2 The London Underground map
The famous London Underground map shows the Thames and named metro stations with railway tracks as straight line segments. Strictly speaking, it is not a map that aims at a metrically accurate depiction of the network, but it is rather a diagram that accentuates the topological relations of Underground stations. Henry “Harry” C. Beck produced the first sketch for the famous diagram in 1931. His first submission was rejected, probably because the schematic 45- and 90-degree design was considered as being too revolutionary. His second submission, however, was published in January 1933 after a few graphical improvements (Garland, 1998). The public quickly adopted Beck’s innovative diagram and appreciated its effective information design. Indeed, very soon additional printings had to follow the initial 750,000 copies. Probably one of the main reasons why the public so openly embraced Beck’s diagram, was that it brought order into London’s intricate geography. Garland 1998:7-8 writes: “Above any consideration of the Diagram as a navigation aid was the optimistic vision it offered of a city that was not chaotic, in spite of appearances to the contrary, that knew what it was about and wanted its visitors to know it, too. Its bright, clean and colourful design exuded confidence in every line.”
Beck had been contracted previously as a temporary employee at the Underground Group but designed the diagram in his own spare time on his own initiative, after he had been laid-off. He continued adapting the diagram to the growing railway system and refining the design until 1959, when his last diagram was printed. He even continued his eager work after a redesigned, but rather unaesthetic and unsuccessful diagram was published in 1962, and a much-improved version by Paul E. Garbutt of 1964 demonstrated its effectiveness (Garland, 1998).
The London Underground diagram certainly belongs to the design classics of the twentieth century. It not only affected the design of similar public transport maps around the globe, but also had an enduring influence on other areas of graphic information design. London Transport, of course, continues improving and extending the diagram map, while still following Harry Beck’s initial design.
- The London Underground Map
- Distortions of the Underground Map
- Computer-aided Design of Schematic Maps
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