The amateur map designer who remade London's tube map takes on the "night tube"

A detail from the redesigned version of London's night tube map. Image: SameBoat/Wikimedia Commons.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had “Deep Throat”. Here at CityMetric, we have “SameBoat” – the anonymous Wikipedia user whose redesign of London’s tube map was, we felt, so much better than the official version.

Deep Throat kept his identity secret for over 30 years, before finally coming clean as FBI agent Mark Felt in 2005. SameBoat, though, has come forward after barely more than a month. He's the Hong Kong-based graphic designer and sound engineer by the name of Thomas Lee, who designs metro maps in his spare time.

Obviously we're too modest to say that the whole affair shows we’re better reporters than Woodward and Bernstein. That's for you to decide.

Anyway – the reason we can bring you this exclusive information is that, this morning, SameBoat got in contact to let us know that he'd done a “night tube” version of his map, too.

Transport for London's own night tube map is a fairly significant redesign of its (increasingly, eye-gougingly awful) day tube map. SameBoat's isn't – it's a version of his day tube map, but with most of the lines faded out. The goal, he told us in an email, was to keep the sense of how the lines interrelated.

Here's the result:

Image: SameBoat/Wikimedia Commons.

And here, since you were wondering, is the official TfL version.

 

As to which of the two maps we prefer, we can't quite decide. TfL's night tube map is undeniably stylish. It shows the network with undeniable clarity, too. (Those are two qualities that have been singularly absent from the main tube map of late.) SameBoat's amateur version is less polished.


And yet – there probably is some benefit in showing the lines that aren't open at night. Regular traveller's eyes will be instantly drawn to the part of the map where they'd expect to see their station. Showing lines as faded may actually communicate the idea of "no service" more quickly than not showing them at all.

Here's what SameBoat (or "Lee", as we should probably call him now) says about his latest map:

There is an ongoing debate [about whether] TfL should redraw the Night Tube map from scratch instead of basing it on the daytime version with all the seemingly unnecessary kinks for ducking the non-existent daytime elements.

I think making the map from scratch is much easier for the cartographers because there are only five main lines. But that would increase the travellers's burden of knowledge about the newly twisted geography of the night time topological map.

I chose to preserve the daytime routes but make them much paler. [They] serve as geographic indicators without distracting readers from the night time routes.

Incidentally, Lee also noted that he was quite happy for us to describe him as an "amateur map designer":

Harry Beck wasn't a professional graphic designer to begin with, so I don't feel any shame at all.

Fair point.

Here's a clip of Sameboat's new tube map. You can see the full thing here.

Want more tube maps? Really? Are you sure? Oh well, if you insist.

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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