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More Design Notes on the Redrawn Tube Map

Wow! I’ve been completely blown away by the (mostly positive) response to my redrawn Tube Map. Thanks to everyone who has left me a comment or note – all of your thoughts help to inform future revisions to the map. There’s a few more parts of the map that I’m personally really happy with that I’d like to highlight in a little more detail than the already lengthy initial post allowed. Read on for the details!

The grid


As I mentioned in my initial post, the Tube Map is built up using the width of the route line, expressed as “x”. So it makes perfect sense to use an underlying grid that’s equal to “x” as the basis of the map. Except that the official map doesn’t really adhere to that grid very well. I started building my version of the map from Earl’s Court, so the zero coordinates for my grid are at the centre of the District line station marker. As can be seen, route lines and station markers are all aligned to the grid: there’s always an exact multiple of “x” between elements.  The same can’t be said for the official map (top). With the zero coordinates set to the same location, it can be seen that other elements don’t consistently align with the grid. It’s perhaps a minor thing that doesn’t make a huge difference to the final look of the map, but knowing that station markers should never be closer than 5x together is a good thing to know when laying out new sections. It’s also easier to rapidly step-and-repeat station labels and markers when they lock properly to a grid. The grid gives internal logic to the map as the designer works, even though it’s invisible in the final product.

Also noticeable is that the labels for Earl’s Court and South Kensington have been pushed lower than all the other labels to accommodate the circular interchange symbols. I believe this actually goes against TfL’s own design guidelines, which specify a set distance for labels from the edge of the route line, not the station marker. Lining all the labels up horizontally along the route lines – without some bumping lower or higher – looks smoother and makes them easier to follow.

Alignment of Interchange Markers


This is a small change that I really think has a big impact to the overall look of the map. On the official map, diagonal interchange markers often drop down lower than vertical ones (or further across for horizontal ones). I tightened them up across the map so that the edges aligned consistently, no matter what the orientation of the interchange. So much neater!

Neat Non-Interchange Crossovers


There are two places on the map where the addition of Crossrail could have added some very unsightly and unnecessarily complicated-looking intersections, with three routes all crossing (but not interacting with each other) in very close proximity. In both cases, I was thrilled to be able to get everything to line up so that the route lines all crossed each other neatly at one spot. Solving potential headaches like this in a consistent and elegant manner like this really makes me happy.

The Western End of The Central, Piccadilly and Metropolitan Lines


Without  a doubt, my favourite reworked piece of the map. Restoring the straight line of the Metropolitan from Preston Road all the way out to Uxbridge (last seen in the 1986 edition of the official Tube Map) required careful thought and a lot of trial and error, but it was totally worth it. Not only does it remove the nonsensical northwestern alignment of the concurrent Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines between Rayners Lane and Ruislip, but it also successfully reduces the vast amount of space between stations on the Central and Piccadilly lines as they head northwards. You can clearly see on the official map how the zone boundaries force the stations on the Piccadilly line into unnatural positions – Alperton has to be brought a long way up the line to squeeze into Zone 4, creating a huge gap between it and Park Royal. Gaps like this break the rhythm of the map, and I’ve tried to avoid them as much as possible. I will admit that my task is made easier because I’ve chosen not to show Zones – which has been a bone of contention for some commenters.

Accessibility Icon Option


Finally, addressing another controversial design choice, my use of non-literal, non-standard icons to indicate accessibility. While some praised it as elegant and simple, others pointed out that the wheelchair icon is universally understood, even by those who don’t speak English. The Tube Map does require people to refer to the map’s legend to differentiate between the two different versions of the icon, but at least the wheelchair gives some contextual clues. So here’s a “hybrid” version of the map that I’m working on that uses wheelchair icons within interchange circles without covering them completely. However, icons for non-interchange stations are still placed with each station’s label instead of replacing the station’s “tick” with a big round blob. I’ve redrawn the icon to work better at the slightly smaller size, and flipped it to face right instead of left. This works better with our left-to -right reading order, and also implies forward motion. Overall, I think it’s a good compromise, if not quite as elegant and clean as my original concept.

Design note: I did the smart thing and set the accessibility icons up as Symbols in Adobe Illustrator, so that changing them from one design to the other literally took a few clicks of the mouse.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments or via Twitter!


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