Design Hero: Harry Beck
The man who designed the London Tube map revolutionized design.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: May 11th, 2012
apmaker is not the sexiest profession. There are no cartographer groupies, their work is not glamorous, and is rarely revolutionary. But one mapmaker, Harry Beck, is being honored in London because the map he designed of the London Underground (or Tube, as it’s referred to) had a profound impact not only on mapmaking, but also on design in general.
Before Harry made his map, the map of the London Underground was just a map of London, with the Tube lines drawn exactly along the routes they travel. The map was accurate, but not very pleasing to the eye, and rather needlessly complicated.
What Beck realized was that there was no need for a map of the Underground to relate perfectly to what was above ground.
“The genius of Beck was that he realized that the exact geographical or topographical course of the line is not necessarily essential to the underground passenger,” said Claire Dobbin, curator of the London Museum of Transport, which is running an exhibit of public transport maps. “What is important is the direction you’re going in, how many stops and where to get off.”
So Beck’s map did away with the aboveground world and straightened out the lines of each route, making the stop names easy to read and the entire map very easy to digest.
This design has now become the standard upon which all subway maps are based.