Beck's London Underground Map

Designing something that adds a little more clarity or a few more features to a design that has gone before - incremental design, is one way of approaching a design task.  This approach is often more readily accepted and is generally much 'safer' in that less risk of failure is involved.  Producing a design that involves a totally different and fresh approach clearly has the likelihood of much greater opposition ~ this certainly proved the case when Harry Beck chose to submit a new idea for a 'simpler' map of the London Underground system in 1931.  In projects of your own you quite deliberately research some of the designs that have gone before and by doing that it is often easier to judge what has been successful and what clearly needs changing. 

The 'Need'

The London Underground Map is exactly what you would most want it to be.  It is a map simply showing how the different Underground rail-lines link up with other underground-lines.  If you have ever been to London you will appreciate how comforting it can be to be to plan a journey using a simple map and then to actually find the map helps you to achieve that.  Providing you are on the right 'coloured' line and are heading in the right (there are after all only two) direction on any given line, seeing the expected names of the stations appear as the train enters the station calms you into feeling a part of the city - without needing to know of the complexities of the street and buildings above.  The use we have for the map now is much the same as when it was created except that Beck's design included only 8 lines whereas now there are 14 ~ clearly we have a more complicated network to navigate than in the 1930's.  It is of course much the same in many other large and sprawling cities with their own 'underground systems' but this map was the first to take a sideways step at the task of laying out a simple map  unrelated to the topography that lay above it - a step that has been copied by rail-lines, airlines  and shipping lines across the world.  A visit to any of the websites belonging to the major airlines may reveal maps with a very similar structure to that of the underground network.  ( BAA and KLM   )

As the tube system grew during the early  1900's maps showed the layout as it related to communities and streets that lay above it.  This would be a perfectly predictable and acceptable 'design answer' in the early days of the system since the early users would need to relate the comparatively new system to the streets and areas they already knew.  These early maps were not Beck's  and as the tube layout became more complex he realised that a major simplification was necessary. The use of lines drawn only in multiples of 45 degree angles allowed him to begin his simplification.

His task covered more than 30 years of development and in a time when cartographic changes were not achieved by 'dragging and dropping' or simply 'clicking a button' on

the computer, this represented an astonishing degree of dedication. His early maps and lettering were all drawn by