Since revolutionising map design in 1933, Henry Beck’s iconic map of the London Underground has set the standard for the mapping of transport networks worldwide but is this template always a success?
Dr. Roberts attempts to feminize the Tube by replacing
Beck's straight lines and angles with soft curves.
That is the subject of an exhibition of map designs, by University of Essex researcher Dr Maxwell Roberts. . . .Underground Maps Unravelled: Explorations in Information Design explores the use of Beck’s basic design rules: replacing chaotic, twisting routes with straight lines, horizontal, vertical or diagonals at 45 degrees only. It also looks at whether today’s complex transport networks require fresh approaches.
You can see many of the works on display here.Dr Roberts, of Essex’s Department of Psychology, presents a collection of his own work: maps that break all the rules, maps that are easier to use, maps that teach us about good design, maps that challenge our preconceptions, and maps that are just intended to be decorative.He explained: ‘With today’s emphasis on using public transport, and the ever-increasing complexity of networks around the world, it is vital that designers create the best possible maps. All too often, the general public are faced with designs that are poor quality, off-putting, and perhaps barely useable. We need to take a good look at whether fresh approaches are required.’
So, who was this Henry Beck fellow, and why was his 1933 map so revolutionary? Well, his work fundamentally changed cartography and how we go about depicting information about the world we live in. His map might not look like much, but if you live in a city with a rail or bus system and use it to get around it is likely that you have Beck to thank for finding your way around so much easier.
|1908 London Tube map|
|1933 Underground brochure with Beck's map|
The Underground was skeptical of the map, but the small brochure they printed with the map in 1933 became immediately popular. He continued to work on improving the map until 1960, when he had a falling out with the company, but his final version of the map still bears a strong resemblance to the map used today. Additionally, his topological tube map also became the standard for the depiction of rail and public transportation systems in other cities around the world.