Cartography, at its finest, often leans toward great design. Depending on the goal of a particular map or chart, information must be gathered and presented in both a logical and visual way for the end-user to easily digest. The resulting symbiosis between information design and user experience dictates success or failure – or iconic victory.
The London Underground map: on the face of it, it’s just a map: a colourful one, sure, and one that does the job of communicating a lot of information in a relatively tight space, but that’s what maps are created for, after all. It looks different from a ‘proper’ map – it doesn’t show any physical features or have contour lines, or for that matter display locations in true relative distance from one another. That’s not the object – after all, this is a map of the London Underground, not the surface of the city – but in terms of a design breakthrough which has gone on to become the reference point on which most other city transport maps have become based, Harry Beck’s map is the gold standard.
The funny thing about Beck’s map? It wasn’t commissioned – he started sketching it up in 1931 on his own, in his spare time. Once the map was introduced in 1933, it went on to become a big hit – and has become the template on which subway maps the world over have taken their cue. Most cities around the world which feature an underground rail system now have maps based on Beck’s design – including New York, Tokyo and Paris.
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Written by Travis Lyle