The metro map of my city recently added numbers indicating which line and what station is this in the metro map.

Some argue that this adds visual complexity to the already crowded metro map.

However others say that this helps those foreigners to find the station more efficiently.

So which solution is better?

enter image description here

The new map

enter image description here

The old map without numbers

  • Is there any stop that allows for an interchange between more than two lines? If so, the visualization of interchange stops may have to be reconsidered, anyway. – O. R. Mapper Jan 5 '17 at 11:41


  • 1 line = 1 color
  • No 2 lines have the same color

The first number in the pill is redundant and confusing. The Orange Box on top clearly labels that Orange = Line 3. To make it even more clear, you can add a legend on the side listing colors and respective lines.

Having a pill with 2 numbers and giving them the same treatment suggests they have the same meaning. So the user might spend a good chunk of time questioning what (3|16) means. Are they both lines? etc... When in fact 3 is the Line # and 16 is the Station #. They do not communicate the same message therefore should not be treated the same.

The station numbers are useful. So the tourist can search for... Station 15 in the Orange Line (Line 3). Instead of Station 五山 in the Orange Line.

enter image description here

  • 1
    Agree totally - the red circled numbers are redundant and just make it look far more complicated than it actually is. – PhillipW Jan 4 '17 at 23:10
  • I find the line number is useful. Seen in context I think it is clear that it refers to the Line (all the stations in the same line color start with it). Also, this depends on the city, but where I live the line importance is on the number rather than on the name, so in this situation reinforcing this and not having to find out which line number is the orange line sounds like a good idea to me. – Alvaro Jan 4 '17 at 23:45
  • @Alvaro: The line number could be indicated on the line in regular intervals, and looking differently than a station. That would be similar to how geographical maps indicate highway numbers and the like. – O. R. Mapper Jan 5 '17 at 11:37
  • 3
    I just noticed that the same station apparently has different numbers for each line. Like this, the line number is indeed not entirely redundant. – O. R. Mapper Jan 5 '17 at 11:40

The numbers add more information to the map but that information can be extremely valuable (and indispensable) to some users, for example, those who don't know how to read the characters.

I find it very clear and not cluttered at all. The first number is the line and the second the station. It is also a useful way to locate places in the map and understand to which line belongs each station.


The numbered stations make it easier to find a particular station -- perhaps by having an index in different languages. Numbering the stations appears useful, but the two-stage code used is confusing and cluttered, as other answers have indicated.

Since all the station numbers on each line already use leading zeros, a better solution would simply be to append the station number to the line number:

Map with three-digit station numbers

This produces a map with less complexity but the same information. All the stations on a line are still grouped together. A station numbered 318 is on line three, which is orange.

[The obvious limitation which arises when a line is extended to have more than 100 stations might be met by using letters: 398, 399, 3A0, 3A1... But even the most extensive metro system in the world (London) doesn't have lines that long.]

  • This looks like the way hotels number their rooms. First times I went to hotels, before realizing it, I remember thinking "are there really 400 rooms?" – Alvaro Jan 6 '17 at 10:55


It does, but it's necessary.


For a user who hasn't been to this city or doesn't speak the language, it's difficult to decipher the bottom map. Yes, the user could compare what color line they are on to the map, then figure out where they need to go and by how many stops, but that makes the user think a lot about what line and stop number they are on or need to be on. The idea behind the book Don't Make Me Think that software should "let users accomplish their intended tasks as easily and directly as possible" is applicable in the real world too.

Adding the line and stop numbers allows users to more quickly compare where they are to where they need to be. It tells them the color, line number, and stop number in one grouping instead of making the user figure out the line and stop number on their own based on the color and stop name.

  • "Adding the line and stop numbers allows users to more quickly compare where they are to where they need to be"... once you've figured out that that's what those numbers mean. That mental effort adds cognitive load, at least once, and for limited gain. I think the map without line numbers is more intuitive, as you are representing the train line information with... a line! – Tim FitzGerald Jan 6 '17 at 1:53

The numbers are not the problem, but this particular treatment of numbers. This question is perhaps better suited for Graphic Design SE.

Here is an example from the Tokyo Metro.

enter image description here

Notice how they addressed some basic issues:

  • Use a combination of letters and numbers to avoid confusion, lessen cognitive load
  • Use vertical space instead of packing 4 elements next to each other
  • Clearly separate different lines, but still box them together into a single station
  • Vary font size and weight
  • Use saturated colors to clearly separate different lines

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