A new Tube map, but no Thames

The latest London Underground map issued by Transport for London is a cleaner, stripped down version of the previous one. But TfL has deemed it necessary to do away with one little aspect that, for many, is a key navigational part of the map. The river Thames…

The latest London Underground map issued by Transport for London is a cleaner, stripped down version of the previous one. But TfL has deemed it necessary to do away with one little aspect that, for many, is a key navigational part of the map. The river Thames…

When you compare the two, it’s a bit of a mess isn’t it? But why take the Thames out?

Ben Terrett emailed us yesterday with news of the redesign and, on first inspection, the map looks decidely less cluttered and is easier to read than earlier editions. So, we wondered, what exactly has been changed?

Well, first and foremost, the river Thames has gone. There it is on the map from March this year (below, top) and now, in the September edition (below, bottom). Its cartographical journey from Kew Gardens in the west, to Woolwich Arsenal in the east has been, as they say, redacted. 

Now you see it…

… and now you don’t

But is a river truly necessary on a map of a subterranean travel network anyway? Well, we’re of the belief that, actually it is. It’s a key signifier of the true geography of the city and many journeys involve working out whether you’re going north of south of the river (just ask a cabbie).

Also, a high proportion of the capital’s landmarks are dotted along its muddy banks (St Paul’s cathedral, the Design Museum, galleries Hayward, Tate Modern and Tate Britain, the bridges themselves(!) to name but a few), so it seems a strange decision to remove something that plenty of travellers will inevitably navigate by.

And in news just in, it’s not a decision that’s been welcomed by Mayor Boris Johnson either, who has been keen to promote the river as a transport option. In a blustery tweet from the man himself, the MayorOfLondon writes: “Can’t believe that the Thames disappeared off the tube map whilst I was out of the country! It will be reinstated….” (see Boris’s Twittering here). So is a reprint imminent?

In other less inflammatory changes, the East London line has finally been renamed as the segment of London Overground that is “under construction”; and the clever interchange symbol has been used on a few stations where, technically, there’s a bit of a walk involved. 

Edgware Road’s Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines may connect up within a single covered station, but it’s still a few minutes walk to the Bakerloo line version. That said, a tourist new to the city would probably now be disuaded from making a lengthy round trip if trying to reach the Edgware Road Circle line branch from Marylebone.

Old map – Edgware Road stations are separated

New map – Edgware Road is one big, happy, inter-connected station

And perhaps even more controversial than the Thames’ omission: the travel zones have been removed too. While this design decision greatly declutters the background on which the map itself sits, it also very likely means that many a traveller will stray into a zone that they may not have the required ticket for.

What zone is Holland Park in? You can’t tell anymore

Well it’s actually in zone two… so watch out zone-one-only ticket people

But it’s not all minimalism and reductivism – check out the Docklands Light Railway (see the bottom right quarter of the very top image).

While it’s wholly accessible to wheelchairs (obviously a good thing), this is now made abundantly clear via a wheelchair access symbol on each and every icon-laden stop. Graphically, it looks a bit overdone. In fact, it even serves to highlight how woefully ill-equipped for disabled passengers the rest of the Tube network is by comparison.

To recap then.

Zonal problems will abound. And we want the river back. Come on Boris…

  • noodles

    This is proper stupid…

  • TfL need to get their head out of their bottom. I’d write this in stronger terms but it probably wouldn’t appear.

    The river and the proximity of a tube stop, for example, Southwark is fundamental to how people orientate themselves. Taking it away is a nonsense and they should be utterly ashamed at their shoddy attempts to improve what is a design classic. If it’s not broken, (and it really wasn’t, whatever your damn survey says) don’t try to blinking well fix it!

  • Chris

    Your wish is his command, apparently…

  • I am shocked and appalled. It’s not as if the river was particularly intrusive in the first place and as you mentioned in the article it is a key navigational feature. Zones are really important too, unless this means we are going to get a New York style underground. Have you noticed the stations that connect with national rail services have lost their red colour and the airport symbol for stations that connect to airports are gone completely! Were people really thinking Victoria was an airport?

  • Classic example of FUNCTION following FORM..

  • Bim

    This is the stupidest (if ever a word) thing that TFL have ever done. I believe Boris has asked them to change it back.

  • The Tube map is (was) so brilliant it’s a shame to see it appear to take a step backwards.
    I’ve recently moved to Australia where it seems (outside of Melbourne) that they take an approach of an assumed local knowledge when designing for public transport (referring to final train/bus destinations rather than a line name). I hope TFL are not sliding in this direction with their removal of zones and the Thames; people need a quick visual reference to know where they are.

  • this is another case of form before function….. it is imperative for the river and zones to be on the tube map – and yeah it may look a bit more cluttered to the eye, however these are key bits of information. What do they expect from a city of this scale, of course it is going to have a lot of information to need mapping?

  • Luke

    This is ridiculous! how are we supposed to buy tickets if we don’t know what zones we’re traveling to/through! I really don’t see how removing the Thames is a benefit to the map… Stupid

  • designers “analyse”
    most people simple “look”
    I would argue that most people know the station they’re trying to get to before they start their journey
    it’s highly questionable whether the river is a helpful reference for a tube map
    it is after all a “tube” map and not a general map of London
    How many visitors to London take the tube to get from Covent Gdn to Leicester Sq?
    so they have next to no understanding of the layout of the city – all they need is to join the dots on the tube to get from destination to destination. The map is part of a broader navigation system including road signs, tourist maps, TIC’s, the internet and GPS.
    the zone issue is covered by the act of buying a ticket… the machines tell you what zone you are traveling to and you pay the according price
    … as always – it’s not going to suit everyone. But it does make the core information clearer.
    both maps work but in different ways.

  • II think in a word of minimalism and personalisation this is the future – dot-to-dot draw your own…

  • And I was hoping they would do more with river transportation. Every time I walk over a bridge spanning the Thames it makes me realise how underused it is. This is hardly in the right direction.

  • I think it works.

    is that so bad?



  • Arrrrrrrrrgggghhhhh. Being originally from outside London, not everyone knows exactly where the damn river runs.

    As London 2012 is approaching, removing a river which is key to tourist travel is plain stupidity. Zones which are key to avoid a verbal damning by a commuter who disapproves of your lack of proper ticket when getting to a barrier makes econimical nonsense. And yes, a red train icon is easy to understand too.

    If 2012 is to flow smoothly, then our map needs to be utterly familiar and intuative to people. I do love the cleaner type, and lighter weighting on tube lines, so well done on that bit.

    But simply put, our river and zone markings are not getting in the way, they are the way of getting around.

    The map is not a piece of art foremost, it’s a close-up piece of intuition. Lets not forget this.

  • oh… was that big light blue line the river thames?

  • I agree with KP and Apropos. I think it looks cleaner and easier to understand; the old version was in a mess I don’t think that the river is relevant to underground travel, and the zones are not clear in the old version so why use them? Any newcomer to London navigating around above ground using a tube map is going to end up very confused and lost. There are other maps available for that purpose.

  • The zones aren’t needed on a journey planner. They are needed at the point when you buy you ticket. the ticket machine maps still have zones on.

    The majority of people don’t need the zone information on a typical journey and so removing this information from the tube map is not as damaging as you might think.

    The removal of the river, however, is a mistake.

    The real issue here is that TfL have overlooked the importance of PR when changing the tube map. Had they been more transparent about the research they quoted to justify the changes then i imagine people would be more forgiving.

    It would also have been an opportunity to talk up the swathe of improvements. And there are many more than you think.

  • I don’t know London too well, but what I do know is that the river (and zones of that matter) are key navigational features that I myself have found imperative to finding my way in the capital. Most people that use the tube regularly know their way anyway, so for them the design is clearer, more aesthetically pleasing, but I think for visitors to the city the new design may cause problems…

    As we have recently seen with the ‘Brand for London’ campaign, the public recognise the tube and its graphic system as an ambassador for the capital. Many people do and will (with 2012 approaching) use the tube map, due to its accessibility, as form of navigation even when only traveling above ground…I don’t think TFL realise the importance of the London tube map!

  • nl

    It’s useful to have the zones marked for people with Oyster cards – we don’t buy a ticked every journey, if you go somewhere and then need to pay an extra £1-£2 then it’s handy to know you will need to do that as you might not have the money on you.

  • Getting rid of the zones is going to be a biut more of an issue, i always found knowing which zone ends where very important as i wouldnt really want to go through the embarrassment of having a ticket that was for the wrong zone! – and getting rid of the thames – not good in both cases!

  • GLB

    Its not just Edgware Road that has been joined up but also Paddington. This is more misleading as so many Heathrow visitors use Paddington. The previous map was correct as the Bakerloo, Circle and District share a common station entrance. The Hammersmith & City line is physically separated.

  • Alex

    If you want to de-clutter, take the damn “London Overground” line off. Half of it isn’t even built yet. Why does a tourist need to know it is ‘under construction’? If you are going to put overground lines on why limit it just to tfl owned ones? The train lines in the south and south-east of london are just as important for travel, to non-tube conected areas but are rightly placed on a separate ‘London connections’ map.

  • I think as well that they over simplified the map and so lost some important aspect of the usability.
    I really liked and used the old map for exactly those two aspects a lot.

    The type weights and other changes are a clear improvement though.

  • those icons are definitely a total kruft attack.

    I was in barcelona recently for just over a month. I was seriously impressed by their trains.

    They have a really BIG map at larger stations, I’d guess somewhere about 10 metres across, and 8 metres high, a backlit perspex affair. Very nice it was too.

    The London Underground is the oldest graphical identity in the world, the first. You’d have thought that this would inspire us to be the best.

    Now what I’d like to see is a huge Dr No scale display in the stations… which shows you in real-time where the trains are, much like you get in the control rooms of national rail networks.

    Yes, the river should be there. Yes the zones should be marked, although I’ve never found those funny grey borders much good, I think that the borders should be somehow marked on the lines themselves.

    And those awful littered icons…

    TBH all stations should be wheelchair access shouldn’t they. That’s just an admission of failure.

  • hoepfully the feedback will be taken on board and tfl will reinstate the Thames in the next iteration!

  • Well that lasted long, just days after launching this new map they have recalled it. The river will be added back on to the next print run.

  • lauren

    Bing back the Thames & the zones!

  • Sharpey

    If the river wasn’t important, why have they left the River Services icons on the new map. Extremely ill-conceived redesign.

  • dan

    It wasn’t broken. Stop trying to fix it.

  • David Woods

    I’m pretty sure the designers specifically had the 2012 Olympics in mind when they rolled out this revision. I can quite believe the thinking was to streamline and simplify the maps to the utmost degree and on that level it has succeeded. IMO finding the route from station ‘A’ to station ‘B’ has never been easier than via this new map.

    However, this issue runs deeper than simple A to B navigation. I think you are right when your article states that the river is a core element of most people’s – Londonder and visitor alike – method of city navigation. Furthermore, ‘North’ or ‘South’ of the river is a fundamental psychological aspect of London identity and to remove reference to the river from London’s most iconic map feels like a mistake.

    As for the zones, well I for one use them – on the main maps that is, not just on the little ones over ticket booths – on a daily basis to determine how much my journey will cost. Does this mean that the days of Zone-specific tickets are numbered? That really would be the only explanation that would make sense of this move and I think it’s incredibly unlikely.

  • this is awful. What a ghastly idea. How ever will I know whether I have the right ticket until it’s too late?

  • oops!

  • Jem

    Wish they actually would get rid of the zones. Why should it cost more to go through central London? Sorry, bit off topic. As a Londoner, I don’t think I would notice, but for the tourism side of things, this is probably a bad idea.

  • No-Zone slayer. I’m not impressed. You just know that we are going to get a blockage of epic proportions with all those Zone 1 ticket holders trying to get out of an undesignated Z2 station.

    Chuff me.

  • hmmm, perhaps they lost the ‘Thames’ and ‘Zones’ layers from their Illustrator file and thought, bah that will be fine!

  • Mark

    I read in the papers yesterday they had agreed to put the river back.

  • paintshops studio

    First rule of information graphics is to provide information….like which zone your destination is in or which side of the river your on. So the new designed has failed at step one! Dumb.

  • Dicky

    Losing the zone demarcations are a definite improvement and, as noted here in comments, information is readily available in many other ways (perhaps TFL want tourists to unknowingly travel outside of their ticket zones for extra revenue purposes…). Dropping the river though IS a mistake, for design as well as navigational reasons. It’s the single most important feature for grounding the map and allowing you to form some judgment as to where you’ll appear when at street level, not to mention relation to most tourist landmarks and a means of transport championed ahead of 2012.

    Also, maybe I’m being a little too anal here, but if they are indeed recalling the map, maybe they could take a look at the positional rationale of station names in relation to their circular tube line icons as they seem to have no clear rules. Descending ‘g’ in ‘Angel’ awkwardly hits the Northern line and Holborn floats as near to Chancery Lane as it’s station roundel; on the Bakerloo line – Maida Vale hits the line while Kilburn Park and Warwick Avenue seems to be yearning to become overground stations. Maybe these are early print registration issues though so I may be being a little unfair.

    Some issues to sort definitely, but I’d also say the redesign is a much needed and positive step. Hopefully it’s a little more refined next time.

  • John from Buenos Aires

    Such a great article guys ! Well let me give you my opinion as a foreigner and London first-timer in 2008:
    – Regarding the “Thames”, it might not be important for locals , as you really now the city well. That´s not new. But for me, as a tourist, it was absolutely necessary to have the river as a reference (visual and geographical) . Considering you will be hosting the Olympics I think it´s a decision that people in charge should strongly re consider! Best regards from the southern latitudes (and sorry for my weak and rusty english)

  • Damian Lewis

    Yes, I believe Boris was very upset at the new map and has insisted that the Thames be reinstated. However I think you’ll be waiting to the end of the year before you see the Thames again.

  • claire

    Everyone should quickly download a digital version of the old map before TfL update their website:

  • Boris, we thank you!

  • monica capoferri

    So, without the Thames the map looks less cluttered eh? Without the money zones, less confusing? Following this line of thinking, let’s see how we could improve the new map even more: let’s get rid of those circles at the exchange stations, just in case passengers think they’re underground merry-go-rounds. And all those coloured stripes! What is it? Notting Hill Carnival? At Tfl they are right. Less is more. Less brain (theirs) more money (ours). Sorry I’m this grumpy, I just want my Thames back! :-(
    BTW: from Tfl you can still download/print the original map. I did…

  • Amy

    I need the zone information because i buy a monthly zone 1-3 ticket and need to know in advance if i’m going to stray into another zone and risk a fine. I need to buy an extention before boarding the tube but don’t want to have to go online to check or hunt out a large map at the stations every time i travel somewhere new (Kingsx/Liverpool street etc at rush hour? It’s in and out as quickly as possible, not hanging around fighting the tourists to look at a map!)

    And did you notive they removed the ‘waterloo east’ marker……. things like that are going to confuse people more than taking off the Thames.

  • I have lived in London all my life and maybe I am stupid, but I have always used the tube map to work out which side of the river I will be on when I emerge at my destination. What hope does anyone from outside of London have? We do many things badly in this country, but surely design is not usually one of them.

    Time to get the blue marker out guys and get one of the world’s most famous rivers back on the map!

  • Personally, I would go further and add little grey icons for Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Marble Arch, Tower Bridge, etc – so tourists can instantly which tube is nearest a major attraction.

  • Nurjan

    RIVER: To be honest I have never noticed it before until now that it has been said. When I first saw the new map I liked it because it was simple and clear.

    Only criticism is:

    ZONE CHANGES: This was a silly thing to get rid off. I can’t be expected to remember this information and what about tourists?? How will they know? At lease the excuse “I didn’t know” is valid now – no fines!!

  • Mark Blamire

    If you are navigating around the London underground, use the [new improved simpler easier to read] tube map. If you are navigating around London [on the surface where the river is] buy an A to Z.

  • Perhaps they have data predicting mass flooding and are waiting to see where the ‘new Thames’ will lie.

  • Forget about the Thames for a moment, the choice to remove the zones is an even bigger mistake, it served a very important and relevant function, it simply informed of you which ticket you should buy relative to your current location.

    This is a bigger factor as this will affect each and every single Tube user and not just those who wish to know what stops are near the river?

  • Aly

    Having different prices for different zones is a complete nonsense anyway. Plus in Tokyo you can just buy the cheapest price ticket and then pay the difference at whichever station you arrive at. To sum up. Underground sucks.

  • Like fish & chips without salt & vinegar.

  • Excellent… yet another fine example of creating design work when there is no need. Spend your design budget on something more useful TFL!

    Gareth Simpson


  • Kev

    Could you not at CR of just cropped a digital version rather than scanning in a tatty tube map found at the bottom of ones bag!! And crop it so its properly…come on your a magazine for designers even your blogs must look sharp and clean.

    Great post but seriously make it look tidy!! Standards!!

    Would you care to comment on using such dreadful images CR??

  • @Kev

    I think the fact that (prior to your criticism) none of the 52 other comments mention the “quality” of my photography indicates that, er, it’s not really the point here is it? If you must know, there are no digital versions of this map available from TfL as yet. And it wasn’t a “tatty” map, it was brand new, picked up in the morning and shot with a digital camera, with some necessary lightening/cropping done quickly in PhotoShop. I don’t profess to be a photographer; I was merely illustrating a design story in the quickest way possible. If you have better images of a 6″ x 3″ pocket tube map then do let us know.

  • kev

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8258821.stm (NEW)

    http://www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/1106.aspx (OLD)

    That took all of about 2 mins reseach … I’m sorry but your talking about information design the way you put accross your story is very important.

  • @Kev

    Thanks for the new map. If I’d have seen that version online I would have cropped from it. Strange that TfL still don’t have it as a download on their site though.

  • Schnabz

    I’m pleased to read everyone is frustrated by this! I was delighted to find this just now as was away last week, so might have missed it! I voiced my opinion about the zones and river yesterday at work, and well… just got glared it! It’s important. Boris is a bike man, he knows the river means something!

    RIVER + ZONES = Job done

    It also annoys me that they’ve missed the important distance in metres between close-by alterior tube stations. They cleaned the old map up too damn well.

    It’s a wonder how the London logo is coming along ? When simple map updates easily go to shit.

  • Ben

    Has the Picadilly line towards Heathrow really turned purple, or was your camera blushing? :)

  • Will

    They have said that Canary Wharf Jubilee line connects with the DLR, yet they are two separate buildings and Heron Quays is actually closer…

  • quality design…this is right up there with the olympics logo.

  • Nadine

    I’m curious to know if the David Woods who commented above on September 18th is the same one I knew and lost touch with (he and his wife lived in Maida Vale in early 90’s). Is there any way to find out?!!

  • Speaking of the looming Olympics… Even we decided to keep the river, even if a little loopy…
    Ginger x

  • as simple as these are, they’re like reading Sumerian when it’s 3am and you’ve had a ‘few’ 😉