Kenneth Field Redesigns the Tube Map

One of two redesigned London tube maps by Kenneth Field. This one has a colour palette that is more accomodating to people with colour vision deficiency.
Kenneth Field

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.

Previously: Part Two of Unfinished London’s Tube Map History; Kenneth Field: ‘Dump the Map’; So the Launch of the New Tube Map Seems to Be Going Well.

Update, 16 Jan 2023: Commentary from Transit Maps.

Part Two of Unfinished London’s Tube Map History

And here’s part two of Jay Foreman’s history of London Tube’s map, which looks at its post-Beck existence and increasing clutter and complication. (To say nothing of Beck’s post-map existence.) Part one is here.

Previously: Unfinished London: History of the Tube Map; Kenneth Field: ‘Dump the Map’; So the Launch of the New Tube Map Seems to Be Going Well; Tube Map Adds Thameslink Stations, Becomes More Even Complicated; Has the Tube Map Become Too Complicated?

Kenneth Field: ‘Dump the Map’

Kenneth Field is not a fan of the new Tube map.

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.

Previously: So the Launch of the New Tube Map Seems to Be Going Well.

So the Launch of the New Tube Map Seems to Be Going Well

Tube map (2022)
Transport for London

A new version of London’s tube map dropped a couple of weeks ago. It incorporates the new Elizabeth line—as well as IKEA logos indicating which stations are near their stores (IKEA paid £800,000 to sponsor the map). The Evening Standard talks with Transport for London chief designer Jon Hunter about the new design, which apparently took 18 months.

To say the least there’s been a bit of pushback from certain map design circles: yesterday’s MapLab has a good summary of the criticism. The map has been called out for being increasingly complicated in recent years, and this redesign doesn’t help. The interchanges in particular seem to be singled out as examples of egregiously poor design: see Diamond Geezer and Cameron Booth. Others, like Kenneth Field and Mark Ovenden, think the map needs nothing less than a complete redesign. Gareth Dennis is even willing to think the unthinkable: that “it’s time to retire the Beck-style Tube map and start again.” (On the other hand, Cameron doesn’t think the current map is all that Beck-like.)

Previously: Tube Map Adds Thameslink Stations, Becomes More Even Complicated; Has the Tube Map Become Too Complicated?

Tube Map Adds Thameslink Stations, Becomes More Even Complicated

The new temporary Tube map
Transport for London

Complaints that London’s Tube map has gotten too complicated are not new. So it’s not too surprising that Transport for London’s decision to add Thameslink rail services to the Tube map as of next month—temporarily, as a means of illustrating alternative travel options in the age of social distancing—is generating some heat. Thameslink already appears on TfL’s Tube and Rail map, but adding it to the Tube map proper is in some quarters seen as the final straw. Jonn Elledge at On London:

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.

Diamond Geezer has some specific questions about what the map is doing. On YouTube, Geoff Marshall is more positive.

The new map isn’t up on the TfL site yet, but can be seen here.

Previously: Has the Tube Map Become Too Complicated?

Real-Time Transit Maps on Circuit Boards

Traintrackr circuit board maps

Harry Beck’s original London tube map was inspired by circuit diagrams, so it’s only fitting that TrainTrackr’s tracking maps showing the real-time positions of trains on the London Underground and Boston MBTA are literally circuit boards, using LEDs to indicate train positions. (They also have an LED map showing rainfall data in the British Isles.) Prices range from £99 to £249 (US$149 to $315). [Mapping London]

A Modern-Day Tube Map in the Original Tube Map Style

Arturs D.

There have been a lot of Beck-style maps—maps done in the style of the London underground map. This one’s a bit meta. Arturs D., a student living in London, has created a map of the present-day London underground using Harry Beck’s original style. The current TfL network map (PDF) is, of course, a Beck-type diagram, but there have been a lot of changes to the official map since 1933. It’s also a lot more complicated. Arturs’s map, which limits itself to the Tube proper, reminds us just how many changes there have been. [Mapping London]

A Tube Map of Earthsea

A Tube Map of Earthsea (Camestros Felapton)

Everything under the sun can be expressed as a Tube map. Including, as blogger Camestros Felapton demonstrates above, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books. A glance at the original and official maps of Earthsea reveals that world as an intricate, almost overwhelming archipelago: Camestros’s map, like all good transit diagrams, expresses the books as journeys between points.

Before Beck: Perman’s Underground Railways of London

E. G. Perman, Underground Railways of London (London: Waterlo & Sons, 1928). Pocket map, 36×45 cm. David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. Colour-corrected.

Mapping London takes a close look at a 1928 map of the London Underground by E. G. Perman. Perman’s map, with its use of colour, italic lettering and focus on green spaces, seems like it comes from a completely different era, even though it was published only a few years before the release of Beck’s iconic Tube map.

Previously: Before Beck: The Prior Art of Diagrammatic Transit Maps.

Before Beck: The Prior Art of Diagrammatic Transit Maps

George Dow, “Great Northern Suburban Lines Route Diagram,” 1929.

Harry Beck may have created the iconic Tube map, which substituted a schematic diagram of the network for a geographically accurate map, but he didn’t invent the diagrammatic transit map. Alberto Cairo points to a number of pieces that explore examples of diagrammatic maps that were contemporaneous with or earlier than Beck’s work: Asaf Degani’s article in Ergonomics in Design points to the influence of designer F. H. Stingemore (see p. 12); Douglas Rose’s online essay comparing Beck with George Dow; and there’s a 2005 book by Andrew Dow (George’s son), Telling the Passenger Where to Get Off: George Dow and the Evolution of the Railway Diagrammatic Map. None of which is meant to diminish Beck’s achievement (I think), but serves to remind us that no innovation ever occurs in a vacuum. [Kenneth Field]

London Underground Architecture and Design Map

Blue Crow Media’s latest map of urban architecture is the London Underground Architecture and Design Map, a collaboration between transit system guru (and friend of The Map Room) Mark Ovenden and photographer Will Scott. “The guide includes a geographical Underground map with featured stations marked, with corresponding photography and details on the reverse along with tips for where to find unique and unusual signage, roundels, clocks, murals and more. The map is protected by a slipcover featuring a distinctive die cut roundel.” Costs £9. More at Mapping London.

Previously: Architectural Maps of London.