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London Underground maps (+ worldwide subway maps)

I was expecting that you would mention the London Underground Map in your seminar or in one of your books, as I have heard it referred to as an early, classic example of a well constructed graphic. This relates to its ability to quickly convey needed, accurate information to the traveler through its use of color codes for the various lines, the labeling and depiction of stations for changing trains, and its "simplification" of the geography of the underground routes from the actual meandering track to a basic North-South-East-West orientation.

Do you consider that there are problems with the London Underground Map that are not obvious to the causal user, or is it merely a case that this is a "good" graphic, but not one that you particularly favor as an exceptional example of the craft?

Jim Heimer

-- Jim Heimer (email)

Response to London Underground Map

London Underground Map

Harry Beck's diagram of the 7+ lines of the London Underground, although geographically inaccurate, provides a coherent overview of a complex system. With excellent color printing, classic British railroad typography (by Edward Johnson), and, in the modern style, only horizontal, vertical, and 45 degree lines, the map became a beautiful organizing image of London. For apparently quite a number of people, the map organized London (rather than London organizing the map). Despite 70 years of revision due to extensions of the Underground and bureaucratic tinkering (the marketing department wrecked the map for several years), the map nicely survives to this day.

Later European and American knock-offs did not succeed at all. The Underground Map and Minard's famous Carte Figurative of the French Army's disaster in Russia in the war of 1812 are alike in important respects: both are brilliant, and neither travels well. The Underground Map and Napoleon's March are perfectly attuned to their particular data, so focused on their data sets. They do not serve, then, as good practical generic architectures for design; indeed, revisions and knock-offs have usually been corruptions or parodies of the originals. Both, however, exemplify the deep principles of information design in operation, as well as the craft and passion behind great information displays.

There is a fine book on the map: Ken Garland, Mr Beck's Underground Map (Capital Transport Publishing 1994). The book describes the enormous care, craft, thought, and hard work of Harry Beck that went on for decades--exactly what it takes to do great information design and so in contrast to the quick-and-dirty practices and thinking of commercial art. Garland's book is also a model for writing histories of great information designs.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

For those who don't use the Tube map daily, some explanation. The main problem with the Tube map is that it is geographically inaccurate. This can lead to a very distorted view of London, particularly for those new to the city.

Many stations are geographically very close and you can end up spending half an hour in stuffy tunnels when you could have worked overground for five minutes. The same occurs in reverse.

It is also deficient in the way it describes some stations. For example, the interchange between the Hammersmith and City line and other lines at Paddington. It's a reasonably long walk but they are still in the same physical station.

Of course nobody has come up with anything better and it is still a fantastic map. After a year or so of living in London, I can work out my route in seconds.

Of interest for comparison is this map which shows the London Underground as it truly is, geographically.

-- Simon Rumble (email)

Response to London Underground Map

The geographically accurate version, which provides distance and orientation data not available on the classic Underground map, is very nice. Thanks to Simon Rumble for posting this good map! Might it be preferable to the classic, at least to quantitative and mapping minds?

On the geographically accurate version, my old stop (from 1970!) Finchley Road (slightly northwest of the central loop) may be ambiguously located. The name "Finchley Road" is perhaps slightly closer to the black line than to the gray and purple lines; the stop in fact belongs to the gray and purple lines. Other visual cues indicate the stop's correct lines, however. A little reshuffling of the typography in that area could repair this minor problem.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

The beauty of the orthogonal London Underground map is that it provides exactly the information the rider needs - the name of the line (with color coding), the direction of travel (East, West, North or South - the same way that the directions to the platforms are given), and the stops on the way. Distance between stops and geographical orientation are of very secondary interest to finding the correct train. Most stops are about the same time of travel apart and the trains come frequently enough that you don't need to plan to catch the 7:04 am Picadilly Line Eastbound from Gloucester Road arriving at Green Park at 7:22 am (my old commute), for example.

Incidentally, the platforms are also well marked with a map that runs from top to bottom on the wall as you enter the platform. The station from which you are boarding is at the top, and all of the remaining stations on that route in your direction of travel are shown down the diagram. It's very handy for confirming that you really did want to go in the same direction as the train you are about to take.

On the other hand, as you could infer from the geogpahically correct map, you do miss some spectacular architecture and landmarks by traveling subsurface. For this reason, my wife much preferred the bus - until she got stuck in London traffic for an hour covering the same distance as a 10 minute tube ride. I seldom used the bus, as I found the London bus route map to be unintelligible.

Jim Heimer

-- Jim Heimer (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Speaking of maps of the underground -- I visited New York City this past weekend, and noticed that some of the newer cars have maps of the line the car is running. Those maps have dots at each stop represented, and the dot will turn to black of the train is not going to stop at a station. The current/next station gets highlighted with a blinking dot.

Didn't keep me from getting a little lost, since the signage everywhere else is generally lacking or inaccurate, but it was easier to tell if I was going in the right direction and when to get off the train.

-- Scott Zetlan (email)

Response to London Underground Map

The maps in Milan's carriages are notable for their station icons. They are round circles with two triangular arrows inside them, each pointing to the side of the train where the platform can be expected. It saves a few seconds at every stop, especially at crowded times, because the departing passengers can cluster at the correct door before the train comes to a halt. It's an idea that should be retrofitted to every underground system in the world, IMHO.

-- Marc Brett (email)

Historical collection of many maps of the London tube

Here's a wonderful link, The London Tube Map archive: http://www.clarksbury.com/cdl/maps.html

[link updated January 2005]

-- Edward Tufte

above ground / below ground (Response to London Underground Map)

Transport for London are replacing surface street maps at bus stops with London Underground-style maps, which is just dumb, eliminates useful information about surrounding streets, alternate routes via walking, etc.
Even the zoomed-in local area part of the new map only shows you connections to other buses.
I often used to use bus stop maps to orient myself while walking somewhere in London, now I have to pack an A-Z.

-- American in London (email)

Madrid Underground Map

The map of the Madrid Underground (Metro) is also very well designed. It may have been inspired by the London map, but the color coding is much better (not so many hues of brown) and you can always tell when an interchange is a short or long walk.

Also, the signs inside are excellent, it's hard to get lost. You always see a list of coming stops in the entrance, in the platform and inside the train. Geographically accurate maps are found in the exits and in every platform. Finally, each time a new station or line is temporarily closed or opened, the signs and maps in every line and coach get updated overnight. It's a huge concertated effort that should be merited more often.

-- Alex Fern??ndez (email)

Moscow Underground Map

The Moscow Metro Map ranks up there as well, in my opinion. Some things are hard to put forth in a map however; for example, some trains only go as far as the last transfer on the dark green line, and then switch automatically to blue, while others go all the way. Only the locals, and those who can listen for the announcement in Russian, ever figure this out.

Other than that, the directions are superb. The interior signs are well-placed (again, you learn as much reading Russian as you have to) in most of the former Soviet cities, as is the case in other cities in the area, too bad their maps don't really do it like Moscow's though.

-- Tom Hickerson (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Everyone please note that in Tom Hickerson's comment above, the words in the phrase "other cities in the area" each link to a map, a total 4 of 4 different links.

In the Moscow map, gratuitous noise and content-free shapes are generated by the figure-ground contrast and activated negative space. Thus visual clutter. See Envisioning Information, chapter 3 on this.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

Interesting thoughts about the Underground map at http://radio.weblogs.com/0105728/categories/transport/2003/01/22.html#a337

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

Russia: The metro map for the city of ??? (suggested by Tom Hickerson above) is interesting: some stations have rotational symbols to indicate that you can change there, and it looks as if there are two, differently named stations ('I' and 'II') at those interchanges - a relic of bureacracy or a cutting-edge solution to problems with people-flow?

Some marginalia around underground/tube maps:

NYC: both Todd Glickman and Peter Lloyd maintain records of NYC subway maps, which include a series of six or so issued in the days/weeks after 911. By all accounts, that period was handled very well. These maps occasionally come up on eBay and tended to have: a box which stated when the map was reissued and referred travellers to mta.nyc.ny.us for more updates, and a speech-bubble enlargement showing the lower Manhattan area.

London: the best records of issued maps are probably Letch's London Transport Bus and Tube Maps 1920-2000 and Burwood and Brady's London Transport Maps 2nd edition, 1983.

An unofficial London tube map form 2003 when the Central line was closed after a crash.

Picking up on ET's comment that the London tube map is highly optinmised for its context, can we recognise cities from the thumbnail images on these Google Images searches? (and does that actually tell us anything useful about their design?): subway map, tube map, metro map.

[link updated January 2005]

-- rodcorp

Response to London Underground Map

There's some interesting maps posted on this discussion board. (Some of it degenerates into a "my map's bigger than your map" argument, but the rest is fascinating).

[link updated January 2005]

-- Tom Carden

Response to London Underground Map

That's a wonderful use of Google Images by rodcorp--to make international comparisons across subway maps.

The forum cited by Tom Carden has a great many interesting maps.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

> Picking up on ET's comment that the London tube map is
> highly optinmised for its context, can we recognise
> cities from the thumbnail images on these Google Images
> searches? (and does that actually tell us anything useful
> about their design?): subway map, tube map, metro map

(Having come back to this, I'm going to answer my own question here!) Looking at the Google Images results pages, I recognise London, NY and Paris immediately - through familiarity - but others aren't so obvious. Moscow's metro has a striking design - perhaps this is a useful characteristic in a need-to-navigate situation... your eye could find and fall upon the map more easily.

I also notice an obvious link between language and geography: tube finds London, subway finds mostly US cities, where metro is perhaps more European.

Also: the motherlode for global tube maps - what a great site. (via a Metafilter thread on the unfinished Cincinnati subway line)

And, risking getting off-topic here, I've made the London tube map look like a airline route map.


-- Rodcorp (email)

Response to London Underground Map


I don't have pdf versions at the moment, but you can read the same texts below this second illustration (which doesn't use the tube map).

Why the tube map? In IC, Marco Polo visits Trude but can never leave ("You can resume your flight whenever you like," they said to me, "but you will arrive at another Trude, absolutely the same, detail by detail. The world is covered by a sole Trude which does not begin and does not end. Only the name of the airport changes"). It's as if the airports in the world have become mere stations in the transport system for a single city. So I imagined the London tube map as an airline route map, with the flight looping up and then back to the next station along, and redrew it. (Kathy Prendergast's Lost map, in which all the place names in the US are erased except those that contain "lost", is perhaps a more elegant take on a similar idea.)

And why Invisible Cities? A long-standing love of its qualities: its economy, structure, scope, its 'visual' nature, memory, signs etc. And the lack of any maps for the territories IC describes, which triggered the initial interest, though I note that Calvino's estate wanted to keep the books map-less, which makes sense for the longevity of the published book I think. Nonetheless I thought I'd start making my own, though they're not traditional maps by any means.

best, Rodcorp

-- Rodcorp (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Picking up on the geographic distortion in the map, it's clear that for some journeys it's really not worth getting on the London Underground: it takes a long time, and costs you money. Sometimes it's quicker and easier to walk.

So here's the tube map with some small additions to show which stations are an arbitrary and as-the-crow-flies 500 metres apart from each other:
London Tube Map with Walklines: sometimes it's quicker to walk

You can see the 'walklines' superimposed on the standard map, the same with a faded out tube map, or just the lines. It makes the tube map less readable (not a good thing), but it was an interesting exercise.



-- Rodcorp (email)

Response to London Underground Map

The walk-lines are superb! Classics are rarely improved by tinkering, but the walk-lines are a genuine improvement to the Underground map. Bravo!

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

Prior to finding this thread about the Tube Map, I discovered Rodcorp's site while searching for information about the "flaws" in Beck's map. Your maps and charts are really beautiful, and I'm wondering if (this question could be in response to Jeffrey Berg's most recent post too) you followed this project completed last year in Amsterdam?


As a city with incredible public transportation and a sophisticated graphic design presence as well, it is interesting to see how human movement through the city (regardless of transportation mode) is broken down to a graphic level. The resulting maps are really quite beautiful, and are an interesting compliment to your Underground map with walking routes.

best, Jamie Hazlitt

-- Jamie Hazlitt (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Which neatly ties together this thread with the one about traffic signals and roundabouts. (The Swendon Magic Roundabout mapped by GPS)

-- John Morse (email)

Response to London Underground Map

As a HCI designer working for a big government contractor I'm sensitive to 508 issues. Our DC Metro map and environmental signage is always heralded as brilliant design. For the well-sighted it is. However--the DC Metro fails on many accounts to meet 508 standards (technically, since it's design is pre-508 it is exempt). The map has a small legend that makes it possible, with some extra effort, for a color-blind rider to use. The environmental signage, however, often is entirely dependent on correctly perceiving the color of a small dot. For example, a directional sign showing which track is the Red Line vs. which is the Orange"((Red Dot)+(left arrow)) ((Orange Dot)+(right arrow))"

-- AJ Valinote (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Enjoy this one http://www.quickmap.com/lab1loco.htm and use this one http://www.quickmap.com/map2tt.htm

-- Andrew Sutton (email)

Response to London Underground Map

In all this discussion, I'm surprised that the Tokyo subway gets no mention! It also has a lovely map. I took at photo of the system map at Shinjuku Station when I was there recently. Note that the ticket dispensers for each line are color coded to match the line. The Tokyo Metro website versions of the maps don't do justice to the physical maps at the station. When granted adequate lateral dimension, the map comes out very nicely.

When riding the subway, the older cars have a light that blinks at on a scale map showing the next stop station. The newer ones have an LCD flat panel high resolution display that cycle between the map, the Roomaji (roman characters) name of the station, the Hiragana (Japanese phonetic) name of the station, and the Kanji for the station. I was very comfortable getting around in spite of having minimal Japanese language ability.

I also found their city maps and printed maps to be superb. The Shobunsa map of Tokyo was indispensible, with subtle use of color, lots of detail, and a convenient carrying envelope. I would be happy to provide my specimen to Professor Tufte since I am not likely to go back to Tokyo soon.

-- Phillip Remaker (email)

Response to London Underground Map

A previous post mentioned the Moscow metro. Here is the current metro map. Of course, it is the design of the stations , not the map, which sets the Moscow subway apart.

-- John Morse (email)

Response to London Underground Map

For more witty versions of the Tube map, see www.geofftech.co.uk, and Silly Tube Maps - the German version is particularly clever. Buried in owen.massey.net is a gorgeous 3D version

-- Chris Rogers (email)

Response to London Underground Map

A new version of the standard map has recently been introduced:


The fare zones have been overlaid in areas of grey and - especially in a paper version on a wall - are visually distracting and rather ugly. Note the constrictions: for example between Burnt Oak and Queensbury, and Northwick Park and Sudbury Hill. Also the line colours appear to lose intensity when the background alters from white to grey.

Hoever, there is no doubt that this version gives more information than it would without the grey zoning, and I cannot think of another way in which this information could be produced with the same ease of comprehension. So the question arises as to what extent it is acceptable for an excellent graphic to be developed to give more information at the cost of making it look aesthetically less appealing.

-- Martin Ternouth (email)

Response to London Underground Map

The fare zones have been on versions of the map for quite a while now. However, this new version has changed the appearance somewhat, and I have to admit that I prefer this slightly older version:


There are also ones that had the rail connections as well:


And one that contains the trams, too. All of these convey more information, but are naturally less clear. I think that as long as they are used in the correct places, and there's a reasonable mix of the different types, then I think that they are fine. Not that I need to use them much, these days. Maybe we should get the view of a visitor to London?

[links updated January 2005]

-- Adam (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Yes, 99-2 is better, especially at preserving the classic rectangular core in central London. And the fair zone numbers are clear but not too loud compared to 99c.

Also in 99-c what are those fussy white stripes around the pastel-color fare-zones? Perhaps those white stripes (the new White Loop Line?)are to avoid gritty lines where different color tints touch. The white lines unfortunately run in rough parallel to the central core loop. Instead a thin gray line can sometimes cover the merge and will also result in better color differentiation between fields and therefore require less contrasty tints. There must be a better way than the white stripes. Possibly a much more narrow white stripe. At any rate, a solution to a printing problem should not become a design feature that resembles a train line. See Envisioning Information, p. 94 for more on this point, with examples.

In the map linked to by Kindly Contributor Martin, the contrast between the fields of fare color is too great, generating over-active stripes.

These maps suggest that the current design process might be wandering a bit out of control, a hey-let's-try-this approach.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

Here's a link to an interesting subway map style:


It's for the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. They've drawn the network in more of a geographical layout and have also incorporated some of the major streets, parks, and landmarks.

-- Stan Musick (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Figure-ground contrast is too strong, making white lines too active.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

There must be a better way than the white stripes.

There already is. The aim of the white stripes, it appears, is to distinguish those stations that belong simultaneously to two fare zones (a measure designed to allow travellers to buy cheaper Travelcards, particularly when travelling from the outer London to the inner suburbs).

What's irritating, then, is that such dual-zone status is already indicated, with long-standing precedent, by placing the station name within a white box with a grey border (as the legend makes clear). Consider it, perhaps, a case of over-egging the pudding, since the majority of those who benefit from dual-zoning are those already accustomed to the Tube map in all its detail: that's to say, residents and commuters, as opposed to tourists.

-- Nick Sweeney (email)

Response to London Underground Map

I just read this discussion and was surprised not to see mention of the version of the map produced at the Delft University in the Netherlands. Unfortunately I cannot find a picture of it on the web. The only reference I can find at all is: http://www.mijksenaar.com/publications/cnt_publicat_wheretheres.html I have only seen the map in the book Visual Function by Paul Mijksenaar.

I mention it because I think it was a great improvement on the original Beck version. If I describe the concept, I hope everyone can understand without being able to see it; which is ironic as it's a piece of visualisation!

The Delft version accepts that the underground map is divided into two areas, the inner centre and the outer regions and that each has a different purpose: the inner to allow you to navigate around the centre of London; the outer to get you successfully in and out of London. So the group hit on a simple but efective compromise. The outer area was drawn diagrammatically, whilst the inner area was drawn topographically. I occasionally travel into London from my home in Cambridge, and would find this version ideal. It would get me to London and then give me enough geographic orientation whilst I am there. It is perfect for my purpose!

The reference I have included is on the web site of Bureau Mijksenaar and Prof/Dr/Mr Mijksenaar appears to have led the research group at Delft that did the work. So if anyone is interested in seeing the map, I would suggest locating the book I mentioned or emailing the Bureau.

[PS I have no connection with the Bureau or the author of the book— I just think the Delft version is a real improvement of a great visualisation!]

-- Mike Hunter (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Mike, thanks for pointing it out - you made me go back to the bookshelves and dig it out. In Visual Function the map is reproduced small and in b&w, so it didn't make the best scan, but here's a detail of the Delft version, and this is what he wrote about it:

For metro-type systems with few stops and long distances in-between [a radically schematized map] is not so much of a problem. But in the case of fine-mashed transport systems like tram and bus networks, it is vitally important to retain a recognizable reality [...] In the Delft version, underground routes in the center of London are rendered topographically, those outside diagrammatically. In the city center the map is augmented with references to major landmarks like parks, places of interest, and museums. This enables tourists, for example, to plan their visit better and avoid bizarre detours. [p6]
I wonder if the Delft version was produced primarily with the tourist in mind - I'm not sure of the utility for the commuter traveller really. But I'd love to try it.

-- rodcorp (email)

Response to London Underground Map

The metro maps displayed inside the carriages (not the ones on the walls of stations, or printed in leaflets) on the Marseilles metro take the standards of cartographical precision to a new low that I haven't seen anywhere else. On one side of the carriage there is a plan that adheres to the purely topological standard of accuracy one expects in a metro map, but the one on the other side is a mirror image (not the lettering, of course, but the layout), so it doesn't even preserve left-hand/right-hand relationships. I suppose the designer thought it would look nicer that way, though as the layout is very simple (just two lines, which cross one another at two points) it wouldn't look very different if it were not a mirror image.

-- Athel Cornish-Bowden (email)

Response to London Underground Map

My guess is that the designer believed that the directionality of the carriage itself would overpower the right-to-left bias that normally governs. So that stations "ahead" are always aligned to the front of the car.

-- John Morse (email)

Response to London Underground Map

John Morse makes a sensible suggestion, but I don't think it's right, probably because I didn't explain myself sufficiently well. It's quite possible to preserve a correct forwards-backwards sense without breaking the left-right sense, by doing a horizontal mirror image followed by a vertical mirror image. In the Marseilles Metro carriages they did the horizontal mirror image but not the vertical. I've made an image to illustrate this, and if I've correctly figured out how to display it in this forum it should be here. I've drawn it from memory, and left out most of the stations -- just enough to illustrate the point. For someone who travels from Ste. Marguerite Dromel to Bougainville, and who knows that the principal direction is northward and that the station called Vieux Port is on the waterfront, the map on the south side of the carriage suggests that the route will pass under the sea at Noailles. (To avoid another possible source of confusion it may help to add that although Marseilles is on the south coast of France the adjacent bit of coast has a north-south axis.)

-- Athel Cornish-Bowden (email)

Response to London Underground Map

What to do when the label overwhelms the image? Name pollution is starting to present a problem for the Washington Metro, as neighborhood and business associations promote themselves more aggressively. The landmarks and neighborhoods are not delineated on the map, even for the egregiously misleading Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan.

Like London's, the DC Metro map is seriously distorted; downtown stations that are four blocks apart are spaced the same as suburban stations almost four miles apart. If more downtown stations follow the example of Mt. Vernon Square-7th Street Convention Center-University of the District of Columbia or U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo, ought the mapmaker increase the distortion still further, or unveil a cutaway map such as that of Chicago's El?

-- Jason J Cho (email)

Response to London Underground Map

A co-worker of mine sent me an interesting graphic that presents subway systems on the same scale. The graphic follows basic Tufte principles of correct scale, no chart-junk graphics, and small multiples. http://www.fakeisthenewreal.org/subway/index.html


-- Sean Gerety (email)

Response to London Underground Map

I took the Tufte seminar in Boston yesterday, which has prompted me to check out some of these discussions. The Tube and its graphic brilliance-- from maps to signage to displays--has fascinated me ever since I was 12 on a visit to London. I remember keeping an exhaustive log of every trip we took on the Underground ("Circle Line: Sloane Square to South Kensington. Piccadilly Line: South Kensington to Green Park"). I love the link above to the Tube map with short walks pencilled in. Does anyone know if that's a PDF anywhere?

-- Benjamin (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Sean G's link lead me to the London Underground home (http://tube.tfl.gov.uk/) with several Tube maps -- including a Flash map that morphs from geographical to 2004 and 1933 maps, showing exactly the liberties taken by Beck and current map designers.

http://tube.tfl.gov.uk/content/tubemap/default.asp -- the flash map is second to the bottom in the left-hand column. Or you can select a version sized for desktop backgrounds!

-- Sean Owens (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Hi Benjamin,

Re "the Tube map with short walks pencilled in. Does anyone know if that's a PDF anywhere?"

Sorry it's not available as a PDF yet, but I intend to get that done one of these days...


-- rodcorp (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Discussion has centred on the usefulness of the Tube map to travellers: another aspect that might be considered is its usefulness to London Transport for branding and merchandise.

One indication of its cultural potency: Simon Patterson's print The Great Bear, which takes the map, or a close imitation of it, and replaces station names with names of saints, footballers, comedians, sinologues et al (on show at Tate Modern, among other places).

By the way, in reply to the American traveller who was enraged by the new, schematic maps at London bus stops: I can see that they provide less information for the passer-by who wants a map of the area; but for the person who wants to catch a bus - the intended audience, after all - they are a huge improvement. In particular, they show clearly where bus routes converge and diverge, making it much easier to see if the bus now arriving is a useful alternative to the one you had originally intended to catch.

-- Robert Hanks (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Has anyone seen the London underground map in 3D rendered by Corey Clarke which takes it to a different level? Wow! http://www.recenda.f9.co.uk/pages/tubemap.htm

-- sean (email)

Response to London Underground Map

I agree with Martin on trying to come up with large scale 3D maps. It is revealing how 'little' of the third dimension there is when you move to a large scale. If you do some quick calculations on the London Underground and then draw a 3D map to fit an A4 (297 mm x 210 mm) sheet of paper. My figures come from a very quick web search and should be accurate enough. The longest dimension is East-West at 72 km or 72,000 m; Vertically it is -21 m to +150 m or 171 m; This gives you a vertical / horizontal ratio of 421 to 1. In other words about 0.7 mm in the vertical or about 6 sheets of paper on our A4 map. Hardly worth the effort! The world becomes two dimensional very rapidly.

ET touched on this in his criticism of the vertical exaggeration of computer generated images of Venus in Visual Explanations.

-- Andrew Nicholls (email)

Response to London Underground Map

With reference to the posting by Robert Hanks (18th April) - The Great Bear is one of my favourite pieces of art (it was shortlisted for the Turner prize in 1986). I last saw it in January 2004 in the Saatchi Gallery (County Hall, London). More information about the artist and this particular work can be found at the Tate website.

[link updated January 2005]

-- Simon Robinson (email)

Response to London Underground Map

I've combined the 'geographically accurate' tube map with a Nasa satellite image of London, to give another impression.


Click here for the map

-- r gardiner (email)

Response to London Underground Map


The geometric purity and beauty of Beck's map is wonderful and is a big symbol of the Underground; the geographically accurate map is also just fine.

It is often a good idea to use an aerial photograph as a base grid for a transportation map. See, for example, pages 108-109 of Envisioning Information.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

See http://www.nyclondon.com/blog/archives/2004/08/07/london_tube_map.blog

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

Two subway map bits:

The NYC Transit Museum displays examples of subway maps from the system's entire history. It's very interseting to go from one to the other and compare them.

About a dozen and a half years ago, I saw series on TV about "Design Classics". Each episode focused on the history of a distinguished examlple of design: like the Barcleon Chair, etc..

One episode dealt with the history and development of Beck's Underground map. It would be great to see that show again.

At one moment, they showed an animated version of the Underground map as it is morphing into a map that reflected true geographical distances--a most dramatic comparison.

-- Seth Joseph Weine (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Well, this is an old thread but it still has the odd spark of life. The tube map with no Central Line was moved by geofftech and can now be found here.

To all metro and map geeks, I commend Mark Ovenden's book Metro Maps of the World which, for some reason, doen't seem to have been mentioned anywhere in this thread. It was my best Christmas present last year.

-- Dominic Sayers (email)

Response to London Underground Map

A substantial guide to the London Underground Map and its many many variations:


-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

for a clevor and fascinating twist on the london underground map, take a look at the piece "The Great Bear" by British artist Simon Patterson. Patterson has left thegrapic design of the map intact, but has replaced the station names with the names of historical figures and celebrities, with the names of the lines replaced by the category of peoples who's names appear on that line (Picadily, Northern, Circle, etc. become Philosophers, Actors, Saints). The title also equates the tube stations and the linear connections between them with the constelations. http://www.dareonline.org/artwork/patterson/patterson2.html http://www.dareonline.org/artwork/patterson/patterson3.html

-- chris dale (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Another interesting idea to get around geographic ambiguity is to add more information about travel times. While the map of Portland, Oregon's MAX Light rail lines in the following link is somewhat cluttered, it does illustrate my point.


This map covers some 33 miles (end-to-end on the Blue line), but it is compressed in an orthagonal way.

The interesting thing is the blue bar at the bottom which shows approximate trip times between important stops. One can easily calculate that the time it takes to get from Hillsboro to the Airport is 87 minutes simply by adding things up.

I would have preferred they use increments of 5 or 10 to keep the addition quick and easy, but it's definitely a start. Exposure of schedule details for a "metro" style transit system is largely unnecessary since people aren't ever standing around waiting very long.

Overall, this map fails to meet the "London Test", but it does add the interesting temporal element.

-- Aaron Huslage (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Examples from Japan, the first is courtesy of my brother.



-- Niels Olson (email)

Response to London Underground Map

I am currently in the process of finishing my dissertation on Information Visualisation and do not in any way classify myself as having excessive knowledge in this area, however i would like to add that Harry Beck was a out of work draughtsman who had baised his map on a electrical wiring system, thus only using Horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, i would also like to add that the main receipients of the map were (and still are) commuters of the London underground, for this reason the map was designed only to show the sequence of stations, it is after all this that is of importance to commuters (travelling from A to B)and the quickest way to get there.

I would also like to add that im my view no graphical format can be appropriately applied to all situations, i'd rather any graphs i draw arent in-align with the old saying "jack of all trades and master of none". Graphs should fulfil their intended purpose and do this well.

If geographical location is of great importance i suggest in using a A-Z map, which is the sole purpose of its design, after all a A-Z map does not show the stations of the London Underground as effectively as Harry Becks map does, so why should this apply vice-versa ? (although some A-Z maps do show the map of the london Underground on the back page "this doesnt count")

-- Sid (email)

Response to London Underground Map

If you wish to see a animated version of the London Undergroun map, i recommend this link, it is from the Transport from London:


Select "History of the tube map" Enjoy !!..you can also superimpose the true map of london on to it

P.S you need macromedia flash inorder to view it

-- Sid (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Just to update on Sid's last entry - the URL of the animated history of the tube map has changed and can now be found here:


-- Martin Noellenburg (email)

Response to London Underground Map

we are making a metro maps for Chongqing which is the fourth larger city in China, please give some advices

-- motorworld (email)

Hong Kong

I'm a first time visitor in this site. Very interesting thread. In fact, I've attempted to create a map of Hong Kong rails around a year ago to include all new extensions I've heard of and to see how will it look like after the possible merger of MTR and KCR. I hope any of you can provide some feedbacks on the existing ones and mine.

You may check the existing maps at: http://www.mtr.com.hk/jplanner/jplanner/cmapgif.html http://www.kcrc.com.hk/eng/services/routemap/index.asp And my version at: http://homepage.mac.com/roychan/hk-rail.pdf The cable car and disney signs appear very recently, as the services will be opened in coming months (while the airport sign has been there for years), I still need time to adjust for their presence. It's quite clumpsy for me, perhaps it's because all of them appear on the same corner of the map.

I've encountered many problems that has been mentioned above... And it's very difficult to work with Chinese and English together. Concerning geographical accuracy, my map doesn't reflect the reality well while I think it's quite crucial to show the sea for a place like Hong Kong. It's messy between Central and Prince Edward. Kowloon has been stretched wider considerably, as a reference, the walking distance between Olympic <-> Mongkok MTR <-> Mongkok KCR (as Mongkok East on my version) is around 15 minutes each trip, similar to walking to the next station in downtown. Also, area with the Light Rail system looks much bigger than should be. But somehow it serves the purpose to show people how to go from A to B I guess.

My earlier attempt also shows the Tram on Hong Kong Island and Peak Tram. But it seems to be too much of a burden to the map, and these 2 systems are not much of a companion to the MTR+KCR system.

One note on the Regional Express: the finishing points at the mainland China border will be Lo Wu, plus either Lok Ma Chau or Man Kam To; it will take either the east path or the west path (but not both), in case you're confused.

-- Roy Chan (email)

Hong Kong

One more geographical information... The airport island of Chek Lap Kok should be around the size of Kowloon Peninsular, say south from Nam Cheong & Prince Edward on my map.

-- Roy Chan (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Roy, good work. You highlighted the unique constraint of having to place bilingual staion names.

From my own perspective as an aficianado of metro maps, here are my construcive comments:

The MTR & KCTR lines are too thick, and overwhelm the LRT & cable car lines.

Are the numbers of terminal stations an MTR/KCTR thing, or your identification system?

You have white arrows in the Legend for MTR/KCTR lines, but they're not really necessary, and add clutter.

The terminal ID numbers also clutter the main map.

Refer to Berlin or other German U-Bahn/S-Bahn/tram schematic maps, which do an admirable job of placing alot of info on one map. Perhaps the water geography of Hong Kong prevents a similar approach, if you want to keep that in. London's Tube map does deal w/ water, albeit just for the Thames.

The main line station circles and ovals are too large and overpower the map.

What are greyed out stations, for the future? They need a Legend entry.

Hope this helps


-- Mike Olivier (email)

Response to London Underground Map

London Underground uses the map on a web page to provide passengers with the up-to-date status of their network. I use it daily. It can be see at http://map.tfl.gov.uk/realtime.asp.

Useful though the realtime information is I feel that the display is inverted. Problems are shown by the line being rendered in its conventional colour. At the moment, as LU deals with the debris from the bombs of July 7th 2005 the Circle, Hammersmith and City, Piccadilly, and part of the District are all shown in their normal colours. On the day of the terrorist attacks the entire network was shut down and presumably the display looked like a conventional map. That could have lead some people to infer that the network was functioning normally. Perhaps rendering problem line(s) in the grey currently used for working lines would be better.

-- Trevor Jenkins (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Trevor Jenkins' point is exactly right. What has changed is not the lines that have continued operating but the lines with problems. Thus the non-operating lines should be grayed down in the representation. This becomes clear when looking at the disconcerting display.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground Map

The one advantage to note with using colours for the lines on which there are problems is that this makes it easier to identify which lines are encountering problems when more than one line is affected. For example, currently, one can see that the circle line (in yellow) has problems straight away, whereas if this were greyed out, one would need to work that out by a process of deduction. As a user of the underground, one wants to know which lines have problems and the colour coding helps in this.

-- Will Oswald (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Perhaps a better approach would be to have an
"X" marking the problem area rather than the
whole line. Not sure that I would suggest a
blink or pulse to indicate the whole line but it
could also be an option.


The obvious thing, however, would be a
legend that would list the lines that are not
working and the delay.

Central Line      DELAYED      15min
Circle Line       DELAYED      25min 

Other links:



-- Tchad (email)

Response to London Underground Map

The Los Angeles Area has had a map available in various incarnations (from a real-time display on the public-access cable channel to various websites) for years featuring a map of the freeway system and mapped data points showing traffic speed. One of the better recent incarnations can be found at:


Which adds reported traffic stoppages ("sig alerts") to the traffic speed data.

Anyway, the L.A. map strikes me as better than the Paris traffic map, in that the speed and stoppage info is shown at point of measurement rather than entire road segments, the colors are less garish, and the highway and place names are more readable.

-- Matt Grimaldi (email)

Response to London Underground Map

Mexico City's subway map displays both the train lines and the city's major streets, thus avoiding the problem of exaggerated and/or inaccurate representations of the geography; certainly the fact that Mexico City is more or less circular helps make this possible. Here's a link: http://www.metro.df.gob.mx/red/index.html

More interesting from a design sense, every station in the Mexico City system is identified by both its name and by an icon representing a landmark -- a church, a famous statue, etc. -- that's visible from the entryway to that station. It's an ingenious way of conveying information to the many Mexico City residents who cannot read.

I haven't found a single page that displays every icon, but they can be viewed individually and in their linear groupings at the subway's official site: http://www.metro.df.gob.mx/red/linea1.html

Lastly, here's a page that displays many of the world's subway systems to scale, and in their actual physical forms. It's a useful reference for anyone interested in subway maps, and it's just plain interesting: http://www.fakeisthenewreal.org/subway/

-- Tim Heffernan (email)

Hong Kong

Thanks Mike for your comments.

I've worked on a new version using London, Paris and Barcelona as major references, available at http://homepage.mac.com/roychan/hk-rail-v3.pdf

Original version still available at http://homepage.mac.com/roychan/hk-rail.pdf

Besides responding to Mike's comments, my new version is more simplified. It's targeted to be printed on A3, so things look smaller. I've discovered a square of routes that most people will come across (Mei Foo on NW; Choi Hung on NE; Quarry Bay on SE; Central on SW), the new version shows it quite clearly how's the relation between the square and the extensions from it. Also, a major rework is done on Nam Cheong-Mei Foo-Lai King, which the interchanges are not shown so well on the old version.

I've cancelled the Light Rail (LRT) on the map in response to your comment about the line weight. It's infeastible to include the LRT and minimizing distortion or avoid constrasive lines, as it's another few dozens of stations between 5 of the rail stations. It should be in a separate inset map then. I've united the weight for the other lines.

About the number, I've found that it's quite uneasy for foreigners to recognize the name of the lines. Hong Kong is a rare example that lines are not coded with simple numbers/ alphabets. So i think there should be a number system for the lines as we're having quite a lot of lines now. And as we have separate platform for every line and direction, I think it's also good to number the platforms accordingly. But I haven't included the number system onto the new version yet. If it stays, it may be easier just to include on the legend.

The grey circles are for the express services (Airport Express and the future Regional Express). They are in separated paid areas as it's more expensive. I just follow the current MTR map on this. while it worths consideration if I should include this information on the legend or not.

-- Roy Chan (email)

Response to London Underground Map


The transition from the angular map to the curved version is an interesting one. The new design may need some more attention to the radii of the curves. The upper left hand corner ( The East-West line ) could look like a flower or a perfect arc. At the moment it is stuck between the two. It is often easier to find perfection in the hard angles like the "original version". The Shum Shui Po station is also a part of one of these visually jarring curves.

The outlines are still a bit heavy; it might be interesting to try and make them a multiple of, if not equal to, the weight of the small "L" in your English typeface.

Perhaps the island name "Ap Lei Chau" could change places with the station "Lei Tung" since other stations appear to have been moved ever so slightly to align or to find balance. Island names might work in ALL CAPS instead of a bigger font.

The grey circles do not seem to work and it may not be immediately obvious for one to understand the difference between the oval of "Exhibition" and the two circles of "Tsim Sha Tsui" not to mention the black cicles versus the coloured ones.

Numbers seem to be a good idea given the number of similar colours, especially the pastels. Several people on the forum have mentioned tools for evaluating colour blind accessibility.

Bodies of water might benefit from a label or two.

"Tsing Ye" station name might look better in the upper left corner of the island

Is there anything that can be done with the "greyed" area at the top of the map. This seems to pull the eye to the Hong Kong Railways rectangle. They don't necessarily need to align but there may be something that could be done to improve the transition.

One copyright statement is probably enough.

The text "This map..." is too tight, too big and spoils the alignment of the legend.

Overall, it is an interesting exercise in design. Well done.

-- Tchad (email)

Hong Kong: reply to Tchad's comments

It's just so good to have a forum like this and let anyone in the world to see and comment on my little project... Thanks Tchad for your efforts.

For the curves on upper left, I was trying to use the same setting (rounded corner 10 pt radius). But maybe I should align "Tin Shui Wai", "Long Ping" and "Yuen Long" horizontally to be more geographically accurate. For "Sham Shui Po", do you think the treatment on Cyberport (SW Hong Kong Island) is more preferable?

About the outlines, do you refer to the stations and/or routes?

About the placement of "Ap Lei Chau", I've arranged the stations on the island and the opposite coast to more-or-less geographical accurate, while I made the island "Ap Lei Chau" bigger to the east just to accomodate the name. It's quite a difficult point of this point. About font size vs all caps, a problem is all caps doesn't happen in Chinese words, so Chinese words will need a bigger size anyway.

The grey circles... Still thinking of an alternative to deal with the fact that it's in a separate fare zone while sharing the same station (I don't want to make a separate shape for this...) And for the linked circles case, it's two separate stations with linked paths and can be treated as interchange. For the case of "Tsim Sha Tsui" (off topic: so funny that most English speakers can't pronounce some Romantised Cantonese words like this, that's a reason I'm for numberings as many lines are written with this kind of words), the SE circle is another station "East Tsim Sha Tsui" (which I admit the placement of the station name is a bit wierd). Maybe the grey circles, linked stations and ovals should be explained on the legend, together with the line numbers and terminal stations.

For water names, the reality is that most local people don't care about it. They may only know about "Victoria Harbour" (between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon). Looks more like a ferry service map if I label the rest.

The "Tsing Yi" station is geographically located in that corner of the island, that's why I put it there even it looks less pleasant.

About the copyright statement, I'm quite worried that this map will be captured in parts and posted as a "real" map. As a friend said, if I posted the map online and let some locals know, a million will know and some people from the rail companies will try to fetch me...

Sorry, please ignore the bar on the left design-wise, it's just a quick copy and paste from the original version as I was rushing for a version to present to some friends as I met them last Sunday.

About the grey area on far north, it the neighboring town on mainland China. It's a formal (almost like international) border with immigration and custom officers. The old version has a river between the two areas (as it's the reality of 95% of the border). Do you think it's better to bring the blue back? How about changing the grey fill into pale yellow?

Thanks again to Tchad and I welcome any feedback!

-- Roy Chan (email)

Response to London Underground Map

In reference to Phillip Remaker's posting (on December 11, 2003), the Tokyo Metropolitan Govt recently redesigned the Tokyo metro map to include station codes using a (gasp) dreaded lookup system. (See English version at http://www.tokyometro.jp/network/index.html. Also available in 3 different Japanese versions, one of which has the same station codes, Simplified CHinese, Traditional Chinese, and Korean)

This is *supposedly* to make the identification of stations easier. How does it work? Let's see. Each line is assigned a name (e.g. "S" for the Shinjuku Line), and stations on each line are given a two digit number indicating the station number starting from the southwestern part of metropolitan Tokyo. To take the example of the Shinjuku line, the western-most station of the line, Shinjuku station, is given the code "S01".

However, Shinjuku also happens to be a very popular station with two other subway lines serving it: the Marunouchi line (M) and the O-edo line (E). For the Marunouchi line, Shinjuku is the 8th stop (M08), straightforwardly enough. However, the O-edo line loops around Tokyo, serving Shinjuku in two directions, therefore giving it two codes on the same line: E01 and E27!

While the station code idea was probably meant to make the locating of stations on the map easier, this letter-number code approach is an information nightmare. Imagine the poor "gaijin" tourists trying to visit Tokyo for the first time, and trying to get from the Eletronics mecca of Akihabara (H15) to Shinjuku (S01/M08/E01/27) to find even a better deal? First they must take the "H"ibiya line from Akihabara (H15) to Ginza (M16/H08/G09), then transfer onto the "M"arunouchi line to go to Shinjuku (M08).

One thing that the numbering system does allow is the simplified calculation of the number of stops on each line before you have to get off or transfer. Going from H16 to H08, you can tell that your transfer point is the 8th stop. Going from M16 to M08, again, you get off at the 8th stop.

As you could see in the English version (see link above), the design does look a bit busy. The black lines around stations tells the subway rider that those codes are indeed the same station, which at the same time also indicates the versatility of the station as a transfer point. But this could have been inferred by the original version without the codes. (NOTE: Two of the Japanese versions don't have these codes, perhaps since most Tokyo folks are already used to the Tokyo Metro system.)

What do you think?

PS: I *thoroughly* enjoyed your session on July 27, 2005 at the Seattle Westin. (I was the one from Adobe Systems with whom you spoke before the start of class.) I was deeply engaged in your presentation all the way until the end (4:30PM).

-- Ken Sadahiro (email)


A similar coding system has been in use in the Singapore MRT system.


For both Tokyo and Singapore, I'd rather not to add the codes, except for the color- challenged. It's funny that Singapore has just 3 million+ people and have a 6-digit postal (zip) code system, I wonder if every workplace and household has its own postal code. I just think they're very into coding.

-- Roy Chan (email)

Response to London Underground Map

A similar coding system has been in use in the Singapore MRT system.

Roy, thanks for your response. At least the letter code boxes are integrated with the web page and are clickable...

Also, two letters and a number? Wow. There are only a handful of subway lines. Tokyo uses upper and lower case letters to distinguish some lines ("M" for the main Marunouchi-line, and "m" for a section of the Marunouchi line that serves only a part of northwest Tokyo).

Going back to the Tokyo version... IMHO, the design became extra-cluttered with the introduction of these letter codes. Perhaps the design could have avoided emphasizing the codes so much, then the design would have been somewhat tolerable.

In both cases (Tokyo and Singapore), I think there is an accopanying lookup table where a first-time visitor could look up a station name by it's code. (e.g. "What station is E01?") If all Tokyo guidebooks and ALL Tokyo Metro signs (including those outside the stations) use the same system, it might actually help.

I could see visiting gaijin starting to refer to the specific subway lines by their letters (e.g. the "E-line", the "M-line", the "lowercase m-line") instead of their actual names (e.g. O-edo line, Marunouchi-line, ...) and try asking locals, like "How do I transfer from the E-line to the lowercase m-line?", to which locals will respond with "huh?"

-- Ken Sadahiro (email)

Response to London Underground maps

See the London Underground Corporate Identity Colour Standards at http://rodcorp.typepad.com/rodcorp/2005/07/what_colours_ar.html

rodcorp provides a PDF link to the full document, which is excellent.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground maps

The full document includes excellent samples, but the pseudo-color chips seem unnecessarily repetitive-especially because they are all rendered as RGB.

A few years ago an excellent signage color scheme was put in at Chicago's Midway Airport. Within weeks it was camouflaged by some season-long event advertising that used the same colors and hung from every lamppost. At any useful distance you could not distinguish parking directions from yet another invitation. I see a parallel to ET's instruction that "the strategies of magic suggest what not to do" (VE, Ch. 3). Do these identity standards ever proscribe advertising or other signage that competes with the identity?

-- Dave Nash (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Real-time disruption maps of the London Underground, a 3-minute Quicktime movie:


An excellent source is Owen Massey, Mapper's Delight:


-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground maps

I found a new map of the London Underground today that was pretty interesting. It was a project of a graphic design student in London. His concept was to base the measurement not geographically, but in time. I think it is an interesting take on an already interesting map. Real outside the box thinking. I thought the readers of this board would be interested.

Here is the link: http://www.oskarlin.com/2005/11/29/time-travel/

-- David Parry (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Time maps were done about 25 years ago for the Tokyo subway by a famous Japanese map designer. I'll look in my map files or possibly a Kindly Contributor can provide an internet version of that map.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground maps

When I was 9, my family visited London. I remember studying the tube maps and feeling absolutely confident that I could navigate the city by myself.

I'm 34 now, and I still get a little intimidated looking at a subway map of New York. I get a similar sinking feeling from most of the alternate tube maps here -- especially the geographically accurate version and the time-based version. I imagine my 9-year-old self looking at those sprawling lines and deciding I'd better leave the navigation up to my parents.

I disagree with the notion that the tube map should be seen as flawed because there's information missing (physical distance between stations, for example). It's precisely because of all the info left out of the map that it works so well. It's a beautifully simplified schematic of a complex system, and it appropriately leaves out anything that's not absolutely essential to a tube rider.

-- J. Flack

Response to London Underground maps

I finally finished my first geographically correct London rail map. I think it's very useful. Only main stations are labelled though. Please see:


The standard underground map has been editted many times, thanks to comments from Martin and other mappers. Please see:


-- Jonathan Ho (email)

Something a little different

Could anybody perhaps help me, and telle me where I can get the architectural drawings of the Camden Town Tube Station? I am a Danish architect student doing a projekt on the station. I would be happy for any help I can get!

-- Ane Juul Gram (email)

Response to London Underground maps

There is a travel time map for Japan featured at Visual Complexity.

It uses the same method I recently used for a follow-up to Oskar Karlin's work; a dynamic redrawing of the geographic tube map using travel time instead of distance. If you have Java enabled, try the interactive tube travel time applet. If not, screen grabs for Oxford Circus and Elephant and Castle travel times are available.

There are lots of things I would change/improve, but alas the holidays are drawing to a close so I don't know if I'll have time to implement any of them. Suggestions are still welcome.

-- Tom Carden (email)

Response to London Underground maps

In response of the link http://www.oskarlin.com/2005/11/29/time-travel/ Here is an concept-map of the London Underground, which is inspired by the map Of Oskarlin. The number of NB's at the bottom of the site is clear that there is still a lot of work to do. LINK: http://brainoff.com/mirror/tube_map_travel_times/

-- Remy Jon Ming (email)

Response to London Underground maps

An update of Ken Garland's wonderful book (Mr Beck's Underground Map, Capital Transport, 1996) is found at


for Maxwell J. Roberts, Underground Maps After Beck.

I've ordered the book, and will report later.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground maps

Dorian Lynskey of the English newspaper, The Guardian, has created a version of the Underground map with each line representing a different musical genre. Each station is named after a influential artist or band. The real beauty is Lynskey's attempt to use appropriate bands for the intersections between lines/genres.
His article is here:
Download a pdf version here:
Buy a poster here:

-- Spencer Hudson (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Please note that the link given to the Underground map poster at London Transport Museum is incorrect. The link given is the the 'London connections' poster, showing not only the underground but alos regional rail services in the South East of England. The Underground map link is as follows: http://www.ltmuseumshop.co.uk/product.asp?cat_id=1&prod_id=119

Please also note that this map is the 'real' one, with stations (circa 2002) NOT the one with musicians and bands. The Transport Museum does not sell a 'musicians' map -- that appeared only in the Guardian newspaper.

-- Dean Madden (email)

Response to London Underground maps

The London Transport Museum does sell a map of the underground with musicians replacing the station names. It is called the Music on the Tube Map, the link is: http://www.ltmuseumshop.co.uk/product.asp?prod_id=460

-- Ian Entecott (email)

Response to London Underground maps

The London Underground Fest continues.

BoingBoing points us to this Anagram London Underground Map which relabels the tube stops with anagrams http://www.unfortu.net/anagrammap/

-- Karl Hartkopf (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Often imitated, never duplicated: The Pyongyang (DPRK) Metro map. The links include some excellent Dear Leader pictures.

Halfway down the map page there is a stylized map:


-- ET

Response to London Underground maps


Please help to make Harry Becks classic London Underground map into the winner of the Great British Design Quest!


:-) Mark

-- Mark Ovenden (email)

Response to London Underground maps

The London Underground map finished second to the Concorde:


The evaluation depends on how various criteria for "best" are weighted. The Concorde: way ahead in its class, completely different, beautiful, amazing, and breaking the military monopoly on supersonic flight--but a service available only to the rich, environmentally obnoxious (per passenger mile, although not in terms of an overall accounting of pollution sources, and trivial compared to military aircraft). The Underground map: effective, influential, served millions and millions of riders, long-lived, no damaging side-effects, beautiful in its unique way--but not the runaway best in its field, some inept versions produced during its long history.

Both produce extraordinary, memorable design experiences. Neither ever worked very well outside their immediate context.

The main design lessons from the map: content-driven design (by someone possessed by the content) rather than designer design alienated from content, the enormous attention to detail, the persistent power of an extraordinary base diagram, the ability of the tenacious Beck to improve the map incrementally over the years, the compromises necessary in mapping a complex system, beautiful typography the idea of producing something beautiful, straight-forward, and widely used.

The Concorde lessons: the experience and intensity of being on different planet, the architectural beauty of a grand machine, the strangeness of the cabin (a long narrow tube of a rocket (2 seats, a narrow aisle, and 2 seats) with an interior surface that becomes very warm to the touch by the end of the flight), the Mach meter hitting 2.0, the miracle of putting London or Paris 3 hours and 48 minutes from New York, the economic issues raised by the whole thing, the funny stories generated by the flights. And walking up and down the aisle shamelessly scanning the passengers for celebrities.

Prompted by the contribution immediately above I went to the voting website a few weeks ago but could not choose between the two, unable to compare Concordes with Underground Maps.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground maps

London's Transport Museum recently announced that it had acquired a hitherto unknown hand-drawn map by Harry Beck of the Paris Metro system. Apparently Beck had been in contact with the Metro authorities in the 1930s about developing a design, but the discussions had not gone anywhere.

The Museum's press release is on http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/about/press/press_06_03_parismap.shtml The image of Beck's Metro map on this website isn't very good, but those with a good knowledge of Paris may still be able to make some sense of it.

-- W. W. Oliver (email)

Response to London Underground maps

At the URL mentioned immediately above, there is an email address for images. Can a Kindly Contributor contact the Transport Museum and get the Beck draft of the Paris metro map and post it here?



-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground maps

I had a short telephone conversation with the Transport Museum. There are unresolved issues of copyright and intellectual property, so at the moment it doesn't seem possible to get hold of a better-quality graphics file of Beck's Metro map.

The Paris regional transport authority RATP site has its own Paris Metro map ("Plan du Metro") on



-- W. W. Oliver (email)

Response to London Underground maps

The recently-discovered Paris Metro map by Beck bears a close resemblance to that reproduced (in monochrome)as Appendix C to Ken Garland's "Mr Beck's Underground Map" (ISBN 185414 168 6). This is claimed to date from at least 1946 as it includes some station re-namings but there is some evidence of closed stations that indicates it may have been begun in the 1930s. Contrary to the claim on the London Transport website, Ken Garland's book maintains that there does not appear to have been an official commission by the Metro authority and there is no extant record of correspondence.

-- Martin Ternouth (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Here is Beck's Paris Metro map mentioned above; compare with "Le" plan du metro, Le grand classique de la RATP many years later, at http://www.ratp.info/orienter/plans.php

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground maps

Interactive travel time map of the Underground.


I have enough trouble choosing how to display data statically.

Now I have a multitude of dynamic and interactive techniques to choose from. And bosses love moving, spinning, swrilling, and twirlling things.

-- Karl Hartkopf (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Time travel (as opposed to distance travel) maps for Great Britain, including London:


-- ET

Response to London Underground maps

Dear Edward,

My colleague Chris and I are responsible for the London time travel maps which you linked to. We're acutely concious that the choice of colouring between the time contour lines (isochrones) is currently amateurish and really doesn't aid clarity.

There are two clarity issues here, which we'd appreciate your thoughts on.

1) Should the blocks of colour between contour lines be solid, or shaded? ie




2) Second, we are just about aware of the need to use colour systems to find colour bands that appear to the eye to be similar distances apart. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any that went from 'warm' to 'cool'. Have you any idea where such a set might be found?

many thanks,

Tom Steinberg

-- Tom Steinberg (email)


See Envisioning Information, chapters on layering and separation, and on color and information; and Visual Explanations, chapter on the smallest effective difference. Note particularly the discussion of within-field and between-field color readings in EI, page 94. Compared to the rest of the map, the contour lines are from another planet. Make the contour lines more subtle, more maplike, more cartographic.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground maps

Stuttgart's city rail map has a unique feature - the non major cardinal lines are set at 30deg, not 45deg as in Beck's masterpiece.

It has the curious effect of simulating a quasi-3D view.


-- John Ashworth (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Looks very good; the place names sit very well along the route lines.

Could a Kindly Contributor find and post a larger version?

-- ET

Response to London Underground maps

What size would you like? The Stuttgart city rail map is entirely vector-based, even the little elephant, so using your browser's Acrobat Viewer zoom never causes pixelation to appear. Illustrator will scale it to any size paper you desire.

-- Niels Olson (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Enough to make the type readable; perhaps 7" or 8" across.

-- ET

Response to London Underground maps

This is a comment about the ways in which maps are (and are not) integrated with other navigational aids.

I have travelled by subways for years, in Boston, London, Washington DC, and never remembered having any problems finding the right train to my destination. Then I moved to Berkeley, CA, attempted to navigate the BART, and found it more difficult than I expected.

Why? The first problem was simply that there are only a few maps in each station or train.

Second, the colors in the map aren't used in the announcements, electronic notice boards or schedules. Rather than announce a "red line inbound" train which (to me) would be immediately recognizable as a train which would take me from Berkeley to San Francisco's Embarcadero station, the PA and boards announce a "Daly City" train. The rider then needs to look at the map, locate Daly City, then follow the line back. It gets worse leaving San Francisco--I knew that Dublin, Pittsburg, Richmond and Fremont were over in the East Bay, somewhere, but I'd never had occasion to go to any of them...

Instead of using the visually-clear color scheme printed on the map (or even inbound-outbound or eastbound-westbound), all of the other navigational information requires the rider to know (or seek out) the destinations.

-- Derick Fay (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Readers can e-mail their comments to BART here.

-- Niels Olson (email)


It's quite a unique problem with San Francisco's BART and MUNI Light Rail that most lines go to the Market Street stations, on the same platform for each direction. It just happened the last time I was on a Blue Line BART from San Francisco to East Bay, someone meant to take the Yellow Line was on my train, didn't notice until arriving Lake Merritt. She then had to wait for an Orange Line (the next one was 19 minutes later) then go back to Yellow Line. I suppose she needed an extra hour to go back there. At least they should display the line on the train side windows, just like MUNI or NYC.

My problem with NYC Subway was the skipping stations. I was on A Line to JFK, and no one on the train was sure if it stops in the station for JFK. The annoucement was so blur that no one got it.

Maybe I'm just too spoiled with the Hong Kong MTR. They had designated platform with color-coded signs for each direction of each line, and with displays of which stations the trains are heading to on every train. While two lines (Airport Express and Tung Chung) has the inverted logic to have the stations traveled lighted instead, which I think is a huge inconsistency.

Another consideration is naming, BART names lines by both terminals. Hong Kong MTR names by the outbound destination. I always prefer a simple alphabet or numeric line naming system aided with color-coded system, especially for tourists that may not pronounce "Tsuen Wan Line" in MTR for locals to understand.

-- Roy Chan (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Pictures of animals drawn using the London Underground map: http://www.animalsontheunderground.com/bird.html

-- Martin Henke (email)

Response to London Underground maps

For my one-day course last week in New York, Crispian Strachan (CBE, OStJ, QPM, DL, MA, FRSA), former Chief of police in Northumbria, flew in from London and brought this interesting world-wide version of the Underground map, for which he receives a KC (Kindly Contributor) award:

The credit line is to Alan Foale; the map was published in The Times in 2003.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to London Underground maps

Concerning Derick Fay's complaint about BART: the reason trains are not announced simply as "Red Line inbound" is that, during rush hour, some trains turn around at Concord or Mission Street.

Life was simpler when Daly City was the end of all lines (before about 1990); in East Bay stations, trains headed there were marked simply as "San Francisco".

-- Anton Sherwood (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Martin Nöllenburg investigated "Automated Drawing of Metro Maps" in his thesis last year. The approach seems to base on the works of Henry C. Beck. Besides the idea itself the document contains many sample graphs of metro maps as well as a reference list that might give hints for further reading. The work is accessible at his University Karlsruhe page:

http://i11www.iti.uni-karlsruhe.de/members/index.php?algouser=noelle&lang=en (go to Publications)

or directly to the technical report:


[Note added by ET, 23 November 2006: This is a lovely paper, particularly the graphical comparisons of various real and generated Underground-style maps. The more general issue is that much of the value of the London original comes from its intense local care and craft in design, its longevity, and how it became the way in which residents came to see London. There remain serious concerns about the export of the map to other systems. The New York subway knock-off of the London classic was widely ridiculed because of its over-stylized and geographically inaccurate character. Nonetheless, Martin Nöllenburg's paper is very intriguing, particularly in its findings about automated design work. Can other classics be so implemented?]

-- Gerd Schlottig (email)

Response to London Underground maps

Thank you for referring to my thesis, Gerd. I plan to create a website showing a selection of my examples. Then those who are interested in the diagrams only don't have to dig through my thesis. I'll post it here once it is online.

As for applying Beck's design principles to other networks, I agree that one needs to do this with care. However, his basic principles like octilinearity, straightening lines, and concentrating on the network's topology are adopted in a huge majority of current metro maps, see Ovenden's book. These diagrams might not become as iconic for the city as in the case of London, but they still make navigation on the network easier for passengers.

What are other classics that you could think of in terms of implementing them as automated designs? Our algorithm is particularly tailored for drawing networks which is also my current research interest.

-- Martin Nollenburg (email)

Response to London Underground maps

The Real Underground (at the Transport for London site, www.tfl.gov.uk, linked above) is a brief animation of the London Underground tube map intended for comparing the central zone in three views: the original 1933 map, the 2004 map, and the map style superimposed onto the actual geography.

The tube lines move when switching between views, giving a sense of both the distortion applied to create the schematic and the changes in the map since the original version.

The stations are always hidden during animation, showing only the moving lines. It might be nice to see the stations move, not to mention a view of the entire map area instead of just the central zone. Nonetheless, it's an enjoyable animation.

(Looking through the posts above, the link to this animation first appeared in this thread on March 13, 2005, updated to its current URL on May 11, 2005.)

-- John Galada (email)

Subway maps the world over

Thanks to lifehacker.com for pointing out this nugget. A travel web site, Amadeus.net, provides a single page from which you can pull up subway maps from anywhere in the world: http://www.amadeus.net/home/new/subwaymaps/en/index.htm


-- Richard (email)

At http://www.helveticafilm.com/vignellimap.html is a four minute video of Massimo Vignelli talking about his 1972 map of the New York underground system. He explains how the information is arranged on the page, acknowledges his debt to the London tube map, suggests his map might have been even better without some of the geographic detail, and laments that his map has been replaced by something far less satisfying.

-- Peter Marquis-Kyle (email)

New York Subway maps

Dear Mr. Tufte and others with an interest in information display,

Have you seen this work: http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/396-helpful-distortion-at-nyc-london-subway-maps ?

A private individual has taken the london underground map idea and applied it to the New York subway - and seemingly done so very, very well.

-- Mark Whybird (email)

Here is an interesting and artistic collection of subway maps using the small multiple format. I like being able to compare them directly!

Subway systems of the world, presented on the same scale

-- Jennifer (email)

Here is a link to the new Madrid Underground Map.


The new map, designed by Rafa Sanudo (paid 95000 euros, but I am not sure about this) has a higher level of line generalisation by not presenting any 45 degrees line.

People seem to be upset by this new map. I think that a big change like this will take some time to be accepted. Although I think it will not be a big problem especially for new users, I wonder if it was really necessary.

Underground "maps" are basically diagrams that allow the reader to detect the path from A to B and they are of course a distorted representation of the real world. So distorted that they are not even maps. But, although diagrams underground "maps" have their own language made of symbols, colors, text and lines.

Is it really necessary to take out one "word" (45 degrees lines) from this language in order to simplify things? Does it really simplify things or contribute - at a first glance - to increase confusion in the old users? A new design might also stimulate the use of alternative paths different from the ones suggested by the original map.

I would like to know your opinion about this...

-- maurizio gibin (email)

The Beck London Underground map is a classic icon, but it has serious shortcomings as a transport map. It informs the casual user of the possible routes between two stations, but it doesn't convey any information about the best way to get from A to B. For example, I can travel between Warren Street and Stockwell by either the Northern line or the Victoria line without changing. But the map doesn't tell me that the Victoria line is usually faster, with more frequent trains. Of course, an indicator is that there are more stations on the Northern line route, but the map seems to indicate that the Victoria line follows a less direct path. A greater problem with the tube map is the disproportionate spacing between stations. The Beck map encourages people to take a train between two stations when other forms of transport would be far more suitable. The most famous example is that of Covent Garden and Leicester Square - not more than two hundred metres apart in reality, but well spaced on the Beck map. In response to your question, obviously not many people do realise that the Beck map distorts distances, otherwise Transport for London wouldn't have such bad congestion problems at Covent Garden station. So what are the solutions? Transport for London are, quite rightly, keen to protect the underground map as their intellectual property, so few other maps of the underground exist. The organisation has moved with the times to produce a journey planner which does inform the user of travelling times and better ways (e.g. walking) of moving between two stations. However, this is an Internet based service, which isn't that useful for the traveller on the ground. Street maps such as the A to Z convey real distances and tube stations, but are cluttered to look at and don't show the transport links. The only map I've found that shows tubes and streets (and buses) is the Quickmap all-on one. This is a larger map than a TfL tube map, with more information that is more time consuming for the novice user to consult. The problem is that it only covers zones 1-3 - great for the tourist, but not for the Londoner.

-- Thomas Taylor (email)

Realising when there is a more suitable form of transport between two stations does require quite a bit of learning at present - even hardened Londoners are guilty of relying too much on the tube.

Maybe this map by Applied Information Group (part of Legible London) could speed up that learning process - it shows journeys that take less time on foot than they do by tube. I'd say it's more powerful and memorable than further annotations to existing maps.


Apart from the Covent Garden / Leicester Sq / Charing Cross group, the Chancery Lane to Farringdon walk is a great example; it would take two changes to travel by tube but can be walked in five minutes.

-- Lewis Crouch (email)

The reason to take the Tube from Covent Garden to Leicester Square is to change for Mornington Crescent, of course! (Walking wouldn't be cricket, after all.)

(This is an in-joke from BBC4 ISIHAC, which has all to do with the Beck map.)

-- Bill Ricker (email)

This map has the virtue of being far less likely to attract London Transport's aggressive intellectual property lawyers, but I would have been happier if the actual Tube map had been present as a faint background wash. That is, on a lower perceptual layer but still available to consult if needed.

And I certainly think it would be needed for many of the applications for which knowing the "walklines" is most useful.

-- Derek Cotter (email)

I've added an element to the design rules of the current tube map to show distance between some stations in metres. Visit http://alex4d.wordpress.com/londons-tube-map/ to see what I've come up with. The BBC recently had an item on a radio item/blog with references to an interesting alternative map by Maxwell Roberts at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ipm/2007/11/get_ahead_get_a_map_updated.shtml

-- Alex Gollner (email)

Too much current map design is based slavishly on the London Underground map principles and not enough creative thinking goes into the interpretation of complex modern travel systems. The aim should be to make what is unclear on the ground easier to understand, yet often what is straightforward on the ground is made to look less practical.??

Although iconic, the groundbreaking map design solution created by Harry Beck (London Transport) has many inherent problems. Lines that are straight often have to made crooked because of the limitation caused by the 45?? maximum angle. Then??to reduce the number of bends (an enemy of clarity) interchange stations suffer by having multiple interconnected nodes that bear no relationship to the??ease or difficulty of a change - and purely for the cartographers convenience. And the dominance of the interchange symbol over the tick, distorting the importance of stations, is questionable.??The map also leaves unsolved the issue of different lines sharing the same route, shown inconsistently either touching or separated. And the Beck formula doesn't work for many other systems, for example, the Paris map using his formula is no more helpful in planning a journey than the geographic one.

The map designer should not be forcing a network to follow these abstract rules but should look for clues on the ground to show the individuality of region being depicted. London has a coke-bottle shaped circle line that defines the shape of the west end and city; Europe has the Rhone Valley with its distinctive arrow shape with the point at Frankfurt; Manhattan has its own distinctive tilt; there's a tilted??parallelogram that links Liverpool and Manchester together; there's the axis of a major??thoroughfare - these are all shapes and angles that help the user identify with a map. Yes, complex areas need opening out, long station names have to be coped with, but geography is always there.

Please see my website ProjectMapping.co.uk to see many innovations. For example, the new UK rail maps feature 22.5?? angles to enable all main lines to radiate from London and to reflect the backbone, or shape, of the country. They also develop a new system to solve the problem of repetitive place names where there are multiple stations on multiple lines. The Merseyrail map uses 30 and 60?? angles which help to shrink the size of the map and more accurately reflect how the network 'looks'. The Greater Manchester map indicates the city centre by the use of a large capital M and usefully shows the platform layout at the divided Piccadilly station. Lines that are balloon loops or have natural curves are shown as such and are not forced into squares with the corners rounded off.

This website is being developed as a portal to map design: new ideas,??criticism and congratulation.

-- Andrew Smithers (email)

I thought readers of this thread might be interested in the following article in the most recent issue of the journal Social Stduies of Science, which looks at the way in which the tube map shapes users' understandings of London geography.:

Social Studies of Science, Vol. 38, No. 1, 7-33 (2008) Mind the Gap: The London Underground Map and Users' Representations of Urban Space Janet Vertesi

Department of Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University, 306 Rockefeller Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA, jav38@cornell.edu

This paper explores the effects of iconic, abstract representations of complex objects on our interactions with those objects through an ethnographic study of the use of the London Underground Map to tame and enframe the city of London. Official reports insist that the `Tube Map's' iconic status is due to its exemplary design principles or its utility for journey planning underground. This paper, however, presents results that suggest a different role for the familiar image: one of an essential visual technology that stands as an interface between the city and its user, presenting and structuring the points of access and possibilities for interaction within the urban space. The analysis explores the public understanding of an inscription in the world beyond the laboratory bench, the indexicality of the immutable mobile's visual language, and the relationship between representing and intervening. It further suggests fruitful crossovers between Science Studies, Urban Studies, and Human--Computer Interaction by approaching the individual as a `user' of a city and its graphical interface, applying the technique of cognitive mapping to overlapping virtual and analog spaces, and exploring the social and practical effects of strong and standardized visual languages on further narratives and interactions with scientific, technological, or everyday objects.

-- Adam Hedgecoe (email)

I came across a fascinating book when browsing through my local bookstore here in London: "Mapping London: Making Sense of the City", by Simon Foxell. The book includes several classics well-known on this forum, including the Snow cholera map and the Beck underground map (along with examples of what the Underground map looked like prior to Beck), but also displays many other fascinating representations of London. Well worth a read for any budding cartographers.

-- Will Oswald (email)

Subway maps in the bathroom

Christoph Niemann posted this picture to his blog the other day.

The image fits well in this thread and the story of how he got there would
most likely interest a few of the regular readers.


-- Tchad (email)

Another contribution with regard to maps produced by individual TOCs (Train operating companies) in the UK: The map is the brand. A rail network map isn't just about how to get from A to B. A rail network map is about the identity of the business or organisation running services on those lines.?? It's what makes one operator distinct from another, it's what gives different systems their individual identity.

See http://www.projectmapping.co.uk/railmapsdiagrams.html.

-- Andrew Smithers (email)

Live system-wide train maps

William Neuman of The New York Times reports:


-- Edward Tufte

New Tube design

Removing zones from a new map of the London Underground network has made it "confusing", a passenger watchdog said. Transport for London (TfL) distributed the map last weekend without the River Thames and the fare zones marked on it.
I'm not convinced the changes have really "simplified" and "uncluttered" the map.

-- rjp (email)

An excellent account of the redesign of New Johnston, the font used by London Transport and the initial specifications for the original typeface.

'The typeface should have "the bold simplicity of the authentic lettering of the finest periods" Pick wrote to Johnston. It should also, he told him, be easy to read from a moving train and in bad lighting, be noticeably up-to-date with the times, and yet also be completely different from anything found on other shops and signage. Finally, in true Frank Pick style, Johnston was told that each letter should be "a strong and unmistakeable symbol."'


-- Adam Ganz (email)

why is there no map of the travel distances WITHIN tube stations between lines?

I know euston has the south bound northern line next to the south bound victoria line but how far is it to walk between the victoria line and circle line at victoria?

-- david (email)

The UK Daily Telegraph newspaper recently printed a story collating links to various pastiches of the London Underground. Some are already well-known, including the Great Bear Map (replacing tube station names with famous people) and the geographical map, posted here previously. Some handy, such as the "It's quicker to walk" while others are more fun.

-- Will Oswald (email)

FYI, there's at least one update to the "Subway Systems of the World" Map that you touched on a few years ago (!) in this terrific thread. It's here:


and of course the Strange Maps site will no doubt appeal.

Anagrammatically Yours...

Charlie Bing

-- Charlie Bing (email)

New plans to re-design the 'Beck' Tube map, as a result of expansion of 'oyster cards' to include overland trains: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/nov/26/london-tube-map-design

[to non-londers, osyter is the system of prepaid cards allowing passangers to 'swipe' through and gain quick access to underground trains and buses without the need to buy tickets)

-- Adam Hedgecoe (email)

London Maps on Slate

In a recent series about signs on Slate.com part III focused on London. Check out the attached official and unofficial versions of the tube map. I prefer the unofficial version which is intended to be more geograpically accurate.

Slate Signs

-- Bill C. (email)

I think subway maps, as well as being sources of information, can also be seen as works of art. They have also spawned interesting spin-offs, such as recreations of existing designs, The Great Bear by Simon Patterson is a great example of this, or concepts based on the design style of subway maps. Here was one which I found particularly interesting, a map of a world subway system, at worldmetromap.blogspot.com

-- sonia (email)

Genius re-designs and updates of the design classic can be found at http://alex4d.wordpress.com/londons-tube-map/

-- Brian Flicker (email)

Tokyo Lettering/Numbering System

Well, the letter/number system for the Tokyo subways has been around for a good half decade now, and I've never met anybody who's used it. However, I can perhaps understand some of the reasoning behind it.

One issue that foreigners have that the Japanese don't is trouble remembering and distinguishing station names. For the Japanese it's easy, since they can remember the kanji (Chinese characters) for the name, which have very specific and memorable meanings. However, to someone who doesn't know kanji, the names are just a meaningly string of syllables, some of them--such as "Akasaka" and "Asakusa"--confusingly similar.

And it turns out, as I discovered in my early days, keeping track of just one or two station names (your destination and potentially a transfer point) is not enough; to be comfortable you also need to know where you are now in relation to your destination so that you aren't in a constant state of worry about whether your stop is next, and whether or not you overshot. Ideally, you'd remember the names of major stations along the way and the names of a couple of stations before and after your stop. When the names are difficult to remember, that's hard. With the numbers, it's easy.

Or so my theory goes. By the time the numbering system came in, I was reading kanji well enough that I never used it for this purpose.

-- Curt Sampson (cjs@cynic.net) (email)

Live London Underground map

A superb performance here:


-- Edward Tufte (email)

The flash animation that shows the Tube map morphing into a "real" Underground map, and lets you compare it with Beck's original map has moved. Find it here: www.fourthway.co.uk/tfl.html

-- Sam Rich (email)

Dear Professor Tufte,

Harry Beck's original diagram of the London Underground system was a brilliant piece of information graphics, however it has not been looked after in recent years. The addition of the London Overground system has helped fuel the criticism that it is not geographically accurate. These lines have been shoe-horned in producing some quite farcical station positions: Watford and Watford Junction; Archway and Upper Holloway; Seven Sisters and South Tottenham; South Acton and Chiswick Park are good examples.

Being a born and bred Londoner, I took the diagram for granted but as a designer have always listened to criticisms leveled at it by friends from overseas in particular that it is confusing when trying to navigate the city as a visitor. The excellent recent paper by Zhan Guo, 'Mind the Gap' (http://wagner.nyu.edu/guo) helps to explain some of the shortcomings.

So, about a year ago, I decided to try to create a version of the map that is geographically accurate but retains the clarity of Beck's original. The prototype is now available to view at http://www.london-tubemap.com and would welcome views, comments and criticisms.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Mark Noad


-- Mark Noad (email)

London underground is one of the best metro systems in the world. Been to London in 2009 and was surprised by its size, yet it was simple to navigate and use. Another fine article about London underground map here: London underground map. You can find timetables and addition information there. Regards, Tim

-- Tim

"On the Vaunted City Subway Map, Mistakes and Phantom Blocks" written by Matt Flegenheimer of The New York Times on May 6, 2012, talks about the errors on the New York City subway map.

On April 29, 2010, Cynthia Chaldekas of the Mid-Manhattan Library wrote an article about the subway's history, "John Tauranac Talks New York City Subway Map History".

-- Edward Tufte

I regard the official London map's as design classics with a number of problems. The heritage is obvious but new lines are somewhat haphazardly added. For example the Jubilee line from Westminster to Canary wharf is rather contorted. I have created my own version over the last 6 months over into which I have put a great deal of thought. I am still at the stage of improvement but I think if you really cared about optimum presentation you might never be finished. The maps I have created can be found at www.londonlayout.co.uk

-- Peter Saxton (email)

A couple of blog posts by Ollie O'Brien of University College, London's CASA Institute on recent takes (post-2010) on the London Underground map:

  • The Electric Tube
  • . Ollie's own re-design based concentric circles.
  • Mind the Maps. A collection of various versions of the tube map marking the 150th year of the Underground.
For a comprehensive overview of alternative tube maps try this listing from The Londonist. The latest incarnation being one made from Lego.

-- Jerry Clough (email)

Threads relevant to maps: