Design Resource: Transport for London’s “Line Diagram Standards” Guide
Definitely worth a look to see how a major transit agency puts together a comprehensive guide to assembling consistently designed maps. The guide deals with horizontal in-car strip maps and the vertical line maps seen on platforms, but many of the principles still hold true for the design of a full transit map.
Of particular interest is the relationship between the x-height of Johnston Sans and the thickness of the route lines (they’re the same). This value of “x” is also used to calculate the radius of a curve in a route line: the innermost edge of a curve is always three times the value of “x” — never any less. Almost every relationship between objects on the map is defined mathematically, although the nomenclature can be a little less than intuitive sometimes: “x”, “n” and “CH” all make an appearance!
Also, if you ever wanted to know what the PANTONE or CMYK breakdowns for all the Underground route line colours are, this guide tells you that, too!
All in all, a really interesting read — just try and ignore the terrible typos that pop up here and there: “donated” instead of “denoted” on page 11 is my favourite! Click on the image or the link below to download the PDF.
(Source: Transport for London website - 2MB PDF)
Tutorial: Station Labels Using the “Core Type Area” - Part 4: Intersecting Route Lines
Here’s the last of my tutorials regarding station label placement – what to do when route lines intersect each other. There are three standard ways that orthogonal route lines can cross each other, each illustrated above.
Horizontal and Vertical Lines: The simplest intersection to deal with. Simply keep the same distance from the side and top/bottom of your label for consistent results.
Vertical Line Intersecting an Angled Line (or a Horizontal Line/Angled Line): This one’s a little trickier and a lot of it comes down to personal design preference. In the example shown, keep labels the standard distance away from the vertical route line, but move the labels down or up to nestle them into the 135-degree angle created by the intersecting lines better. I’ve used the intersection point of the two lines to create a guide to align the distance guide to, and it works well. Experiment and see what works for you. If we were dealing with a horizontal line intersecting an angled line, we’d keep the standard distance to the top/bottom and move the labels left/right to get the right visual spacing.
Two Angled Lines Intersecting: This is probably my least favoured label type, because it simply has to break the spacing conventions that I normally use. Because you need adequate space between the top and bottom of the Core Type Area and the angled route lines, you have to move the type at least twice as far away from the route lines as you normally would. It still looks visually correct most of the time, but be wary of overusing this type of label.
Speaking of working out problems on grid paper, here’s one I’ve just done as I attempt to make sense of the routing of Interstates and U.S. Highways around Indianapolis. This was making no sense at all on the computer: I worked out an approach in half an hour on paper.
Tutorial: Station Labels Using the “Core Type Area” - Part 2: 45-Degree Angled Route Lines
Following on from last week’s tutorial, here’s how to use the Core Type Area to make your station labels align perfectly and consistently when you’re applying them to 45-degree angled route lines.
If you use the edges of the Core Type Area when you’re aligning labels to horizontal and vertical route lines, then it should make perfect sense that you use the corners of it when you’re labelling angled stations. The first GIF shows the defining setup — using the bottom right corner for labels above and to the left of the route line and the top left corner for labels below and to the right of the route line. I’ve shown this setup first because it always looks right: there’s always a capital letter in the former, and the bottom right edge of a lower-case letter in the latter.
The second image shows what happens when you apply the same rules to the opposite angle. That is, using the top right corner for names to the left and below the route line, and the bottom left corner for names above and to the right. When the route line is angled like this, it can be harder to see that you’ve got the placement right, because the letterforms are more varied.
In the first instance, the last letter of a word could be an “n” (as we have here) or a “d”. We need to allow space for the “d” to fit comfortably, hence the use of the Core Type Area, which shows us exactly that. Whatever you do, don’t nudge labels without a final ascender up until that letter aligns with the station marker: this is what leads to uneven and inconsistent baselines as seen on the recent Sydney Trains map redesign.
Labels to the right and above aren’t quite as bad, but there’s still some variance: the first letter could be a “T”, “B”, or “W”, all of which have a different visual relationship to that bottom left corner. Remember to use the Core Type Area — the box that defines the maximum size the label could take up — and not the letterforms themselves to align text to markers and you should always be okay.
The last image shows a mistake I see quite often when designers try to align their labels to 45-degree lines by simply moving the label sideways from the marker, instead of across and up/down an even amount. I personally prefer not to do this, as I think it creates uneven spacing, but it can look effective and interesting when done right.
However, be aware that labels that sit on the lower side of the route line need to hang from the top of the Core Type Area (by their cap height) or they’ll end up being too close to the route line, as shown in the image. Type that sits on the higher side of the route line can sit on its baseline.
Tutorial: Station Labels Using the “Core Type Area” - Part 1: Horizontal and Vertical Route Lines
A lot of transit maps that I’ve seen and reviewed on this blog are badly let down by their labelling. Sometimes it seems that the labels have been applied without much forethought or planning, or just slapped on at the end and placed wherever they will fit. But labels are arguably one of the most important parts of a transit map: it should always be immediately apparent which station marker a label belongs to, and labels should be applied according to a consistent set of rules.
My first common rule is to make sure that there’s enough space between the route line or station marker and the text: I see way too many maps where the labels are jammed right up to the line (often in a vain effort to save a little bit of space).
That said, let’s take a look at how I like to approach labels on my maps. The first image shows a sample label: I chose the name “Washington” simply because it has a good mix of letters that work well as an example: importantly, it has both ascending and descending letters. I’ve marked out the four main vertical typographical elements: these are the cap height, the x-height, the text’s baseline and the descender line.
Behind this, I’ve shaded an area in pink that I like to call the “Core Type Area” — the height from the baseline up to the cap height. I use this Core Type Area to determine how to align labels to other elements of the map. I discount the height of the letters below the baseline simply because sometimes a word doesn’t have any descending letters at all. This becomes important when setting up labels that sit above a horizontal route line, as we’ll see below.
The second image is an animated GIF that shows two different ways to align labels to station markers on a vertical route line. It shows magenta guides indicating the Core Type Area and thicker cyan guides that simply indicate that all the labels are a consistent difference away from their station marker. I’ve shown the two most common types of station marker: dots and ticks.
The first and third sets of labels centre the type vertically using the baseline and the x-height, while the second and fourth use the height of the Core Type Area. Both of these approaches produce good results, although I personally believe that the Core Type Area method looks slightly better regardless of whether the label is to the left or the right of the line.
The last GIF shows how using the Core Type Area gives consistent results when placing labels above and below a horizontal route line. As you can see, the cyan guides are the same length each time, but though we align labels beneath the route line to the cap height (the top of the Core Type Area), we align labels that are above the route line to the type’s baseline (the bottom of the Core Type Area), not the descender line. That’s because a lot of words don’t have any descenders in them: in these cases, the label would look as if they were too far away from the station marker in comparison to labels that are below the line. The trick here is to make sure you’ve got enough space between the descender line and your station marker/route line to ensure that they don’t touch or overlap.
Next time, we’ll tackle labels on diagonal route lines.
Fantasy Map: “Brain” Subway for HSBC Ad Campaign by Triboro Designs
A nicely executed concept, and better drawn than a lot of actual subway maps (Note the nicely nested curves when multiple route lines change direction!). Not quite sure what’s going on with the light green route as it crosses over the central trunk, but hey… it’s a BRAIN, not a real transit system.
(Source: Triboro Designs website)
Tutorial: Working with 45-Degree Curves in Adobe Illustrator
I got an request from an anon last week which asked:
"Hey! Could you do a video tutorial on how to bypass Illustrator’s annoying round corners effect in case of 45 degrees? It would be a lifesaver!"
Now, while you’re not going to get a video tut out of me — I don’t have the resources, time or know-how to produce one of those — I can and will share my battle-tested personal approach to this problem.
As our anonymous friend says, the “Round Corners” effect in Adobe Illustrator is essentially broken when it comes to making transit maps. Because of the way it measures the “radius” of curves, it produces unexpected (and useless) results on curves that aren’t a bog-standard 90 degrees. I wrote in depth about this problem on my design blog a while back: I suggest you head over and read the article if you want to fully understand the issue at hand here.
The other problem with the effect is that it applies the same radius to every curve along the entire length of the path, which isn’t always what you want: a route line might be the outside line (a larger radius) at one corner, but the inside curve at another (a smaller radius).
So I’ve long since given up trying to fight the inadequacies of the “Round Corners” filter, and instead generate all my curves manually from a “master set” of curves that I create at the beginning of a project.
STEP 1 above shows a pretty standard initial set-up: four concentric circles that are aligned to the grid that’s being used by the map. Here, we’ve got a 10-point grid, and the four circles have radiuses of 10, 20, 30 and 40 points. The line thickness is 8pt, so there’s a nice 2pt gap between each route line. When you’re setting up your master curves, be sure to create enough circles to account for the maximum number of adjacent route lines you’ll have on your map. Often, it’s only two or three, but for my map of TGV Routes in France, I had to set up a staggering eighteen!
STEP 2: From here, it’s a simple matter to use Illustrator’s Scissor tool (shortcut: “C” key) on the existing anchor points in each circle to split them up into four 90-degree segments. I’ve moved one set of 90-degree curves away from the others so you can see what you should have. Keep this set for when you need 90-degree curves, then duplicate it so we can use what we’ve already created to create a new 45-degree set.
STEP 3: Draw a line using the Line Segment Tool (shortcut: “" key) that passes through the centre point of all the circles and crosses all the paths at a 45-degree angle. (Hint: start at the centre point and hold down the Option/Alt key — to extend the line equally in each direction from that point — and the Shift key — to constrain the line to 45-degree angles).
Use the Rotate tool to make a duplicate of this line that’s rotated 90 degrees. Select both lines and press Cmd/Ctrl-5 to turn them into guides. Make your guides visible (Cmd/Ctrl-;) and turn on Illustrator’s Smart Guides (Cmd/Ctrl-U). Then use the Scissor tool to cut each of your route lines where it crosses these new guide lines. The Smart Guides will help a lot by giving you feedback when you’re positioned correctly over the guides: a little “intersect” tool-tip (just visible in the STEP 3 screenshot at top right) will appear near the cursor. Click to cut when you see this and you’ll be golden. Repeat for each line you need to cut. You don’t need to have any paths selected to cut, just position your cursor, click and Illustrator is clever enough to work out what you need. You only need to cut these 45-degree points because we already cut the 90-degree points in STEP 2.
STEP 4 show the result. Again, I’ve moved one set of curves away from the others to show you what you should have: eight complete sets of 45-degree curves, ready for use on your map!
STEP 5 shows a common scenario where three separate routes go around a 45-degree curve together. Draw them so the separate segments for each line touch, but there’s absolutely no need to join the lines at this stage.
A note: If Illustrator took a leaf out of CAD software and included a “Fillet” effect, we could forego this entire workaround. You’d simply select each segment of a route line, invoke the filter, set a curve radius (an actual, proper radius!), and the software would then create the curve accurately and join the lines seamlessly for you, each and every time. After 17 versions of Illustrator, I’m really not holding out hope for this functionality any time soon, however…
Another note: decide which of your curve radiuses represents a “standard” curve and always use that curve when a single route goes around a corner. Then, decide what happens when you have two curves: do you use the next size up or down for that curve? And so on for each combination of curves. Always apply your curves according to the rules you set here — this is what gives your map consistency and visual flow. Don’t cheat and use a smaller or non-standard curve to make things fit!
Here, I’ve decided to use the three largest curves for my three route lines (I often feel that the smallest radius can be a bit tight and look ungainly, so I only use it when I really have to), and I’ve pasted in the appropriate curves from my master set (I’ve changed their colour to magenta to make them easier to see and place correctly).
STEP 6: It’s always easier to align the curves to the horizontal or vertical line segment first. Again, this is easier if you have Illustrator’s Smart Guides on. Drag the curves over by one of the left points, holding down the Cmd/Ctrl key as you do. This ensures that Illustrator provides you with the correct visual feedback that things have aligned properly. Be warned: sometimes, Illustrator reports that things are aligned when they’re not. Be sure to zoom in enough and check things out if you suspect things aren’t quite right.
STEP 7: Now align the right points of the curves with the 45-degree segment, by holding down the Cmd/Ctrl key and the Shift key (to constrain the movement) as you drag across. Again, Smart Guides will give you feedback when things are aligned.
STEP 8: Now that the curves are in the right place, you simply have to align the end points of all the line segments with the end points of the curves, then join everything together. Fortunately, Illustrator’s Join command s a lot less finicky than it used to be. You can now just use the “black arrow” Selection tool to select each segment and hit Cmd/Ctrl-J to join them all together in a logical progression. You used to have to select individual end points, two at a time, and tell Illustrator to join just those segments!
An approach I like to use is to leave all this curve work until the routes are substantially laid out. Then I place all my curves, delete the original straight line segments, and simply join all the remaining curves together. Because they’re positioned accurately, you know you’re going to get nice straight lines between each and every one of them! And it saves having to tediously move end points around until things line up before you join things together.
That’s it! If anything’s unclear, drop me a line or leave a comment and I’ll try to clear things up for you.
STEP 9 shows the finished result: beautifully nested 45-degree curves with no unnecessary additional points. Perfectly executed and reproducible across the entire map!
UPDATE: January 2014: The latest update to Adobe Illustrator CC (version 17.1) basically makes this tip redundant through the introduction of “Live Corners”. If you’re making transit maps with Illustrator, this alone is a reason to upgrade to CC. Read my post about using Live Corners here.
Historical Poster: “Be Map Conscious”, London Transport, 1945
Here’s another beautiful old London Underground poster that features the Tube map, apparently produced to help servicemen unfamiliar with London get around. The poster, which basically acts as a Tube Map for Dummies guide, was placed next to the map in stations, with the abstract guard pointing towards it. The “tear-away” section at the bottom right shows a slightly modified version (angles aren’t at 45 degrees, the Aldwych spur is missing) of the central part of the map, which would have been this 1943 edition.
The artist was Polish-born Jan de Witt (1907-1991), signed as “Lewitt-Him” on the poster.
(Source: Creative Review)
Design for Shopping poster for London Transport, 1935
Design by O’Keeffe
via Mikey Ashworth
You just can’t beat 1930s London Underground posters - a superb mix of art, design and branding. This one’s a real beauty! Of interest is that it playfully echoes the look of Beck’s Tube Diagram, then only two years old.
Submission - Unofficial Map: Metro and Suburban Rail, Milan
Submitted by Dmitry Goloub, who says:
It all started when in Moscow was initiated a public tender for creation of a new, modern metro map. I was really excited and made an imaginary metro map for Florence (IRL there’s no metro).
But then I thought that I can do something really useful. A map for a real transport system that would be helpful, beautiful and clean.
I have completely redesigned the Milan Metro Map. I have added the latest updates with line M5, a grid with alphabetic list of stations, airports, I have created a new set of pictograms and packed them into a symbol font. I have created a completely new style that does not copy any other transport map in the world.
This map now has its own character, just like the city. The emphasis is put on the M lines however you can clearly understand how to use both M and S lines, how to get from point A to point B. The current official map just shows the S stations, it does not show to which line a station belongs.
I have excluded the regular railways (RFI) because they’re not a metropolitan transport.
Full project information and a PDF is here, free for download.
Transit Maps says:
Wow. This is absolutely beautiful work,and quite superior to the somewhat stuffy official map (March 2012, 3.5 stars).
Dimitry hits the nail on the head when he says this map now has a character that’s unique to the city, and its a look that feels appropriate for fashion-conscious, forward-looking Milan. Everything here is created especially for this map: the lovely custom icons, the square-yet-round station markers, and the stunning ribbon-like effect used for the suburban rail lines, which has a lovely rhythmical flow to it. Even the slight checkerboarding pattern used for the grid (alternating squares are tinted a little darker) — which could look clumsy if not handled well — is handled deftly and subtly.
Our rating: Hand-crafted excellence that suits its target city perfectly. 5 stars.
P.S. Seriously, are Russians the best transit map designers at the moment or what? This beautiful piece, Michael Kvrivishvili’s contest-winning MBTA map and Lebedev Studio’s Moscow Metro redesign. All such beautiful work and something for other designers to aspire to.