Passenger navigation is essential in any efficient transport system. This means all forms of visual communication must be considered. Clear and easy-to-read signage, maps, and literature all play an essential part.
The Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways produced the first public transport maps of London in the 1880s. They showed routes and interchange stations and advised passengers on where they could make connections with mainline train and horse-bus services. These early maps were geographic, showing Underground lines and stations in relation to the street plan above.
The Underground network expanded considerably during the 1890s and 1900s when the deep Tube railways were built. Many of the lines were operated by different railway companies, who each produced their own maps. This became increasingly confusing for the public as the system grew. In 1908, the Underground Group produced a single standard map that included all lines. This was part of promoting the Underground Group as a 'system', and of cooperation between private companies that were still independent operations.
By the early 1930s, the London Underground network had expanded considerably. Draughtsman Fred Stingemore was finding it increasingly difficult to squeeze all the new lines and stations into a geographical map. Passengers complained that the result was confusing and hard to read, especially in the centre where stations were concentrated.
The network had become too big to be coherently represented geographically. In 1931 Harry Beck, who worked for the Underground as an engineering draughtsman, proposed a radical solution. Taking his inspiration from electrical circuit diagrams, he designed a schematic map that did not rely on the street plan. This meant that the central area of London with the most stations could be enlarged, and the outlying areas with fewer stations could be compressed. Each line had a different colour and routes were drawn only horizontally, vertically, or at 45. Stations were represented as dots, and interchanges as circles and diamonds. The Underground's publicity department initially rejected Beck's idea, thinking it too radical. However, he resubmitted his designs after making a series of modifications, and a trial pocket map was published in 1933. It was an instant success with the travelling public.
Beck continued to refine and update his map until 1960. His revolutionary diagram remains the basis of London's Underground map and has become internationally recognised as a design classic. Urban transport systems all over the world, including New York, St Petersburg, and Sydney, have applied Beck's theory to maps of their own systems, and similar diagrammatic maps are now used for overground railway networks and airline systems.
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