Redesigning the London Tube Map for New Technology and Needs

August 10, 2011

Redesigning the London Tube Map for New Technology and Needs

An interesting debate is brewing over at Fast Co. Design. This past week blogger John Pavlus shared a redesign of the iconic Harry Beck London Tube map.

Beck's original design casts aside geographic accuracy in favor of representing the lines and stops on a grid with 45 degree angles for navigation. Designer Mark Noad claims that this diagram, which was created when the system was far less complex, needs an update for ease in navigation and representation on modern technology. He opted to design a hybrid diagram/map, which attempts to represent physical distances while maintaining a simplified, graphic style to aid fast and easy navigation.

Design, londontube, marknoad

Design, londontube, marknoad

His updated London Tubemap (click to view and zoom) includes the commissioned typeface by Dave Farey, New Underground Condensed, a condensed version of the original type, allowing for better display of closer station labels. Mark also added 30 and 60 degree angles to the grid to more closely represent the geographic space of the system and plans to notate walkable station changes, which could help alleviate crowding on the train.

Design, londontube, marknoad

The debate of whether the designs actually exist—in function or from—as a map or a diagram is an interesting one, whether valid or not (is the actual use more important than the intended use?). But even more intriguing is the mindset that some commenters take or imply, which is the "If it's not broken, don't fix it" mantra.

The real question is, how do we know if something is broken if the standard is so ingrained into our functioning that we never question it? What's important is asking whether something could be better, and without those questions technology would be at a standstill. Now, whether or not Mark's design will prove to be a better way to navigate the tube is up for debate, but he is creating for the right reasons.

Design, londontube, marknoad

Mark does not claim that his version is better than Beck's original nor does he intend it as a replacement. Instead he hopes to give an alternate view and means of navigating The Tube.

See Fast Co.'s original article here and the follow-up debate.
What do you think?

Some other hand-picked posts you might enjoy on our Design Blog:

Crumpled City Maps for Urban Jungles
Hong Kong Apartment Design: Efficiency to the Max
Type Map Prints from Bold and Noble

Via A. Dibble

Ward Andrews

Ward Andrews

Hi, I'm Ward Andrews. I started in 2009, you can read about why here. Thanks for participating in the Community. I also run an interactive agency called Drawbackwards. I love basketball, electronic music and creating experiences that improve daily life. You can follow me on Twitter @wardandrews.

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Lead Product Designer / New York, NY, US

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