Saturday, 8 January 2011

Going underground

The iconic map of the London Underground, still based on the original layout idea of Harry Beck has long fascinated me.  His design has influenced map makers for decades.

I am a little bit of a geek (but not too much), but I am not sure that side of me influences my interest in maps and this map in particular.  There is something amazing about the design, especially if you ignore the fact that real distances are not shown - it is deceptively simple, but so effective.  The colours, the names, the interchanges - they all interest me.

The 'proper' map is constantly being altered and updated, but there are many many alternatives.  Some change the design, some change the names, some use the map as a basis for other objectives (such as the best place to stand on a train to get out of the station quickly), I have even produced my own art using the Underground map.

Here are four examples of the map - you will need to click on the image to view larger.

The first map is a bit of fun, changing all of the London names in German ones.  The second one is very useful, especially for tourists - it shows when walking between stations is quicker than making a tube journey.  The third is the map as it should be based on actual distances and routes of the lines - it proves that you should never use the 'stylised' map to find your way around London.  The final one is silly but fun - all of the place names as anagrams! Yesterday I went to Pistoleer Revolt (Liverpool Street).


  1. Yes, the Beck map is a magnificent creation, but I do remember my confusion and disappointment in discovering that the distances/directions depicted were only a very crude representation of reality and could hardly be used for street-level navigation, particularly on foot. Once one accepts that, it's still a fascinating, almost hypnotic, hybrid of practical guide and work of art.

  2. And it was in the Baker Street Station.....on the most low, deepest, of lines (I think it was the Jubilee or Bakerloo lines) that I suffered my very first horrible bout of claustrophobia. I went crazy for the first time in my life. It wasn't pretty. It was on the lowest line, the one with no air flow and way too warm.

  3. Sorry to hear that. I know how the tube can be uncomfortable, especially during peak hours travel.

  4. I never thought about underground maps in terms of "design", but you are absolutely right. When I read the post, the pictograms / icons of graphic designer Otl Aicher for the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 came to my mind. Equally easy to understand and timlessly beautiful.