Kenneth Field has been a vocal critic of the London tube map’s increasing complexity and clutter. Earlier this year he advocating dumping the map and starting from a clean slate. At last month’s NACIS conference he revealed two versions of a redesign that does just that. Based on an earlier 2019 redesign exercise, this version is inarguably a Beck-inspired diagram; it just benefits from not shoehorning more and more information into an existing, already busy map. In fact, it removes quite a bit of information, relegating it to the index on the reverse side. And in his second variant (above), he commits what I gather is a minor heresy by removing the iconic colours of the original Tube lines, allowing the map to use colour to indicate mode and also accommodate people with colour vision deficiency. Ken explains on his blog post; his NACIS talk is available on YouTube.
Transport for London are doggedly clinging on to Beck’s iconic map, and continue to attempt to crowbar 18 separate lines/modes and 510 stations onto the map. It’s not just the additional infrastructure, but the additional demands by various stakeholders to include fare zones, accessible access detail, walkable elements, and now the location of IKEA stores due to a sponsorship arrangement. […] I’d contend the map is already an advert—of London. It’s recognisable and synonymous with the city. It’s just not particularly useful as a map any more.
His solution is fairly straightforward:
I’m not going to go through every issue I see with the map. […] Instead, I’m going to make a single appeal: dump the map. It’s no longer fit for purpose as a means to give people a clear, simple way to navigate London. Change it. Redraw it. Start over, and create a new map. It’s no longer a map of the ‘tube’. It’s a map of all the various interconnected transit systems in one of the world’s densest major cities with a fantastic public transport network. We need a new map to reflect the city.
Plenty of cities’ subway maps have been reimagined in the style of the London Underground map. Cameron Booth, for example, has redone New York’s subway map in that style. But a map posted by a graphic designer named Sean to Reddit does the exact opposite: it reimagines the London Underground map in the style of New York’s subway map. Bringing the design language of Michael Hertz to Harry Beck’s sovereign territory is probably blasphemous in some quarters, but as a pastiche of the New York style? Cameron says: “Sean has absolutely nailed the New York Subway map style, and perhaps even improved upon it in places—I note with pleasure that all of his station labels are set horizontally, instead of the many varied angles used on the official NYC map.” His bottom line? “One of the best style mash-ups I’ve seen: technically excellent, well-researched and actually really informative. Wonderful!”
The Taxi Brains Project explores whether London taxi drivers’ legendary ability to navigate could help diagnose dementia. London cabbies, who since 1865 start by spending three or four years memorizing the London road network in order to learn the Knowledge, have been found to have an enlarged hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in spatial memory. Meanwhile, the hippocampus shrinks in Alzhemier’s patients. Studying the cabbies’ enlarged hippocampi may offer insights that could improve early detection. The study is seeking drivers to take tests and get an MRI scan. See the Washington Post’s story for details. [WMS]
Once a design classic, the map has been ugly, and getting uglier, for a while. The rot started to set in with the baffling decision to show the fare zones using a series of irregular grey polygons that make it look like the familiar shape of the Tube network had been painted against the backdrop of the sort of artwork you’d find lining the corridors of a Gatwick Airport hotel sometime in the late 1980s.
But the bigger problem is that Transport for London have thrown more and more services onto the map without any apparent consideration for what it might need to change in order to accommodate them. Most of the map is still given over to the northern half of London, even though a growing share of the services it shows (the Overground, Tramlink, now Thameslink) are south of the river.
Kenneth Field explores (and dismantles) the mythology around John Snow, the discovery that cholera was spread by water, the role of the famous cholera map and whether it revolutionized disease mapping. Depending on what you know about the subject—if, for example, you got what you know from an episode of Map Men—what you know is more myth than history: the map came after the Broad Street outbreak, it was not by any means the first example of disease mapping, and John Snow wasn’t the map’s cartographer. Field:
The mythology surrounding his work, the 1854 epidemic, and specifically the role of the map are a fine story, but much of it is retold according to the version many seem happy to believe rather than what really happened. But the real story is just as interesting. There are plenty of excellent longer form discussions of the story in which you may be interested. In particular, Kari McLeod’s excellent article that goes into detail about the various myths, and an article by Tom Koch and Kenneth Denike also goes into detail about the true order of events.
Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps (Thames & Hudson, October) is a look back at Booth’s idiosyncratic and judgey block-by-block survey of poverty and the social classes of late 19th-century London (his maps described the “lowest class” as “vicious, semi-criminal,” for example). The final maps, hand-coloured, are famous in map terms: there was an exhibition back in 2011. The book adds preparatory maps, “selected reproductions of pages from the original notebooks, containing anecdotes related by Londoners of every trade, class, creed and nationality together with observations by Booth’s interviewers that reveal much about their social class and moral views.” Plus essays and infographics to put the whole thing in a modern context. Mapping London has a review.
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