The Subway Roadmap Project

Subway Maps

Modern subway maps are a topological, rather than geographical, representation of information. They demonstrate relative positions and connectivitiy rather than actual positions in space. However this was not always the case. Before Harry Beck redesigned the London Underground map, subway maps were included accurate representations of distance. Prior to Beck the subway maps were much more confusing. In some cases, the maps were based on the road maps with the stations placed on them. The literal representations of distance portrayed the information in a way that was too cluttered towards the center of the city and too spread out at the outskirts of the city.

According to Design Classics, Harry Beck designed a new subway map for the London Underground. Beck realized that the important thing about the map for people taking the Tube was not the geographical information, but the information about connections. He had experience with electrical diagrams, as he was a engineering draftsman, which influcenced the design of the subway map. He used only horizontal, vertical, and 45 degree angle lines.

The map evolved slowly and went through many changes over the years. Beck was forever trying to improve the map. The only constant was that the stylized River Themes provided grounding. Some experts claim that Londoners know their city's layout purely based on the Underground map instead of geographical information. Beck's map has been adapted to most of the 80 subway systems around the world.

This is the map of the London Underground in 1932, the year before Harry Beck's design was used. The original published version of Beck's map in 1933. The London Underground map used today. Map of the T in Boston emulating Beck's design.

Created by Phil J Kowalski | Psychology Major | Class of 2009 | BC: Visual Perception in Art and Science | December 11, 2008 | References