is lost. As colour prints now seem more convenient and cheaper than photocopies, the rule that map must work in black and white can be dropped.
If you go to Maxwell Roberts’ page on why the official design is terrible, you’ll see why a major problem is the official insistence that a large disability symbol be used to indicate step-free access to some stations.
In the tradition of amateur contributions to the design evolution of the map, I’ve come up with a version. I’ve incorporated all the information from the official map, yet toned down the symbol of step-free access. I’ve kept in national rail lines that go into the centre of London by tunnel. I’ve also shown which stations are near to each other above ground.
I think that older versions of this map reflected an artistic aesthetic as well as the need to provide useful information. There’s no need for the ends of the Central line to look as they do on my map. I think they look better that way.
I believe that prior to the 1990s the design of the map helped people oriented themselves by noting whether they were to the left or the right of a straight Northern, and above or below the Central. Under the section of changes to make routes clearer: to show where there Jubilee went, I thought best make it straight towards Canary Wharf; to help people choose The Waterloo and City outside the peaks, best make it straight. I also wanted to make the DLR clearer (and better looking!)
It’s best to indicate on the lines themselves those that do not run full time. I’ve added a dashed white line to these services. I’ve also marked stations with limited opening hours with a hollow tick mark which should prompt people to look at the key for further information. I think the traditional dagger symbol could be overlooked by many.
I also fixed some geographical anomalies where possible: the relative alignment of the Victoria and Overground line, the proximity of Regents Park and Great Portland Street station and the relative positions of the two Edgware Road stations.
I liked it when Epping and West Ruislip reflected each other. I liked it when the eastern District was straight. I also wanted to make the central area (Bond Street to Holborn) to be more geometrical. I also used a lighter weight type for the Overground line stations.
The trick is to have all this content while making the map look as clear and beautiful as the 1970s version:
For much more on the evolution of the map, visit the official site for a book on the design of the map since the 1960s.
A suggestion from Paris
As the London tube system will only get more complicated, maybe it is time to consider using an idea from the Paris Metro: make more of names of the terminii of each line. I think that one of the biggest problems for new users of the system is the use of compass-point directions (‘Eastbound and Westbound’) at tube stations.
Sometimes I need to change at Westminster. When I do, I see that the Jubilee platforms are labelled as being for trains going ‘Westbound’ and ‘Eastbound’. Surely from the point of view of most Londoners, certainly for those who navigate by the tube map, the Jubilee line goes north-south at that point, and the sub-surface lines east-west. The District and Circle aren’t marked as going Northbound and Southbound at Westminster (which are the directions it travels at that station).
Both the Jubilee and Bakerloo lines leave Baker Street to the east. Their platforms aren’t described as Eastbound.
Signage could look like this:
With a revised (2012) tube map looking like this:
Thames Gateway excursions
Various extensions to the DLR are planned.
One that has a serious chance of success is one from Beckton to Dagenham Dock. That might be co-ordinated with an extension of the Overground to the same station:
There was talk of an extension to Charing Cross station. That would revive the original Fleet Line plan that connected Charing Cross with Thamesmead. There are some disused Jubilee Line tunnels between Green Park and Aldwych, so why not connect the DLR with Green Park too:
With these extensions maybe it will make more sense to rename the DLR to the Thames Gateway Railway…
London Overground logo
Transport for London have come up with a plain logo for London Overground. Some say this is because they want to have a ‘soft launch’ – there’s no point in getting Londoners excited when nothing much has changed. Maybe the branding could be stronger once the new trains and improved service arrives. The logo could match the shape of the network:
Quicker by foot?
One of the disadvantages of Beck’s diagrammatic system is that people may not realise how close some stations are from each other. Here’s a new rule for the map that shows distance in metres between stations – when on the same line and when on different lines:
The hardest part of the map to show this with is for Bayswater and Queensway:
The new Outer Circle
Over 100 years ago, the private companies that built the early London Underground planned an ‘Outer Circle’ line to go with the Inner Circle – the line we call the Circle Line.
As Transport for London have taken control of some surface lines and plan to extend the East London Line to reach the former North London Line, the prospect of an outer circle is looking more positive.
To match my tube map design, I’ve used light type for non-underground stations.
December 2007: Future tube map with accessibility information and river services
Posted 17 December 2007
This is my current design for the future tube map. As accessibility information must be included on the map (for political reasons), I’ve come up with light blue markers for interchanges and station ticks. This means that the disability logos no longer overpower the map.
Many think it would be useful to show distances between stations that are physically close but are not connected directly. The new official map is starting to to this, my solution is different. I’ve also shown more links than the current map does.
I’ve found a reason for Beck’s inclusion of the Thames on map – river services are now included on the map – this is not a serious suggestion.
I’ve also shown the proposed service changes for the Circle and Northern lines. I’ve called the new separated service “Edgington” in the tradition of the Bakerloo. Maybe Kennware would be a better name…
September 2009: The Thames and zones vanish
This week Transport for London have released a big revision to the tube map. They are trying to make it clearer. It is a great deal simpler than the previous version, but they may have gone too far. The River Thames has gone:
I think that the Thames is one of the cues that gives some grounding to people who have a look at the map for the first time. In fact the river would fit perfectly well onto the current map as it is (apart from moving one station) if you incorporate a new rule: station labels are allowed to overlap the river.
Here’s a close up of what it would look like:
For more radical tube map designs and commentary on the current official design, follow the work of author and designer Maxwell Roberts: