I’ve always admired the London transport system, it’s easy to navigate, reliable and quick.  From someone who’s lived in the South East of England, going into London was maybe a once or twice a year event; you live around London, but don’t go there until someone visits.

More recently however, I’ve been travelling into London at least once a week and have been experimenting with different ways of getting from London Bridge.  Admittedly going by rail would be cheaper and quicker, however using tube/DLR/bus certainly has its charms, if anything, it’s better than waiting at London Bridge for a rail connection; when you can almost certainly guarantee you get on the tube within a minute or two of arriving on the platform.

But have you ever thought about the success of the underground, would it be so easy and convenient without the famous London Underground map?  Perhaps its most iconic trait is that it uses a topological form, lacking scale, geographical reference and detail.  Not a good map in a traditional sense, but the tube owes its success to that and of the designer Harry Beck.

This map has inspired many designers to create their own interpretation of the Underground map, to either as a parody or to make a statement. Such as a designer by the pseudonym of Barry Heck, who used anagrams of station names.  This was circulated on the internet in February 2006, but consequently  being requested to be removed by TFL.

The original parody of the Underground, entitled ‘The Great Bear‘ by Simon Patterson (maybenow.com April 2009)

The Great Bear

The Great Bear

Transit Maps of the World

Transit Maps of the World

The design of the original map by Beck was first developed in 1931 based upon electrical circuit diagrams.  The design has continued to either be ‘perfected’ or tampered with by people such as; The Underground’s publicity officer, Harold Hutchinson or Paul Garbutt before the map developed into the form we see it today.  The map is so renowned that it was voted as one of Britain’s top 3 designs of the last century, in 2006 alongside Concorde and the Spitfire (The Culture Show BBC2 3rd March 2006).  Similar formats have also been applied to a partial network of London busses, Thames waterways nd other Subway/Metro systems around the world often copying the 45 degree angles and circular stops of the original.   (see Spin-offs and imitations)

However due to the Oyster card system being extended to now include Tube, Busses, DLR and portions of the National Rail, the map as we know it may become redundant as an underground only form, as travellers will also need to see the entire Oyster network.  As it stands the topological format cannot support an overground network, and the system would be far too complicated and cramped with the amount of networks combined.

What would Beck himself have done? A man of vision as well as courage – and a pragmatist if ever there were one – he might well have recommended something drastic, even iconoclastic: tearing up his own Underground map, and suggesting that we begin again from first principles.” (Guardian, culture November 26th 2009)