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Google Maps Undergoes Colourful Transformation

Article by: maft
Date: 20 Aug 2013

You may have noticed that Google Maps have had a bit of an overhaul and, in the process, updated the colour scheme used for their maps.

This has caused a bit of a stir online from both casual users (people using the maps for directions from the Google Maps website) to more advanced users like myself who dabble with the Maps API to develop tools like the submission maps and the maps in the admin areas for POIs and speed cameras.

In the UK Motorways are now dark orange - they should be blue. Trunk roads are now a slightly lighter orange - they should be green. Smaller (non-trunk) A-roads are now grey/white and barely visible - those ones should be orange. B-roads are also grey-white so you can't actually tell the difference between these and the larger roads.

Google have changed the colour scheme across the board - "Controlled-Access Highways" (how Google define our Motorways) are all orange - regardless of the standard mapping colours in each country.

One of the main complaints about Apple's maps (other than their terribly inaccurate POIs) is that the colour scheme is all orange, yellow and white. However, reports are that in the forthcoming iOS7 update they have added the correct colour roads for each country.

Now, quite why Google have made this change is only known to them but I certainly hope they rethink this. For decades people have used a certain colour scheme for their maps - these aren't simply random colours either. While they are arbitrary (motorways aren't actually made out of blue tarmac) the road signs are blue. Trunk roads (normally green on a UK map) have green road signs. Admittedly people use maps online in different ways than they used to - for example to find a local glass-fitters you wouldn't really need to know the road types. BUT the colour change also affects Google's navigation apps - where people generally expect their local map colours to be adhered to.

I tweeted Google Maps to complain and they simply said that we can set custom colours using the API. That's fine until you look at the problems associated with that:
1) It doesn't affect the main website map colours
2) It doesn't affect the navigation app map colours
3) It would be a blanket change across the whole maps (i.e. if we changed motorways to blue then all major highways across the world would also be blue)

So the styled maps are not really a valid option. Google still use the expected colours for the labels on motorways - eg the 'M25' marker on the map is in a blue box with white text (on an orange road); the 'A64' marker is in a green box with yellow text (on an orange road)...

It seems such a minor change, and you probably think I'm harping on a bit much about something so trivial, but to me it's a silly change that didn't need to be made. I do hope they change it back...!

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Posted by IanS100 on Tue Aug 20, 2013 8:42 pm Reply with quote

Google do like fiddling & have a habit of breaking stuff - I'm not going to mention their Latitude c0ck up (oops, too late Embarassed ), but I was recently offered their NEW, much improved Maps, which I accepted until I found that I could no longer correctly send locations / destinations to my car, or to email for that matter - far from being an improvement they've just broken yet another perfectly good app Rolling Eyes

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Posted by lbendlin on Tue Aug 20, 2013 8:55 pm Reply with quote

In Soviet Russia, maps color you.

As I can see it Google said to themselves "Hmm, let's just have one color scheme across the whole world. Yes, that'll be just fine".


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Posted by lenfish on Tue Aug 20, 2013 9:11 pm Reply with quote

Well, looking forward a few years to when Google will rule the World, having a universal map colour scheme will make perfect sense.


Posted by IanS100 on Tue Aug 20, 2013 9:17 pm Reply with quote

& in Google World we have to abide by their rules & decisions Rolling Eyes

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Posted by spook51 on Wed Aug 21, 2013 5:08 am Reply with quote

By what stretch of the imagination is this an 'improvement'? I use(d) Google Maps to plan routes for classic cars, mostly using A and B roads. This change has made it considerably more difficult to differentiate between them - definitely a retrograde step by Google.

Posted by DennisN on Wed Aug 21, 2013 6:14 am Reply with quote

I guess they are looking to make themselves attractive as a takeover project by TomTom, following the TT example of "development". Rolling Eyes


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Two of them are obesiting!!

Posted by IanS100 on Wed Aug 21, 2013 8:31 am Reply with quote

DennisN Wrote:
I guess they are looking to make themselves attractive as a takeover project by TomTom, following the TT example of "development". Rolling Eyes

Ah, that would be the one step forward & 2 steps back model Laughing

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Posted by matthewj on Wed Aug 21, 2013 9:04 am Reply with quote

Having just started using iOS7 for development testing, I was quite pleased by the vast improvement that the big bold colours make on the Apple maps app. Really so much easier to see, and being familiar colours helps a lot too.

The "lovely graphics" shades of pale brown has annoyed me a lot in the car, where you have poor light and really need a good contrast for "glance" use.

Posted by smartroad on Fri Aug 23, 2013 7:41 am Reply with quote

Just keep sending them bug reports on a weekly basis until it is fixed. I used to be able to plan trips for my motorbike using the old maps. I could see where good A roads and B roads were. Now minor A roads and B roads have no more importance than a local road. The difference between Major A roads and Motorways is subtle at best.

With the fact I can't stand the changes to gmail and now maps, I may soon ditch google for everything, aside from Android, and that is only because I don't like the other offerings at the moment (although the recent Ubuntu Edge looked cool, even if it didn't make its kickstarter total!)

Posted by Fith on Fri Aug 23, 2013 7:46 am Reply with quote

My guess would be no one was thinking.

    The executive has the idea of Global Branding.
    The designer looks at the colours and see that most of the world roads are a form of orange to white and thinks 'easy job, make everything a shade of orange = global uniformity on the the big map'
    The board review says 'great idea, that looks smarter, job done'.

Unfortunately none of them are cartographers and none of them use maps. The sat-nav tells them where to go. No thinking required.

When I click my 'Home' link on Google maps it goes no where....

Time to start using Bing Maps more in the UK as they use Ordnance Survey maps. Proper Colours....

Posted by ds47uk on Fri Aug 23, 2013 8:11 am Reply with quote

One option of course would be to use OpenStreetMap.

Much better mapping than Google, the colours are correct, there are off-line navigation options with http://map.project-osrm.org/ there are several Android navigation apps (I use osmand+).

What more could you want...?

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