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Writing on Map Design: Tube Map Travels

Explore the twilight world of unofficial tube maps.

TMT Book Front
The story of the official London Underground map is well- documented but step into any bookshop in Germany, Italy,
Spain or Japan and look at the many London tourist guides. There is a good chance that the designs at the backs of the books won’t be the official ones that you are familiar with.

Ever since Beck’s first diagram in 1933 others have modified or reworked the official map for their own purposes. Today, mass tourism fuels the demand for alternatives in guide books and computers give the tools to meet it. They are pursued by Transport for London as potential copyright violations and,
with little archiving, their history is a challenge to research.

UMU Book Back

For the first time this book explores the alternative universes of mapping the London Underground, from early innovations and adaptations to challenging rule-breaking explorations. With the maps ranging from the derivative to the dumbfounding, at what point does plagiarism cease and creativity commence?

See the explosive creativity resulting from the clash of the Tube Map as a protected timeless brand icon and the popular view of being in the public domain. Enjoy, with the author, the profusion of alternatives along with language switches, graphical mix-ups and entertaining mistakes. This is a diagrammatic feast.
David Sherriff,

  • 96 pages with full colour illustrations throughout; a century of unofficial tube maps
  • A compilation of numerous scarce and fascinating maps, many from the author’s own collection
  • Outlines the development of TfL’s intellectual property protection strategy
  • Investigates the nature of creativity and copyright as applicable to schematic maps
  • Brings together, for the first time, many well-known challenging new designs from the Internet era

  • Chapter 1: Jostling for position, 1906-1932. In pre-Beck days, different designers couldn’t agree on which lines comprised the Underground network, even after the 1908 unification map was published.
  • Chapter 2: Swimming against the tide, 1933-1980. The Beck diagram quickly established itself as the standard for mapping the Underground, and can be reproduced free of charge. Even so, many publishers created their own versions derived from this, often with bizarre results.
  • Chapter 3: Winds of change, 1981-1990. From 1981, London Transport commenced charging
    a licence fee for reproducing the official map, this now gave an incentive for publishers to create unofficial designs to evade this, but the technology was not yet available to do this easily.
  • Chapter 4: The dam bursts, 1991-2019. The rise of London as a tourist destination, the availablity
    of advanced computer graphics, and the development of low-cost airlines all fueled the demand and supply of unofficial maps, starting a deluge.
  • Chapter 5: Creativity or camouflage. Most unofficial maps are obvious derivative works but some look very different from official versions at first glance. Are these unusual variants genuinely creative, or are superficial aspects of design merely concealing the derivation?
  • Chapter 6: Pushing the envelope. The Internet enables widespread distribution of creative explorations of alternative ways of mapping the Underground. The book finishes with some of
    the most interesting and challenging of these; attempts to explore the parameters of design.
  • Index and Bibliography.

Publishing details
Berlin curvilinear map
From page 16: This 1938 map is the earliest known international copyright violation of the Beck diagram