Underground Map, 1931

London's Underground Map is an iconic design which is easily recognizable across the world with just a quick glance. The design was created by Harry. C Beck, a technical draftsman from London. The design was seen to be revolutionary as prior to Becks design, the available maps were chaotic and difficult to understand. The old map was created geographically and showed distance and proportion. This caused the area around central London to become a cluster of lines, leaving the public confused with the tangled mess of the lines. This chaotic map was produced in 1908 and was the first to display all lines on the same page. It was in 1931 when the underground map had a drastic change.

Map prior to Becks’ design

Becks concept was based around circuit diagrams much like ones he used in his day job as a draftsman. He discovered that the public were less concerned about the geographical feature of the map and were more interested on finding out how to get from A to B. The project was conducted in his own time and was not commissioned. The cluster of the lines that were once there became linear and each line was positioned at perfect horizontal, vertical and 45 degree angles. The map ignored scale and Beck places the stations at an equal distance away from each other.

However at the beginning Becks Ideas were rejected and dismissed thinking that the change would be way too radical. He was considered ridiculous as no one could understand why the map would not be geographically accurate. However beck decided not to take no for an answer and re pitched his idea tot he board of the London Underground for the second time round. The board eventually agreed to release 1,000 fold out pocket versions of Becks map and scatter them around stations in London. To receive a better understanding London underground asked Passengers would then be asked what they thought of the new design. One team asked around Piccadilly Circus and the reaction was overwhelming. All maps had been taken within the first hour. H.C Beck was later commissioned and the board prepared to produce a further 750,000. Within a month of being commissioned over a million maps were in circulation. They then worked to produce wall maps.

Beck continued to improve and clarify his diagram over the years as new lines were built and added. This diagram lead to the the creation of the current maps of the underground we see today. The minimal design added clarity and organisation to the cluttered map that was in place before. The use of colour is also very effective in Becks design adding a further element or organisation. Overall this design is very effective and has been very influential to other cities who use metro systems such as pairs and New York, therefore being very important to the history of design.