What happens when I completely redraw London’s Tube Map in the style of the Tube Map? Not an alternative map, but a rigorous reconstruction of the real thing to bring it back in line with its diagrammatic roots.
There’s a new version of the London Tube Map out for 2016, and it looks like things are getting worse for our venerable friend. With every revision, it’s being asked to do more and more in the same amount of space – Underground, Overground, DLR, TfL Rail, that darn aerial tram, zone information and more – and it’s definitely beginning to groan under all that weight.
A London blogger by the name of Diamond Geezer has written a couple of cracking reviews about the litany of problems facing the newest iteration of the map: a general overview and a post specifically about the required zone information, especially now that there’s a combination “Zone 2/3″ area on the right hand side of the map, that uses an ever-so-slightly darker shade of grey than Zone 2 to denote itself. It’s hard to argue with most of his observations, but it got me thinking: what if the standard Tube Map did away with visual zone information altogether? The map normally appears with a full index of stations that includes zone information (either underneath the large maps at stations or on the reverse side of the pocket map), so the information isn’t being lost at all, just presented separately to the map.
So that’s all I’ve done here and nothing more. I simply opened up the 2016 Tube Map PDF in Illustrator, deleted all the elements to do with zones and re-exported as a JPG. (Okay, I also had to substitute an unofficial cut of Johnston Sans in for the real thing, so please forgive any typographical crimes that have been committed as a result.)
The difference is quite remarkable, with the map immediately becoming far more reminiscent of the classic Beck diagrams. Without the alternating white and grey bands behind the map, everything becomes much easier to read and follow. It’s certainly much more restful to my eyes! Removing the zones also allows you to see where elements of the map have had to be moved out of their natural position to accommodate the zone divisions – note the huge gap between Hounslow West and Hounslow Central on the western end of the Piccadilly Line, for example. The weird jog in the Overground Line between Surrey Quays and Queens Road Peckham actually has nothing to do with the zones boundaries, and I really wonder why it’s needed at all.
Maybe getting rid of all the zones is too much: the “tourist area” of Zone 1 might be useful to retain, but this is certainly an interesting example of how one single change to a transit map can make a very big difference to how it looks and works. I’d certainly advocate redrawing and reworking the diagram fully if zones were ever removed.
What single element of the Tube Map would you change or remove to improve it?
The Abandoned/Ghost station project captures those mysterious stations throughout London which are long closed and disused. Many remain fairly intact and some even feature time capsule-like qualities, such as WWII propaganda posters hanging from the platform walls.