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Project: Redrawing the London Tube Map

Back to Beck Tube Map

Click here to view a larger version of the map Or here for an alternate version with proper accessibility icons

See also: More design notes on the map, and showing out-of-station interchanges

London’s Underground Diagram (or “Tube Map”) has long been regarded as an icon of informational design, pioneering the way for just about every other schematic transportation map in the world since its inception way back in 1931. But how much of that reputation is actually deserved these days?

Note: the design of the Tube Map is the intellectual property of Transport for London. This redrawing has been executed as an educational and instructive design exercise only — a design and technical critique of the current map that also offers some ideas for future improvement. It is not available for sale or for licensing. The large preview of the map is heavily watermarked to make this situation clear to all viewers.

The Underground network has grown in both size and complexity in the decades since the Tube Map’s debut, and H.C. Beck’s ingenious design has been asked to convey more and more information with each passing year: more Underground lines than he probably ever envisioned, the addition of the Overground and DLR, fare zone shading (an early version of which he absolutely loathed), accessibility icons and more. Personally, I believe that the map — in its current format — is ill-equipped to handle future additions, especially with the just-announced decision to gradually transfer all Greater London commuter rail services to TfL’s control under the Overground brand.

A number of designers have proposed alternative London rail maps that deal with this problem — like this lovely diagram by the very talented Jug Cerovic — but I started to wonder: what if the Tube Map was just drawn better?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the current iteration of the Tube Map is a diagram that’s almost completely forgotten that it is one. There’s very little rhythm, balance or flow to the composition of the map outside the central “thermos flask”, and there’s shockingly little use of a underlying unifying grid. As a result, nothing really aligns properly with anything else anymore.

Much of the blame for this belongs to the hideous alternating-stripes fare zones, which have to go around every element that belongs to a station. If there’s a long station name, the zone has to enclose it completely, which can push the station marker out of harmonious spacing with the other stations on the line (see the Piccadilly line out to Heathrow), or force station names to suddenly swap to the opposite side of the route line (hello, southern end of the Northern line!). The more I look at the map, the more it’s obvious that the zones are making the routes and stations subsidiary to them, not the other way around.

So — first things first: the zones have to go. They’ve only been on the Tube Map since 2002, so it’s not a huge loss. TfL could offer an extra map that contains this information if people need it (like many European transit agencies do), but I kind of get the feeling that tap-on, tap-off Oyster cards mitigate the need for most travellers to know which zones they’re passing through.

Next, the accessibility icons, which are a design problem for a few reasons. Their use of a large circular station marker — regardless of whether or not they’re an interchange station — adds visual confusion and clutter to the map, and impedes the reading flow of route lines. The DLR is a web of blue blobs (which is fantastic for accessibility needs) and becomes very visually heavy in comparison to the rest of the map. See how much nicer it looks below with ticks for stations!

detail-docklands

I wanted to find a way to reserve the circular station shape to only indicate interchanges (it’s original purpose), which meant I had to come up with an different way to show accessible stations. Because London unusually shows two types of accessible stations — street to platform, and street to train — a reader has to first refer to the map’s legend to determine which icon is which. Using this to my advantage, I devised simple circular blue dots — hollow for street to platform, and solid for street to train — that could either be placed inside an interchange station’s circle, or next to a standard station’s name along with National Rail, water services and other informational icons. The idea for placing a small circle inside an interchange circle had its roots in the Tube Map itself, which used a small black dot inside an interchange to indicate connections to British Rail in the 1964 Paul Garbutt-designed version of the map. Design-wise, I think that it’s an unobtrusive and attractive solution, although it’s probably illegal under some Disabilities Act or another to not use a wheelchair icon to indicate accessibility. This design solution also had the added bonus of restoring most of the lovely and distinctive terminus station “bars” to the map — blobs having replaced all but three of them (Watford, Mill Hill East and Cockfosters) on the official map.

interchange_comparison

Above, you can see my blue icons set inside an interchange symbol (right) in a diagram that illustrates the other major problem with the accessibility blobs: they force route lines further apart than they should be. In their natural state, double-interchange symbols actually overlap each other by the width of their black outline, which is half the thickness of a route line.

Side note: The width of a route line (known as “x”) is the building block of  the Tube Map, and many other measurements are derived from it: it’s the x-height of text labels, while an interchange symbol has a diameter of 3x. This is also the minimum allowed inner radius for a route line when it changes direction. Labels are set 1.33x away from the edge of route lines, a tick is a 0.667x square, and so on. It’s all related!

However, the accessibility icons can’t overlap without one icon partially obscuring the other and the connecting bar between the two circles being completely lost. So the circles and their respective route lines have to be set a little further apart (with a very odd gap of 2.19x by my calculations, compared to the 1.5x minimum possible gap). A difference of 0.69x may not seem like much, but the tighter spacing definitely helps the Metropolitan/Jubilee line pairing from St. Johns Wood to Wembley Park work together as a coherent element. It also saves a surprising amount of space in other places, which helps the map feel a little lighter and more spacious throughout.

Alignment of elements is something I worked incredibly hard on to restore the diagram-like qualities of the map. Stations line up with each other across the map: see from Northfields on the Piccadilly all the way across to Embankment. Below that, Gunnersbury, West Brompton and Waterloo align; and then Fulham Broadway, Pimlico and Lambeth North. The northern branch of the Bakerloo line aligns vertically with the Hammersmith & City line, the DLR into Stratford International aligns diagonally with the Overground line above it.  Across the top of the map, Watford, Watford Junction, High Barnet, Enfield Town and Chingford all line up perfectly. This intentional alignment creates an invisible grid that standardises and unifies the whole map.

Other smaller changes:

Inclusion of Crossrail wasn’t as hard as I expected, although the “mega-stations” at Farringdon/Barbican and Moorgate/Liverpool Street are pretty unwieldy. I did manage to keep it dead straight between Bond Street and Whitechapel, which is nice. Added bonus: the return of Beck’s beautiful “TO” box to indicate stations off the western edge of the map.

detail_heathrow

Some more accurate station location, especially at the eastern end of the Victoria line, where the Overground line is now correctly shown to the south of Seven Sisters, not the north. Bethnal Green and Shoreditch High Street Overground stations are now located in the correct place relative to the Central line. The Overground passes between St. Johns Wood and Swiss Cottage on its way to Euston.

detail-walthamstow

General straightening of Overground lines, especially from Canonbury to Stratford and the whole southern orbit from Clapham Junction to the (soon to open) New Bermondsey station. The loop into Clapham Junction from Imperial Wharf mimics the real-life layout of the station and helps to reinforce that you have to change trains there, but may be a little bit overbearing. I’ll have to think about that one.

White strokes separating route lines when they cross but don’t otherwise interact. The official map does this inconsistently, so I decided to carry it across the whole map. I think it works, especially in the north-east part of the map where a lot of routes cross over each other.

Removal of interchange circles at stations where the interchange is only with National Rail. The NR arrow does the work here, and it’s ridiculous to have an interchange circle sitting on a single Underground line by itself, like what used to be at South Ruislip. Note also that I’ve removed the ridiculous north-western alignment of the Piccadilly/Metropolitan lines west of Rayners Lane.

detail-ruislip

More accurate drawing that adheres to the design rules of the map better. At Earl’s Court, I was able to  expand the District line curve around to Kensington (Olympia) into a proper 3x-radius half-circle, unlike the official map, which cheats its little heart out to make things fit (see below).

earlscourt_comparison

Really little things: Throwback water lines on the Thames. Routing information on the map for London Fields and Cambridge Heath Overground stations. Lord’s cricket ground. Abbey Road clarification in the legend. Flipping the river service and coach icons so they’re travelling to the right of the map (forwards with our left-to-right reading logic), rather than to the left.

You’ve made it this far? Congratulations, here’s a couple of before-and-after views for you to finish things off! The first gives a general comparative overview of the two maps, and the second rejoices in the fact that I made the “thermos flask” completely symmetrical (though it’s more of a “wine bottle” now, I think!)

See also my further notes on the map’s design.

 

24 Comments

  1. Philosopher King

    Well done! Could you add the Tramlink please? It has always bugged me that the DLR, cable car and Overground are on the tube map, but not the Tramlink, especially as there is plenty of room at the bottom of the map between Wimbledon and West Croydon (and crossing the Northern Line between South Wimbledon and Morden for geographical accuracy).

  2. aml68

    The changes to the alignment of the Piccadilly Line in the North West of the map make sense, but the changes to the other Metropolitan Line branch results in significant liberties with the geography of the area. Pinner and Rayners Lane are far closer together than the map suggests, and Rayners Lane to North Harrow is walkable. Reinstating the North-Western orientation of the Metropolitan Line to Moor Park would help.

    • Perhaps, but what happens when the Metropolitan extension to Watford Junction opens in 2020? A north-western alignment would place Croxley a long, long way from where it needs to be for that to work well. Remember, this is a diagram, not a map, and I’m working hard to restore H.C. Beck’s principles of even, harmonious station spacing — sometimes at the expense of literal real world placement.

  3. Pingback: Quick Project: Accessibility on the London Underground | Cameron Booth

  4. Sean

    The zones have actually been included on the tube map since before 2002, and moreover were each a different colour rather than alternating white and grey! I found a version from 1997 whilst decluttering the other day, I can try and upload some pictures if I remembered not to place it on the heap to be chucked out…

    • Yeah, it looks like the Tube Map archive I was looking at was incomplete: I’ve found the one you’re talking about now – a veritable rainbow of colour! It’s odd, I first went to London in 1997, and I don’t recall seeing this version at all.

  5. David

    Awesome redesign. I wish Tfl would adopt something like this. The wheelchair icons and the fare zones just clutter the map and it is a pain to look at now. I have a 1984 Tube Map (full size) framed on my wall and it looks like a work of art.

    Another change I would make is to cdolour code the various Overground Lines – keeping the white centre of the line. Keep the orange roundal of course (afterall, all of the underground maps use the red roundal). I’d suggest something like this:
    – Richmond and Clapham Jct to Stratford – Black Outline called “North London Line” (throwback to when it was shown as black outline on the Tube map)
    – Watford to Euston – Dark blue, white centre – called “Watford DC Line” or “Watford Line”
    – Highbury and Islington to Croydon, Clapham Jct, New Cross, and Crystal Palace, Purple Outline and called “East London Line (throwback to when it was shown in purple outline and called East London Line)
    – Gospel Oak to Barking, dark green outline and called “GOBLIN Line”
    – Liverpool Street to Enfield Town, Chestnut and Cingford, brown outline and called “Anglia Line”
    – Romford to Barking – Silver outline and called “Romford Shuttle” – all shuttles should be same colour.

    As other lines are added to the Overground, similar colouring and naming should be included.

    Anyway – nice job on creating a much better looking and pleasing map.

  6. Pingback: More Design Notes on the Redrawn Tube Map | Cameron Booth

  7. Jug Cerovic

    What a pleasure to see the Tube map neat and clean!
    Information hierarchy and consistency have been reestablished.

    These zone shades and accessibility blobs are really cluttering the map and they are not the primary information. Even though accessibility information is important, it is not the main purpose of a schematic map. The main information here is “there is a station on this line and it has a name”. Everything else is accessory and should be portrayed in as such. Therefore all stations primary information, ie stations, should look the same: a tick. All the accessory information should be placed outside.
    Well done with the blue dots.

    The same goes for Interchange stations, all the same. Maybe you should place the blue dots outside them as well, that would be consistent with the treatment of other stations and would be aesthetically more pleasant. I am aware that there is in issue with some complex stations being only part accessible but that should be solved outside the station symbol.

    Many other improvements on this map:
    – the white outline on line crossings is a nice touch
    – the separate Bethnal Green stations are now topologically correct
    – Woodford marked as the terminus of the Hainault Loop

    Some observations:

    – Picadilly line does serve South Kensington Station. TfL says it’s easier to change there than at Gloucester Road.
    – “St. Paul’s” is missing the apostrophe.
    – New Bermondsay should be labeled as “future station”, this is not as obvious as Crossrail.
    – Both Hammersmith stations should be connected since other street level transfers are also shown as connections (West Hampstead, White City/Wood Lane, Clapham North/High Street…)
    – Harrow-on-the-Hill doesn’t need the interchange symbol.

    Great job, cheers 🙂

    • Thanks, Jug – and good work spotting those little errors.

      I think my logic behind Harrow-on-the-Hill was that it was an interchange between the two branches of the Metropolitan, but that didn’t carry through to other lines which branch (the Central at North Acton, the Northern at Camden Town and Kennington), so I’ve changed it to a tick as you suggest.

      Re: Hammersmith. I’ve simply followed the way that the official map shows things for an “apples-to-apples” comparison. I’ve seen a comprehensive unofficially compiled list of out of station interchanges (or OSI) that I’ll look at for a better reflection of how the system actually works. Someone else suggested the Seven Sisters/Tottenham South interchange as well, so it’s worth exploring more fully.

      New Bermondsey – yeah, the map is a weird mix of the current map plus future additions, all presented as if they existed now. The map’s more a proof of concept (better technique = better map) than an accurate rendition of a specific point of time, so I’m not too worried about that at the moment.

  8. Matt Rose-Clarke

    Hi, this looks excellent – I have two queries:
    – Does Seven Sisters/South Tottenham not count as an interchange? I have done it numerous times and it’s less pesky than Walthamstow to WQR.
    – In the standard tube map, is it a convention that the overlapping of lines reflects reality where possible? For example, the sub-surface lines always being on top of the deeper Northern line around Euston – with specific reference to the overlap between Central line and various overgrounds.

  9. G*

    Paddington H&C still shown as an interchange with the rest of Paddington? How disappointing. And there are more stations on Crossrail west of West Drayton that just those three.

    Otherwise, I think it’s a bloody good job.

    • True about the Crossrail stations: I was showing only “major” destination stations along the route (those with NR connections), but I think Beck would have listed them all. There’s plenty of room, so I’ll amend that next time around.

  10. Hal Kapell

    Congratulations on a brilliant idea and a job well done. I only hope TFL considers your project AT LEAST as an alternate map on their web site.

  11. Nick Rickard

    Wow. What a brilliantly executed project. Serious congratulations for the thought and effort that’s gone in to that. Can I offer a couple of thoughts and comments?

    1. Disabled / wheelchair – I’ve never liked the wheelchair (not just on the tube map). For me, it’s too specific to a single case (ie a wheelchair) when there are a host of other reasons – temporarily less able, pushchairs, large suitcases – that a user might want easy access. And one potential future use of your approach is that once a critical mass of stations have converted to step-free access then the blue circle could be replaced by (say) a red circle highlighting those stations that are NOT access friendly.

    2. Interchange stations – At Farrington/Barbican, Bank/Monument, and Liverpool St/Moorgate, I wonder whether in adding more detail you have introduced some ambiguity into which part of the link is which station. For example, if I was travelling on Crossrail from east to west and had just passed Whitechapel, would I expect to see “Liverpool St” or “Moorgate” as the next station name I arrived at. And after that, “Farrington” or “Barbican”. Likewise travelling north on the Northern Line, after London Bridge would the next station I arrived at be called “Monument” or “Bank”. There’s an argument that says it doesn’t matter as you can just count stops, but I wonder whether they might be the opportunity for a re-jig at these places. I don’t know the physical layout of these stations so might not be an easy answer.

    3. Clapham Junction curve – I get the logic of the correct approach orientation. Possibly the only part of the entire project that is slightly ostentatious but it’s a nice signature piece!

    Nick.

  12. PC

    A couple of “picky” comments.

    1. Shenfield needs the National Rail symbol as you can change to AGA services there.
    2. Not sure I see the point of showing Crossrail as open and Whitechapel as being accessible while also showing Tufnell Park and Holland Park as closed. Either show today’s network or show a future one without short term station closures.
    3. While TfL haven’t made their minds up yet about Woolwich Crossrail and Woolwich Arsenal being an interchange it will, in reality, be as valid an interchange as the one at Walthamstow Central / Queens Road or Wanstead Park / Forest Gate.

    Overall the map looks smart. The different treatment for accessible stations may be too “small” for some people to spot and work out what it means. It works better with interchange stations than at stations which aren’t. Having the symbol in different places (in a circle or beside the name) isn’t wholly consistent. TfL’s current accessible station treatment may be “too in your face” for some people but it is consistent for all stations.

  13. Al__S

    I do like this. I think the changes to the accessibility information are definitely a good thing, helpsstop the DLR looking over-prominent.

    Torn about the zonal information. I think it’s genuinely useful- the Oyster/contactless PAYG capping is zone dependent after all. TfL have made it very hard to love with the “Zone 2/3” business though.

    Overground: have you put any thought towards showing different lines more clearly? Even the routes out of Liverpool Street could be considered two separate lines, though that may be a little too much.

    Then there’s the future. Crossrail 2. STAR. The proposals to add the entire south London metro plus Moorgate-Welwyn and Hertford (& Stevenage) to TfL, possibly as Overground. Potential to make the map a total mess.

  14. lockedintheattic

    This is such an improvement. Especialy like the way you’ve eliminated that really annoying, pointless kink they’ve introduced recently between Surrey Quays & Queen’s Road Peckham. The Overground line-split after Willesden Junction is much cleaner here too. I think you’ve handled the complex Crossrail stations pretty well although I’m not sure the way the Northern & Circle lines connect at Moorgate feels quite right. And I agree with you on Clapham Junction, I can see why you’ve done that but doesn’t feel quite right.

    But overall an enormous improvement

    • Re: Moorgate — it has to be shown like this because of the differing levels of accessibility at the Northern (street to train) and Circle (no accessibility). I agree that it looks awkward, but them’s the rules!

  15. Alex Jago

    The other way to show fare zones (and for concentric systems with 5 or more, it’s arguably better) is to just use a number alongside the station name. SE Queensland *almost* gets this right, but having a separate icon is unnecessary, simply using a lighter text colour suffices.

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