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London Tube Map Essay

Essay by   •  March 11, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  1,284 Words (6 Pages)  •  2,078 Views

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Essay - H. Beck's London Tube map

Harry Beck's tube map is one of the most prestigious samples of graphic design, a lot of people have thought of it as a graphic masterpiece of modern history. Beck, who was then unemployed engineering draftsman, took an old version of the tube map (see fig 1) and redesigned it to something magnificent - instead of a geographically accurate map, he made it more readable by straightening the lines between stations, the exact distances between stations became irrelevant (see fig 2). This map made the system seem modern, quick, efficient - and, above all, easier to navigate, which had been a problem for many passengers. He went against the popular belief that all the maps should be geographical. Harry laid out London's Underground routes as he would a circuit board. It made it possible to experiment with diagonals and like that even out the distances between stations. Most important thing was that the traveler could get from one station to another with less time spent on wondering how to get there. It straightaway became extremely popular and the London Underground has used topological maps since then.

Fig1.Old Underground map, before Beck, 1926 Fig2.Redesigned Underground map, 1933

To begin with, when Harry Beck redesigned the old tube map, he did not only changed the map, but also superseded the insurmountable difficulties that customers had with getting a grip of how the trains on the Underground run. Harry Beck's redesigned London Tube map was submitted in 1931 and its first publication was given out in 1933. Straightaway, new version increased the number of the customers of the tube and steered much-needed new passengers to the underground. Beck achieved the clarity and simplicity of the map by straightening the lines, using the basic colors and the lines ran

only vertically, horizontally or on 45 degree diagonals. Physical locations were trivial and this kind of approach made reading the map manageable for everyone. Geographically accurate maps had become too confusing and were too complex to a lot of passengers who then just gave up using the Underground. That might be the main reason why it immediately became a success. About its efficiency because of its special design, it is said in Ken Garlands's book that - 'for a product to be effective: information design must start, not merely end, with its users, their needs, their perceptions.' The thing that was most important to Beck was that its users could understand and use transport easily, with no difficulties with reading the map. What mattered was to get from one station to another, to go to where you need to go and not be bothered about the distances, but just getting there. Oven Massey once said "If you're going underground, why bother about geography? It's not so important. Connections are the thing." This kind of argument is something that can be completely agreed with, the proof is that his map immediately became extremely popular among people using London Underground. The people working in London Underground were hesitant at first but eventually agreed to produce 500 trial copies in 1932. As it was successful, another 700,000 copies were given out. The reaction of the customers was magnificent and the new map was embraced quickly. After only one month, it was in need of a large reprint. This design was pure modernism which has lasted in different incarnations ever since, and is in use till nowadays (see fig 3).

Fig3. London Underground map, April 2011

To go on, it can be said without a doubt that Harry Beck's Underground map was revolutionary and brought significant changes to London transport. This map made an important contribution to the graphic design and cartography, which developed rapidly in the 20th century. There are not many designs as impressive and weighty as the work produced for the London underground. It affected many other designers and also contributed to the whole graphic community. Beck's designs influence can be seen in transport systems across the globe. It gave a substantial boost to the change of many tube maps across the globe. It has been summed up well in the book "The London Underground Map", that "All subway maps since, from Cologne to Tokyo to Washington, D.C., have owed a debt to Beck's design". The simple design

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