Tube Map Central gathers together my writing, design, and research work on transit map usability and aesthetics, attempting to balance entertainment with education. The original site went live in December 2005, soon after publication of
my first book, Underground Maps After Beck (November). Some key
landmarks include the publication of my second book, Underground Maps Unravelled in July 2012, commencement of poster sales in July 2013, and the first monthly newsletter in November 2013.
Tube Map Central is currently a loose branding, but it is intended to strengthen this in the future:
The uploading of these revamped web pages in August 2017 is a major step towards this goal.
I obtained degrees in psychology from the University of Nottingham (BSc, 1988; PhD, 1992). My focus is on how people interpret information, and why this can result in reasoning errors. People approach tasks in different ways, and investigating this has always been a feature of my research. My interest in why some people tend to better at inferences than others led me to address the issue of individual differences in intelligence. There is a summary of my publications here. After my PhD, I taught for a year each at the Universities of Newcastle upon Tyne and St Andrews, then joined the new Department of Psychology at the University of Essex in 1993.
I am a South Londoner born and (mostly) bred, and my family eventually settled in Dulwich. Travel to Central London usually involved lengthy trips by bus or antiquated British Rail trains, and a trip by Underground was a rare event. To a small boy, the experience was almost Tolkienesque, with entry
to the depths via impossibly deep escalators, seemingly endless passages
with mystery forbidden corridors gated off at every corner, and giant subterranean serpents howling through the dark tunnels. The map also caught my attention: simple, clear, organised, calm, logical - and such a contrast to the apparent mayhem underground. Even at a young age I saw that older designs were different, and I quickly found out that the results of trying to pencil in proposed new lines and extensions never quite looked right: designing a map is not always easy. Underground maps are free and compact, and so my collection grew.
Fast forward 30 years, and I have observed that newer designs are less pleasing to me than older ones, and I begin to wonder why. I have treated myself to a copy of Mr Beck’s Underground Map by Ken Garland, finding out that the future will be even worse, with network expansion resulting in previously simple straight lines becoming bent and twisted. I wonder whether this is inevitable, but rather than sit back and complain, I decide to have a go myself. My computer is recently upgraded and up to the challenge, and my first design is released on the internet in 1999. I can hardly bear to look at it now!
My early work resulted in a presentation to the London Underground Railway Society, which in turn led to an invitation to write a book on the history of the London Underground map for Capital Transport Publishing. While researching,
I was fortunate to meet Doug Rose, Underground Map designer from 1983 to 1986. He proved to be a wealth of information about design, print technology, typography, and politics. He was also receptive to experimentation and new ideas. From this point, I began to realise that my psychology research was very relevant to the task of ensuring effective communication of visual information.
With my first book behind me, I commenced trying
to organise my thoughts about design and usability, creating challenging maps, investigating reactions
to them, evolving a framework for effective design, identifying a systematic process for creating maps, and devising tasks to measure usability objectively. Doug Rose became mentor for my second book, which was released in 2012. My academic works on map usability are here. I have received numerous invitations to speak and exhibit my work nationally and internationally, have appeared on television and radio, and have created designs that have captivated both the media and general public. Even so, the quest evidence-based effective design is a never-ending one, and so the journey continues.
I am not affiliated with Transport for London nor any of its subsidiaries. If you need information on travel in London, or the latest versions of official maps, you should go to the TfL web page. Many of the images displayed on these pages are copyright Transport for London, and are official Underground maps reproduced here for illustrative educational purposes. The majority of all other maps are my own original designs, for which I assert all rights as copyright holder. Before approaching me to license my designs for commercial use, please read this page first.
All content on these web pages are © Maxwell J. Roberts, 2005-18.
Strictly no reproduction without permission.
Exhibition photograph by Paul Monckton.