Tube trials

We Londoners are pretty territorial over our Tube map. Designed by Harry Beck in 1933, the map has not changed dramatically since that date and when the zones and river were removed from the map last September, there was public outcry that has only just died down.

But despite this, University of Essex researcher Dr Maxwell Roberts will explore whether Beck’s design classic can be bettered at an exhibition held at architect Scott Brownrigg’s Covent Garden office next month.

A tube map with curved lines by Dr Roberts
A tube map with curved lines by Dr Roberts

With the Olympics approaching and Crossrail threatening to confuse an already busy map, Roberts began experimenting with alternative ways of representing the warren of underground tunnels.

Starting with Beck’s basic design rules – replacing chaotic routes with strait horizontal, vertical or 45 degrees diagonal lines – Roberts began to explore whether these rules are helpful and whether they are adequate for today’s network.

A tube map drawn to better resemble the geographical locations of Tube stops
A tube map drawn to better resemble the geographical locations of Tube stops

He says, ‘With today’s emphasis on using public transport and the ever-increasing complexity of networks around the world, it is vital that designers create the best possible maps.  All too often, the general public is faced with designs that are poor quality, off-putting, and perhaps barely useable.’

A hexalinear diagrammatic map of the London Underground using only horizontal lines and 60 degree diagonals
A hexalinear diagrammatic map of the London Underground using only horizontal lines and 60 degree diagonals

The exhibition will display a number of Roberts’ maps, some that aim to show examples of good design and some, such as a map inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, which show that aesthetically-pleasing diagrams aren’t always the easiest to follow. It should be an interesting take on a well-loved design classic, even if there’s little chance we’ll adopt one of Roberts’ alternative maps.

Roberts' map inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Roberts’ map inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Underground Maps Unravelled: Explorations in Information Designruns from 7-22 October at Scott Brownrigg, 77 Endell Street, London, WC2H.

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Comments
  • Ashley Filer November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    maybe instead of changing the aesthetics of the diagram, they should look at what really confuses commuters, communicating how it relates to the city and what goes on above ground (landmarks, bus routes and alternatives) its the other side of the map that needs re designing.

  • dave pescod November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Interesting article, but I think you’ll find it’s Harry not Henry and as an unemployed at the time he got a measly five guineas for his masterpiece. So that sets Dr Roberts quite a challenge. The design don’t seem radical enough for new digital interfaces, more a pastiche.

  • Laura Tait November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s HARRY Beck. Even a simple Wikipedia search could have told you that.

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