1. Transport
January 5, 2016updated 28 Jul 2021 3:11pm

For the love of god, TfL, it’s time to redesign the tube map

By Jonn Elledge

It’s just terrible, isn’t it? Everything is just bloody terrible.

It’s not enough that it’s not Christmas any more, and we’re all back at work, and it’s cold and it’s dark and we’re all on a diet.

No, Transport for London had to release another update of the tube map, and somehow make it even worse than the last one.

I mean honestly:

Click to enlarge. You can see the full version on TfL’s website here.

Okay, we’re being a bit unfair there. The new map, as one might expect, is extremely similar to the old map. It contains a couple of minor updates (the Central Line is now stopping at Tottenham Court Road once again; it’s stopped stopping at Holland Park, while they sort out the lift). But something like 90 per cent of it is unchanged.

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There are, however, two bigger changes. One is a bit better. Another is a lot worse.

Here’s the good one. On the left is how the old map showed the southern reaches of the London Overground; on the right is how the new map shows the same area.

Click to enlarge.

That’s better, isn’t it? When a line splits into three, it’s obviously going to look prettier if you make it symmetrical, rather than shoving the whole thing off to one side. So, yay.

Okay, that’s the good news. Here’s the bad. A whole swathe of stations in and around the Lower Lea Valley – from North Greenwich, right up to the hilariously misnamed Stratford International – have been moved to “zone 2/3”. Here’s the result.

Click to enlarge.

Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow.

The idea of putting stations on the zonal boundary isn’t new. And it’s generally a good money saver, for anyone who uses the relevant station. It means that people from Stratford, for example, can now travel into town on a cheaper zone 1 & 2 Travelcard, without raising fares for those who want to travel to elsewhere in zone 3.

Generally, though, it’s individual stations that sit on the boundary, which means the cartographer can just do this:

Here, though, it’s a huge chunk of east London. And the result, on the map, is horrible. So horrible that TfL’s draftsman have had to invent an entirely new shade of grey just to show what’s going on:


Click to enlarge.

There is some controversy at the moment as to whether the zonal system is fair way of structuring TfL’s fares system (the Green party say that it doesn’t; almost everyone else disagrees). But what is not controversial at all is that this system is utterly wrecking the tube map, turning a design classic into an unwieldly mess, with more shades of grey than a badly written piece of mummy porn.

If this were the only problem with the map it might be forgivable, but it isn’t. It still retains all the flaws of the last version. A profusion of different lines are shown in Overground orange; routes that run every two minutes are made no more prominent than those that run twice an hour; that sodding cable car is still there; and the area around Hackney looks like this:

Click to enlarge.

It would not be impossible to design a new map that addresses some or all of these problems – and the reason that we know this is because people have done it. Remember this, from designer Rick Cousins?

Click to enlarge.

Or this from some guy in Hong Kong?

Click to enlarge.

Or this from Paris-based designer Jug Cerović?

Don’t click to enlarge this one, it won’t do anything.

None of these efforts are perfect; but they do show that it’s still possible to come up with a version of the tube map that contains vast quantities of information without collapsing into an incoherent mess. And none of them need four different shades of grey to do it.

So please, TfL, we beg of you. You can fix this. We know you can fix this. January is hard enough. Give us a little light in the darkness. Please, redesign the tube map from scratch.

Yes, we’re obsessed, shut up you clicked it didn’t you?

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Uncredited maps courtesy of Transport for London.

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