Bing Maps looked ugly before, now looks like s***

I’ve never been a fan of the Bing Maps/Virtual Earth color scheme so when I read reports today that it had been updated, I was hopeful Microsoft might have injected some vibrancy and fine detail into their otherwise dull and indistinct maps. That was before I realized Microsoft wanted to make their maps look worse.

I know what you’re thinking, “that’s an outrageous accusation”. Maybe, but I can’t think of any other reason why Microsoft actually removed the white glow on the labels from the previous version of Bing Maps that was there to provide contrast between the text and the background. That is if the semi-transparent text wasn’t distracting enough.

Furthermore, I’m also quite confident a (road) map is suppose to highlight the features of the road network so viewers can make judgements on how to get from point A to point B safely and efficiently.

With the lack of color separation between freeways, highways, roads and streets, identifying routes become quite difficult when all the roads are light shades of pastel purple, barely visible above on the trademark dull gray background.

Although I don’t claim to be an expert cartographer, I can appreciate a well-designed map when I see one. This is an eyesore.

Update: Added an alternate screenshot with a different zoom level on a different part of Sydney.

79 insightful thoughts

  1. I actually think it looks quite elegant myself. The pastel colors give it an unclustered look and it’s still easy to use.

  2. they’ve been using those pastel colors and grayed out text in everything, that’s the main reason i quit using windows live mail. we complain and they come back with some stupid contrast ratio they say is acceptable, and it’s not.

    1. So you moved on to that gorgeous Gmail, have you?

      I say that with sarcasm….. a lot of it. Hotmail looks great by the way, I am glad MS is starting to modernize all of their UI’s and websites, its about time. It looked like total crap before.

  3. Wow, Long… Disappointing. Look at it from a UX perspective and keep in mind there are tools for directions.
    I can now find my suburb without searching for it/squinting for example

    1. This is from a UX perspective. Readability is a primary factor of good usability design.

      If you can identify things on the map then you’re already familiar with the area. If you told me your suburb I’m pretty sure I’d have a hard time finding it since I don’t live in Sydney.

  4. it’s not only the color scheme “per se”… it’s a mix of things that makes it look ***t:
    – only a few roads are drawn with borders to outline them
    – a bad job at highlighting the main roads when you zoom more
    – it doesn’t show as many road names as google maps does

  5. I think it looks great. Really simple to establish what you are looking at.
    The difference between the UK & Europe is a bit odd check it out here

    I guess the UK one is best for directions but the Europe way is good for looking at terrain?

    1. If you’re referring to the UK map looking great, that would be because UK is still using the old Bing Maps color scheme. The rest of Europe has the new color scheme.

    2. I don’t think it looks better or worse than any other map UI.

      The new style certainly feels a bit more modern, I like the way it divides up the different districts. I can imagine its good to find places using multi-touch (i.e. pinch/zoom and panning around) as opposed to starting by typing in a destination.

    3. The UK has always been a little different! The old UK colour scheme still currently used is actually different to the ‘old’ default colour scheme. It instead uses the UK’s national road colouring- which is probably why it hasnt changed! Notice how the Motorways/Interstates are coloured blue instead of the old green.

      Check out Japan for another example of localisation..

  6. I’m actually loving the new Bing maps.. It seems very readable and usable when i checkout India and the UAE.. I’m not seeing as many translucent large labels as seen on ur screen-shot. Haven’t tried Australia though. Perhaps this is affecting only Oceania region? not sure.

  7. Long I see you aren’t using the silverlight version. the base map sucks, try the silverlight version, I thought those in the know new this.

  8. I rather like the new scheme. Major roads are still easy to see, since they use darker colors, and the area names stay in the background. Had no problem navigating around LI (an area I’ve only been to twice in my life).

    My only complaint: Circular markers (e.g. exits) are still not smooth.

  9. Hmm. We disagree that it looks worse than before. I’m not a big fan of the lavender and all, but the loosened up typography is most welcome. I’m also liking how the street names elegantly flow along the curves of the street now, rather than being stamped down in the middle of things.

    Re: some countries still having the old tile style: I was just noticing that on Japan as well.

    It’s very obviously unfinished (some territories still have no labels applied whatever and the manner in which labels collapse still needs work), but I was very interested to see the dynamic maps option introduced last night as well. It makes all labels actual text, rather than a layer of .PNG tiles (or worse yet, like Live Search Maps and Bing Maps AJAX – baking the text labels right into the imagery tiles). Many of the labels end up being clickable and will at least centre you on that region. In some cases, the edges of a property will be fitted to the edges of your viewport.

    If I have any criticisms, it’s that in the dynamic map view, the road map tiles are being sent as .JPG tiles, rather than .PNG. Obviously satellite and aerial imagery tiles need to be sent as .JPG, but not road map tiles.

    Also, Long, if you hate the new style that much, you can at least escape to Open Street Map’s Mapnik road map style. (leastwise, if you’re using the Silverlight edition).

    I’ll be happier when the day comes that we see the shift to SVG tiles for road map data and we get good things like proper powerlaw scaling on all the streets like in the Seadragon demos of several years ago. (see: )

  10. Honestly, the only thing that looks bad to me is the district/suburb(?) names going through the road names. As soon as you zoom in a bit thoes go away and the problem disappears. Look like you looked for the worst possible area and the worst possible zoom level to take a screenshot of.

    It looks a lot clearer than the multicolor epilepsy-fest that the old version was. I can clearly see all the distinct roads at various zoom levels, and the text is a lot more readable. I don’t even miss the glow.

    1. And the second screenshot already looks much better. You can clearly see all the distinct roads and it’s not such a huge mess anymore since the road names actually follow the roads, rather than just crossing 5 different roads.

  11. Long seems not to realize that these maps are intended to have routes laid on top of them, therefore you don’t want the underlying map elements to “pop” out because then they compete with the routing UI

    although if you just want to print or embed a map (sans directions), maybe they could include the ability to use more vibrant map tiles…but this is clearly intended for use with directions

  12. I actually think, that the new look is much better, because
    – it has much cleaner, Metro-like look
    – once the labels will be clickable by default, it will be clear why the new typography is a better choice
    – lower contrast is used to enable overlays. Overlays can now much more clearly communicate its content, the maps are not distracting.
    And I also think we should wait for some kind of walkthrough of the new desing on Bing blog, their decisions (especially on the Maps team) are usually based on sound research.

    1. The labels are clickable in the “dynamic” version, but even still, they could have had a thin white border to help make them contrasted against the road.

  13. Well, that may be your personal opinion, but I really like the new look. Not only cleaner, but for me the labels are also easier to read, simply because they’re bigger, and I have no problems telling different types of roads apart, even in areas unknown to me.

    I like the route Microsoft is going – away from that plastic look in XP, glossy look in Vista, to cleaner interfaces with more focus on text like in Windows Phone 7.

  14. I like it. It’s monochrome color scheme allows me to focus more on simple directions and locations, rather than getting distracted by places and things that stand out from the crowd. When I want those things, I will turn them on manually.

  15. The only thing I don’t like about them is the fact the labels could be a little more distinct. On the maps in my area there is a clear disctinction between freeways, tollways and roads.

  16. Definitely not a fan of the color scheme. I like the more bold orange/yellow highways and roads from before. The lavender freeways are too feminine for me, and the green roads are not good in the context of cartography where green is often used to indicate open/public lands or terrain elevation.

    They took away that useful features on the green plots of lands, where if it was like a golf course, it had a nice pattern of little flags for golf holes. For national/state/local parks with the tree pattern, and so on. That was a nice visual helper.

    I do like the font better though. It’s much more better for reading, but not a fan of the grayed out neighborhood/area names, because it’s kinda distracting in a way, even if it is subdued. Plus when you zoom out to continent view, it’s hard to tell what the smaller countries are until you zoom much closer and even then the country’s name is grayed out.

  17. Interestingly enough, I found this same similar color scheme in the WP7 developer documentation (A-GPS section on page122). It looks like this is here to stay, I suppose.

  18. WOW! Long, I thought you liked MSFT. Well, just so you know, I think that the new purple/green scheme works perfectly.

  19. Sorry Long, I have to disagree with you on this one. I find it elegant and classy while still being useful. I think you need to adjust your monitor if you can’t notice the purple highways and freeways…

  20. I can understand this theme from a Developer/Overlay want your overlay to pop more than the base map itself. The theme darn near approaches greyscale though. I can’t imagine folks wanting to embed maps or email family/friends directions with such dullness.

  21. Sorry as well Long, but I’m in the camp that this is a great improvement. Before checking this site I actually happened to see the new maps for myself, and I was blown away by how much better it is. Unfortunately, I just don’t see your argument holding much water. Maybe you need to check your computer colors, or your monitor, or your eyes. Are you color blind btw? I just don’t think that it is dull, subtle maybe, but it seems to be the perfect amount, not overbearing and cluttered like before. I guess either you can learn to like it, ignore it, or continue to pout, either way heres hoping to seeing more like this!

  22. Wow, Long, tell us what you really think.

    I think the new style is just fine and helps Bing distinguish its map solutions from competitors like Google Maps and Mapquest.

  23. According to the blog post, the colours provide the greatest contrast with the traffic info overlays which, apparently, are in green, yellow and red. I don’t see those as I am in Canada.

  24. Its odd seeing the UK and Europe side by side. I think I do prefer the new colour scheme. Thank fcuk that Arial has finally been replaced with Segoe!!! I would have used perhaps a SemiBold version of the font, as it is slightly less readable when zoomed out, but so far, a much needed design refresh!

    I wonder how this will look on Windows Phone 7. I hope to make use of one of these map controls when they are released in my own app.

  25. I like the new look. it was too colorful before.

    They need a new word map now. The current world map (zoomed out) looks dark and ugly!!! Never seen any uglier.

    1. @Khanh, I think you’re criticising NASA’s Blue Marble stitch now. =)

      @Long, I think your site looks just fine, aside from the ads (which are your bread and butter – especially with linkbait like this headline – shame on you, by the way, even if you honestly didn’t like the newer map style).

      @EnricoG + @Long, why are you so dependent on borders being drawn around things? Choosing good clear values for different pieces of the design means that borders are unnecessary.

      As an aside, I don’t know how long this will last, but for me, when I switch to Aerial imagery, all of the labels are using the old colours, typefaces, and placement of text. For now, they’ve retained the white glow around text when it’s on top of photography. I’m interested to see what the new label style looks like once it’s overlaid on photography. Only then can any real judgement be made as to whether the white mist|spray-paint behind each word is really necessary going forward.

      Any good design should work in greyscale first (i.e. how dark or light things are so that you can tell [in this case] different road types apart, labels at different scales, etc.) and then make intelligent colour scheme choices after the brightness values have been established. I think that many of us have said that the lavender isn’t really our preference, but if you desaturate a screenshot of the new roadmap style, I think it works just fine.

      Others have said it before, but I’ll back them up. To all of the people complaining about ‘greyed out’ text, in the dynamic labels version, the text will grow gradually more or less transparent and change size slightly as you move towards or away from it. The raster tiles are simply doing a better job now of being consistent with what you should see if you were using dynamic labels. Believe me, I’m sure that someone has agonised over what the perfect distance is for labels to disappear or how dark is too dark for this distance or how light is too light. There is such a thing as subtlety, and the value choices seen in the new map style have it. Complaining that all text isn’t pure black and bolded or that the labels aren’t X number of different hues or strong saturations (like they were before) is like complaining that your co-workers, friends, and family don’t talk to you all day and night long in Steve Ballmer’s keynote style of speech.

      @Quikboy, you have valid criticism about the icons within state parks and the like and I think we agree on the typeface side of things. We disagree on whether having the larger faded out suburb name visible is a bad thing, and I think that both of us would choose something else over lavender on tan for the colour scheme.

      When I read this statement of yours, though: “Definitely not a fan of the color scheme. I like the more bold orange/yellow highways and roads from before. The lavender freeways are too feminine for me…”, I couldn’t help but wonder whether half the women of the world might not have been silently thinking something along these lines with the older map style: “Definitely not a fan of the colour scheme. I wish that the highways and roads were a little more subdued and colour coordinated. The bold orange/yellow highways and roads are too loud and heavy handed for me…”. I think that ‘feminine’ is a funny word to apply as I know plenty of very feminine girls and women who love bright high-saturation clothes, cars, etc.

      I still think that lavender is a strange choice when Bing’s logo is so vibrantly blue and orange, but the tan or beige backdrop is consistent with other parts of Bing.

      On the official announcement post, JohnCz suggested allowing users to customise their own colour schemes, which I really do like.the thought of. The more that we move towards vector labels, the easier it will be to allow users to customise their own colour schemes client-side with no impact to the Bing Maps servers. In order to implement custom colour themes now, they would have to spin up different instructions for the compositing servers to create customised label tiles for each different user with each different colour preference – which I think does not scale very well.

    2. Unbelievable. I’m genuinely insulted that you claim my blog is a linkbait. I’ve even gone as far to remove all the ads. After all that I’ve done because I’m passionate about the topics I write, I can’t believe that even one person can come up with that claim.

    3. @Long, What he meant is that your title is very attention grabbing and entices people to click on the link even if they aren’t genuinely interested. That’s what he meant by Link-bait, not that you are posting too many adds…

  26. @Long, I’m sorry. I just found this one post to not be up to your usual standards. The title is very sensationalist, though. This is your personal website and you are certainly entitled to genuinely and even legitimately not like the new style.

    I meant no offence, and I’m very sorry to have made you feel insulted. This post aside, I love your site and I value your opinion. We just disagreed about this one issue (which is valid), but the tactics used to get people to read it were not your usual fare of simply being informative. Again, this is your site and I don’t mean to imply that I have any say in how you run it. I find your site to generally be very high quality and a great source of information.

    I don’t know what else to say.

    Best regards, and I hope I haven’t cause you too much grief.

  27. Looks nice, but… In Germany, at some magnification levels there is no difference between Autobahns and usual roads (Bundesstrassen). This is not right…

  28. To be honest, I hadn’t looked at Bing Maps before this post, and I must say that I find this new color scheme preferable to that offered by Google and to the color scheme in the UK (which one commenter claimed was the old color scheme). I understand the comment about the text and I must say that when I saw the screenshot at the top of the blog post, I agreed with the post.

    However, when I compared Bing Maps to Google Maps side-by-side, I found the Microsoft scheme to be preferable mainly because of noise reduction. There are fewer labels at equivalent zoom levels, the color scheme is easier on the eyes, and the graying out of higher level labels, which initially seemed like a source of noise, actually makes sense in the context of zooming where it both differentiates the levels and takes the higher leveled labels out of focus gradually. So, while out-of-context, that screenshot of Sydney looks like a nightmare, I think it is much easier to understand and navigate in Bing’s version than in Google’s.

    Now, the main points made in the post were that the text was harder to read because of a lack of white bordering around the letters and that the new color scheme makes features (such as roads) less discernible.
    These are fair points, insofar as there are trade-offs in presentation that have to be made in maps. However, I think that Microsoft navigated those trade-offs much better.

    First, removing the white border around words allows one much more leeway in the size one can make the words because the white border obstructs the features behind it to a much greater degree than the text itself. So if you look at a Google Map and Bing Map at similar zoom levels, you will find that the Bing version actually has more readable text because it’s bigger.

    Another means of making the text more readable is actually the subject of the post’s second complaint and that is the lighter color scheme. It is true that the roads are a bit less defined without the outlines, but in context, this ends up working well. The roads are thinner, reducing crowding and the more sparing use of labels more than compensates for the lack of color contrast by reducing the noise. A good example would be to compare Bing with Google on successive zooms into the area around Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United states. I think that you’ll see quite clearly how much better Microsoft’s presentation is here than Google’s even if you don’t know that area very well.

    I have not yet read the Microsoft description of the update that some of the commenters have linked to, so if I am echoing Microsoft PR, it is purely coincidental.

    Now, I do have some complaints. There is no excuse for centering “North America” over Greenland. More seriously, Google does a better job with businesses by showing their location in highest zoom maps. In order to have similar capabilities, one has to switch to the Silverlight version of Bing Maps (which was annoying while I was typing this comment…had to click outside the map to use Ctrl+Tab) and the business directory feature, while ultimately more powerful than Google’s presentation, isn’t easy to access in the UI.

    Ultimately, I have to thank you Long for pointing this out and giving me the opportunity to switch to Bing Maps

  29. Wow – Melbourne seems to have gone on a rail building spree. There’s a whole bunch of phantom rail lines shown (look near the MCG). If only it were true :-)

  30. Seriously. It looks beautiful. Much easier on the eyes, easier to see overlays, and way better than Goober Maps.

  31. Very mixed comments here, the thing with something new is it feels different and natural reaction is to think that is bad.
    As a seasoned Bing Maps developer this change is really good for me, we have moved well beyond just showing a base map in an application and are now very much focusing on showing content ontop of this base. The older generation of vibrate base maps made this difficult, we had to compete with vibrate yellow or orange roads to show the current route of your fleet of vehicles. The new style still gives us the context but allows us to easily focus the user on what they really care about in the application, the custom data. From a design persepective we can offer a much higher quality of product as the map no longer dominates the screen.

    Long, why not put up a comparison shot of the complex areas you have posted? Feel free to use one of my Silverlight apps to get the old bing style (this one even lets you change the colours):

    Map developers out there, have think about how this new muted colour scheme and decluttered labels will let your custom application really shine.

  32. I actually like it. The effect of the text glow + dark black labels in the previous design created a lot of high contrast noise when you’re trying to just search for one place name. In the new design, the contrast on the labels is lessened, but that is balanced out by the lower contrast/subtler colour scheme of the road/land. I mean, the roads are there if you really want to search for them, but they’re much more out of the way when they need to be.

    Honestly I have up the UK maps and the Europe maps side by side and the UK one looks like a hot, antiquated mess.

  33. Utterly unreadable. Utterly impossible to get a decent overview. You can’t have 8 different point sizes in the same image and expect it to be legible… I can’t imagine how much unneeded zooming you have to perform on a smartphone just to be able to read the different font sizes, and then I’m not even talking about reading at a glance, which is nigh impossible anyway.

    Kind of lame to not even have building outlines either. Other mapping services manage to do that without cluttering the map.

    1. Well can’t you reverse that and so other services don’t have “feature parity” with Bing? I think most people use online maps to get directions or find interesting stuff in a certain area. With the new look Bing Maps it’s a lot more readable (IMO) when extra data is layered on top.

  34. You said you can’t see the roads right because they blend in.

    Well you do know that when you use this thing call the internet add to that services such as bing-maps or google-maps you actually TYPE the address in. And(This is by far the most amazing feature by the way)


    Seriously. What the hell. You’re bashing now. If you need directions there is a button on the side that said ‘directions’. Almost sounds like you’re trolling Long…

    1. Have you ever just browsed a map instead of searching for something? Like finding a cool mountain drive for a hot summers day?

      It’s great that overlays stick out, but a map should be comprehensible without me typing a search.

  35. I think (and always have thought) that Bing UK maps looks much better than both this new style and better than Google Maps. Much more colourful and much easier to distinguish different types of road.

    It is also correct that the UK version was always different to all the old style maps from other countries – completely different colour scheme altogether.

    For all those who don’t like the UK style please zoom in on a UK city other than London (London uses its own style of map which are a bit inconsistent with the rest of the UK Bing Maps).

  36. ..let me clarify that some more on second thoughts

    The UK maps look much better on street level and county levels of zoom – the new style here just looks like a mess of purple/blue.

    HOWEVER, at COUNTRY levels of zoom the new style looks much better and easier to read labels.

    Can we have a mix of both MS? :)

  37. I must agree with Long on this one.

    The different types of labels (neighbourhoods, streets, highways) are not easy to distinguish. Overlapping text makes the labels harder to read.

    Many will find the colour scheme dull, but I think this is better than garish colours that Microsoft often uses.

  38. As gis professional I’m more shocked about the label drawing. This is a well known problem when we use tile map technologie. So here the labels are looking cut and incomplete and they also are coming over each others. I’m shocked that such a companie doesn’t care about publishing Nice maps to the milion people they reach.

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