There’s a certain kind of map found all over the Internet that drives me nuts. It’s the map that compares two geographic regions by labelling one with the other: show that this U.S. state has the same GDP as that country by labelling with that country (or better yet, its flag). But the comparisons can get awfully recondite: labelling the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul with Zimbabwe’s flag because they have similar populations is cute but ultimately useless, unless you have some familiarity with both Rio Grande do Sul and Zimbabwe. They’re bad maps because they’re not really informative—they’re just showing off.
But the problem isn’t necessarily the format. For an exception to the above, see TimeOut London’s maps of London. The first map (above) shows London’s population size by illustrating how many other cities’ populations could be crammed inside London’s boundaries; the same is done with greater metropolitan areas, U.S. cities, Scotland and Wales, and other countries. These maps work because a British-based reader will have some sense of what’s being compared to London: they’re not, in other words, esoteric comparisons. [via]
Meanwhile, and speaking of georectified map viewers, a project to create a multi-layered online map of London, with maps from the 17th century onward georectified and available through a single interface, has received development funding from the Heritage Lottery. Work on Layers of London, as it will be called, will begin in May. Londonist, IHR, MOLA.
Designer Cameron Booth wondered whether London’s Tube Map could simply be 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.” His solution included getting rid of fare zones, redrawing accessibility icons, rejigging alignments, and lots of other changes. Read his post and his follow-up post for the end result (or results: he’s continuing to refine the map).
There is no transit map more iconic than the London Underground’s Tube map. First created by Harry Beck in the 1930s, the design has inspired countless other transit network maps that are schematic diagrams rather than geographically accurate maps. But Transport for London, which operates the Underground, also has a geographically accurate map of the network: it was strictly for internal use, but a freedom of information request has now brought it to light. It’s available here (PDF). The response has been so good that TfL now says it’ll be added to their website. CityMetric, Mapping London.
Andy Drizen’s Tube Map Live (iTunes), a free iOS app (native iPhone and iPad versions) that shows the real-time positions of London Underground trains on the iconic Tube map, using official data. Hypnotic visualization, but the app essentially promotes Drizen’s £1.99/$2.99 Tube Tracker: tapping on trains or stations calls up an advertising popup. Via TUAW.
Map designer Max Roberts has designed subway maps for London and New York that are based on a series of concentric circles. Strictly for fun (and shock and horror), he says, but there’s an undeniable clarity to them. Via Kottke.
[W]hile the Tube Map’s updates over the decades have attempted to follow Beck’s design, a glance at the current iteration reveals that his design heirs have failed to retain his core credo of clarity and ease of use. Ongoing expansion of the Underground, the addition of the new Overground system, and essential disability access information have made most modern Tube Maps, both official and independent, overly complex and difficult to read. … [I]nstead of redesigning the entire map vocabulary as we did for KickMap NYC, we embarked on a fresh new effort to recapture Beck’s clarity and ease of use.
A regular Underground user would be able to evaluate whether the map succeeds in its goal to improve the Tube map’s clarity; I haven’t even so much as been to London, much less taken the Tube. But I’ve downloaded the app (disclosure: I received a promo code) and have played around with it a bit.
What I can say is that the map is gorgeous and scrolls fluidly (at least on an iPhone 5). In a nice touch, it adds detail like neighbourhoods and landmarks only when zoomed in, preserving a simpler, less cluttered map when zoomed out.
Those of you who’ve used the New York KickMap will find much that is familiar. While it can use your iPhone’s GPS to locate the nearest station—a nice touch on a non-geographic map—it does lack the New York app’s Directions function, which can route you between two stations on the network. Something to ask for, I think, in an update.
It costs only £0.69/$0.99 and is a universal iPhone/iPad app. iTunes link.
Here are a few map-related books coming out this fall. They include books by a game show legend and a highly regarded artist, and an atlas that has already encountered more than its share of controversy.