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British professor redraws Berlin's metro map

The Local · 12 Mar 2013, 12:32

Published: 12 Mar 2013 12:32 GMT+01:00

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Roberts has, he told The Local, always been interested in maps. And as a psychology professor at Essex University in the UK, he has had the chance to dig a little deeper into how people react and interpret them.

Last week, he put the finishing touches to a series of re-designed maps for Berlin's U-Bahn underground and S-Bahn commuter rail systems. They show the city's transport system in a completely different light and are each, Roberts thinks, simpler ways of displaying the complicated network.

Although the Berlin underground map is based on a standard technique comprising of horizontal, vertical and 45 degree diagonal lines, it seems simple until, “you are on the ground and trying to make sense of it, it really doesn't live up to expectations.”

So Roberts set about to transform the map – the centre of which is a convergence of multicoloured stripes that he found difficult to navigate, and messy. Lines U2 and U7 also disrupted the map as “they can't make their minds up,” he said.

“My aim is to show the network in the simplest possible way, with easy-to-follow straight lines across the page, and as few corners as possible, but not distorting geography so much as to upset people,” he said, adding that often, this means different angles are necessary from conventional ones.

Indeed the results are far from conventional, with concentric circles, jaunty angles and swooping lines rendering his maps eye-catching and eyebrow raising.

But he added that he found that Berliners seemed less sentimental towards their map than for example, Londoners. Longevity was a good predictor of affection he said, adding that Berlin's had changed too many times for a deep connection to be formed.

Click for a gallery of Roberts' Berlin maps

“It's not a very good design and lots of complex zigzags make the lines hard to follow,” Roberts explained. He said Berlin was a much more challenging network to map than London – his redesigned maps of which garnered lots of attention online – because the system had less shape.

He did warn though that breaking the rules of map-making required beginning with a clear aim. “It's very easy to come up with something that is shocking for the wrong reasons and incoherent,” said Roberts, adding that “People judge innovation harshly in the map world, so you have to anticipate their objections.”

When it came to using the maps, Roberts admitted that he had not personally tested them in Berlin but was trying to get an idea of the factors that determined individual preferences.

“Some people love maps based on curves, other people declare them to be unusable and claim that maps based on straight lines will always be easier to use,” he said.

Interestingly though, his research has shown little correlation between preference and usability. “Ask people to pick the map that they prefer, and it won't necessarily be the map that they found easiest to use,” he said.

While the professor thinks his maps are more accessible that the pre-existing one, Roberts said he had no plans to offer it up to the city's transport operator BVG. “Large bureaucratic organisations dislike the thought of outsiders coming along and trying to improve on their work.”

Story continues below…

Outside of Berlin, Roberts felt Cologne had a more usable map, with a clever use of colours making light work of a complicated tram system. Frankfurt was too colourful and on his last visit, Rostock's was “a bit mad.”

Jessica Ware



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Your comments about this article

13:02 March 12, 2013 by raandy
I like his map, its easier to follow.
15:56 March 12, 2013 by zeddriver
Oh Oh. The Germans aren't going to like simple and uncomplicated.

Unless one has to consult insanely thick manuals to try and unlock the where abouts of the real uber topsecret guides for using the U and S bhan. It will be deemed a failure and said secrets were only revealed for the benefit of foreign infiltrators.
15:57 March 12, 2013 by BLAKE IT UP!
Look, unless your a Berliner, you shouldn't even think of changing the map.

Sure, "your" map is fine -but the Berlin map is perfected for the people who live here and not to mention the people that visit often.

Why make a map to the confusing standards of a London map... your just making it it more difficult for the people who are already dealing with being kicked out of their houses and ripping out their historic walls! Just leave them alone... aren't these people going through enough already? Now you want to change their maps!?!?

Why can't you tourists just respect Berlin for what it is, rather than try to reform it in their eyes?
16:31 March 12, 2013 by raandy
BLAKE IT UP! do you feel threatened by this simple map? I think tourist would understand it better than the cryptic German version.
17:05 March 12, 2013 by Dizz
Interesting. Hesitating to comment as I know very little about cartography. I'd love to know more about the process because it looks a lot like those maps were simply processed through filters or apps; circle, hexagon, tetrahedron...
17:20 March 12, 2013 by zeddriver

Thank you so much for validating my post.
17:39 March 12, 2013 by Englishted
It would help to make a judgement on this subject if I had any idea what the original map looks like. poor show "the local".
18:15 March 12, 2013 by Nutt
Its not a map. Its a schematic diagram.
19:01 March 12, 2013 by Englishted
@ Nutt

Sorry could I see the old schematic diagram please .

Is that better :-)
19:30 March 12, 2013 by wegosolo
Heaven forbid ANYONE promote simplicity in Germany. They find it negative. I fear for the well being of Mr. Roberts...is he safe?!
20:25 March 12, 2013 by ovalle3.14
I personally tend to find curvy designs visually annoying but I gotta admit, it's much easier following a curve with your eyes, than finding a dot in a grid of colors.
03:48 March 13, 2013 by schneebeck
Google the terms "berlin subway map". And click on "images".

It is pretty wild. You might go into a trance so don't be alone when you do it.
13:43 March 13, 2013 by mialeftshoe
And while we're at it, let's change the whole German language! And then the streets! Uff! They aren't on a grid--it's sooooo confusing!

simply said: leave Berlin's "schematic diagram" alone, thanks.
14:12 March 13, 2013 by BlaBlaBlaBlaBlaBla
Wow, what's going on here?

I am from Berlin, I am German, I would love a new map!!

I am sorry ... no one I know, would react like "mialeftshoe" or "blake it up" ...

second account ... same person? just curious ;)
23:21 March 13, 2013 by speetz
It is quite interesting to look at the good old berlin metro map from a diffeerent angle. Unfortunately they are kind of low-res - I cannot really judge if I find them easier or more complicated to navigate through. Would be great to get some high-res versions and really dig into the changes.

Never the less some of the alternatives seem to be pretty much the same thing we already have - with some rounded corners added. All of the design do not show the three tariff zones - I guess they seem to be more human readable as information is left away - but this is no valid option. Some designs are really different. As I am used to the existing map I find it quite hard to understand them (and as they are low-res of course). I probably could get used to a new design though.

So - after all this is a nice projecct and could deliver some interesting results. If they are really better? No idea...

By the way - regarding the discussion about Germans not willing to go for easier stuff. have a careful read of the article once again and watch for the following:

"But he added that he found that Berliners seemed less sentimental towards their map than for example, Londoners."
01:53 March 14, 2013 by Icke_Haste?!
Hello from Friedrichshain,

here is a interesting link to the network maps startet at 1914:


The 2013 Map is a Map based on the 1990s Map. (There happend something in 1989, 1961,...)

Anyway, there is aa other big problem, in berlin are 5 systems operating together. u-Bahn (underground)(bvg), s-bahn (commuter)(db), re/rb (regional trains) (different operators), strassenbahn (Tram)(bvg), bus (bus)(bvg). bring all of these in one map. For the main lines there is a metronet. (bus/tram).

I think this is the real hard work, to build maps, in wich you can switch, easy from the whole to the fine detailed map. There are areas you can´'t reach with u/s/r.

aaaaaand, the berlins like the new things, but ihey dont show it, but they like it.

Its like the question:"Entschuldigen sie, welcher Bus ist denn das?""Der jelbe!"
13:55 March 15, 2013 by marcone
I certainly didn't find Berlin's transport system schematic diagram complicated last time I visited the city, back in 2011. And I took the S-bahn, the U-bahn, the bus and the tram. Reached my destination right on time each and every time.

Moreover, I come from a small town and we sure don't have the same transportation complexity over here. 'Cause you ate our "horsepower", remember?
20:15 March 15, 2013 by PierceArrow
I am not sure about the new map versus the old map, but the U-bahn itself is excellent!
17:49 March 16, 2013 by cdbHD
I am an American who has visited Berlin a few times, and I find nothing wrong with the existing German maps. The system is complex, but given that complexity I find the maps straightforward, easy to use, and convenient to figure out how to get to your destination. From my humble opinion, there's nothing that needs to be "fixed" here.
02:59 March 19, 2013 by berfel
Like others, I've had no difficulty in being able to use Berlin's network diagrams for multi-mode journey planning when visiting.

Are you sure that this article isn't about psychologists needing help to work out that the diagram isn't a map? The professor should do as the original designers did; start with a map and draw the lines following the tracks.

London's tube map is notorious for being geographically embarrassing... following it makes you take 2 train chainges to reach a destination that is just across the road.

Such stick diagrams do not preserve proportions. They have no consistent scale. They can, at best, be generally indicative of direction.

They should also be as simple as possible. Recent editions of Berlin's have become cluttered with information useful to only a small proportion of people. A de-cluttered version, showing only the lines, stations and fare zones ... with the addition of indications of parking facilities at major stations, should be produced for general use.

Munich's S-Bahn diagrams show parking facilities. that is especially handy for cities where cars are no longer welcome. Berlin isn't yet so unfriendly.
10:01 March 21, 2013 by Istabraq
I live in Berlin for over a decade and I think this map is a big improvement on the other one. I still find it difficult to locate the station I am navigating to or from on the current map.
16:48 March 21, 2013 by BLAKE IT UP!
@ zeddriver - Your welcome.

@raandy - I don't feel threatened at all. I have several friends who work with DB and are Berlin train operators. They all agree with me when I say that this map does not take into consideration the RE lines and frequently used Bus lines (like TXL & 128). Not to mention, how complicated it would be with construction line notifications and elevator symbols for the handicapped. I know most countries don't care... but that's where Berlin is different from the rest -everything is taken into account when it comes to planning and organization... it's in the German blood.

To change the way the Berliners view the train system is the equivalent to replacing every coffee shop in Berlin with Starbucks so that every tourist can get their 'familiar taste of home'. -I think it's just the complete wrong way to go.
10:47 March 23, 2013 by Yontrop
I've been using the BVG for about ten years and never thought the rout diagram here was so bad. Sometimes I miss having a geographically accurate map easily available, but that's beyond the scope of the diagram. Trying to see if the professor's "maps" would be an improvement is impossible since the resolution is so low on the gallery provided by The Local, but he seems focused on trying to get the names of stations lined up. Maybe he wants them to be easier to scan, looking for a station. I always look at a real map (that includes the transit system) first to find where I'm going, then find the station and line number on the map. Then finding the connections on the diagram is no problem.

The professor's assumption that the BVG wouldn't be interested in using his work sounds a little presumptuous. But not having the fare zones and being expandable to include bus and tram etc. makes his project pretty much irrelevant anyway.
15:51 March 28, 2013 by agbjr
In case anyone is interested or just for comparison here is a link to the New York City subway map:


It really is quite easy to navigate. Be sure to move the map up/down and sideways to get a full picture of all lines into Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and the unconnected Staten Island Rapid Transit line.

Another NYC-area easy-to-navigate transit system is the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) from Newark, Jersey City, and Hoboken into New York. Here is a link to the map:


Again, these are offered only for comparison not criticism.
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