I hate drawing tube maps.
I try to give each map I draw a certain aesthetic which I believe matches its subject’s in some way. Sometimes it works (I still consider those old Koana Islands maps among my best work for that reason and that reason alone) sometimes it doesn’t (one motivation for eventually redoing the Tokyo map is that Futura is a fine font and all but it’s impossible to read from a distance). Europe, meanwhile, is a transit map nerd’s wonderland. I ripped off the Paris Metro map’s design language when drawing my own for a very good reason. The Berlin U- and S-Bahn map is gorgeous. I have not yet seen a transit map from Russia or Ukraine that wasn’t jaw-dropping. There are even some nice hidden gems in places like Lyon or Leipzig. This continent gave us Jug Cerovic.
Which brings us neatly back to the United Kingdom, which in its splendid isolation never attained anything remotely like its continental brothers’ aptitude for transit map design. At all. They have given us exactly one good transit map; everything else is crap.* Unfortunately, although aforesaid good transit map is universally recognized as the transit map, it’s been slowly ruined by all the various lines and branches and fare zones that have been grafted on to it.
More unfortunately, since the tube map is, y’know, The Tube Map, everyone with even a remote interest in this li’l niche discipline has tried their hand at drawing something in the tube map style. This is a double-edged sword: I personally, like many others, can thank a tube-map-esque thing (this one for the LA Metro on some rail advocacy website somewhere) for bringing me into this world, but as my critical faculties have evolved I’ve also realized anything drawn in the style of the tube map is awful.
So I don’t want to draw anything in the tube map style. However, the tube map style is still what’s evocative of London. So I find myself either haltingly distancing myself from the style and largely failing, or trying something new and radical and also failing. Even though the actual tube network is just as clean and straight as Beck made it out to be, drawing a tube map has been much more frustrating and difficult than the Paris or Tokyo spaghetti bowls could ever be.
Which brings us to yet another modern reimagining of a historical map, this one a tube map from 1913. This was in that decadent period in the tube maps’ history right before the war where almost every line got its own color, and the Northern line hadn’t yet become the complicated monster it is today, leading to the most colorful tube map we’d have for about seventy years. I was wondering what would happen if an inquisitive Beck-like fellow had a particular thought process twenty years early. The Circle line and MR East London services got their own route line and color because the only thing worse than two lines with zillions of branches is two lines with zillions of branches that through-run with each other in multiple places.
The Central line is straight, the Waterloo & City line is also straight, the Circle line is square, and the Thames only has four bends. Yay.
*The least worst of the non-tube UK crop is the Glasgow Subway map, which looks good at a glance the same way the DC Metro map looks good at a glance. At least all the station labels are horizontal. The Tyne and Wear Metro map is also interesting, but the unique font is honestly doing most of the work. Evidently, where the French aesthetic focuses on elegance and the German aesthetic focuses on functionality, the British aesthetic focuses on stupefying ugliness. (We Americans are just as bad, of course, but we at least have the excuse of not being able to transit our way out of a paper bag, either.)Fortunately, this creative malaise doesn’t extend to unofficial UK maps; Angus Doyle, Verboten Creative, and Max Roberts have all done fantastic interpretations of (fancy that) the Glasgow Subway/rail network.