In 1932 an
electrical engineering draughtsman named Henry Charles Beck, more commonly
known as Harry Beck, bestowed it upon himself to redesign the London
Underground map and became one of the pioneers that contributed to the success
of The Underground.  This critical paper explores
the success of the London underground, looking specifically at Harry Beck and
his Map design and how it contributed to the legacy of the London Underground.
The paper will look at London transport maps pre-1933 and compare them to maps
we use today. This will highlight the differences and show how they have
changed over time. It will also look at some of the key people involved in the
development of the underground and show how their ideas shaped its future. It
will look closely at Harry Beck’s influential Underground map design (1933) and
show how it changed our view on maps. The brand identity of the London
Underground, it’s maps, branding and signage, will also be explored in attempt
to reveal how it was formed and upheld and at the same time focus on the main
people who contributed to the ‘look’ of the underground. It will investigate
the impact the London underground has had on the rest of the world, not only in
transport but also design. The Legacy of the Underground will also be explored,
by looking at merchandise, branding and other ways it has impacted not only its
future, but the future of design. 

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now


Key terms:
London Underground, Harry Beck, mass transport, infographic, graphic
communication, 1930s designs, legacy, repurposing, London Underground Map,
cartography, Harold Hutchinson, Charles Tyson Yerkes, Frank Pick



Introduction (500U1 )

The London
Underground is famous worldwide, it features the line that originally was the
first ever underground railway.  However,
although being the first is enough to make it world famous, it’s not enough to
make it successful. Firstly, this critical paper aims to unpick the history of
the underground to uncover the key people and their contributions. This will be
done by highlighting the prominent changes and decisions that were made and how
successful they were. The key figures involved in the underground will be
revealed by examining and evaluating their contributions through deconstruction
and research. Frank Pick, Johnston, Harry Beck. The paper will look at the
heritage of the London underground and the first maps it used with the
objective of charting their journey from geographical accuracy, to recognisable
design that is not necessarily geographically accurate. This will again make
clear the changes that happened over time and how they affected the success of
the underground.

Key source

This critical
paper aims to focus on the London Underground Map (1933) and designer Harry
Beck. The objectives are to highlight the London Underground’s image and
identify how it changed map design. Harry Beck’s design will be evaluated
through analytical deconstruction, whilst paying close attention to the context
of the design and audience reception. Which will uncover the harsh criticisms
and coldness that Beck encountered whilst trying to revolutionise map design.  A key source that will be examined is ‘How To
Lie With Maps’ (Monmonier, 1996) which highlights the need for clarity and
simplicity in map design, something that Beck understood.


The critical
paper aims to show how revolutionary Harry Beck’s design was by revealing its
impact worldwide. Objective is to show a history of Beck’s design being used
across the world. Show its influence on transport maps today, highlighting the
importance of design aspects. Whether becks design principles have been
improved upon. 

The critical
paper aims to show how successful the underground is today. The objectives to
show how the underground as a brand, has impacted popular culture. It will look
at inspired artwork, adaptations, merchandise. Highlight how recognisable it is
as a brand.


Before (1000)

Charles Tyson Yerkes was an American Financier, who in 1900, created the Underground Electric Railways Company of
London as a way of becoming involved in the development of the London
underground railway system. He strived to unify the underground but he died in
1905 before any of his works had been completed. However, his ideas lived on
and were carried out by his successors when they were bought together on one
map.  The first combined map for London’s
Underground railways began to be issued for passengers in 1906, before this,
each line was owned by a different company that had its own separate map. The
next year, the UERL, central London, metropolitan, great Northern & City,
and City & South London Railways agreed to create the first all-inclusive
map, which would combine lines from their companies. Some of these companies
were in a poor financial state and so in 1907 they joined together to create a
complete system of underground railways under the name ‘Underground’. As
Jackson & Croome (1964, p. 132 cited in Merrill, 2013, p. 247) outline, a
new map was designed in 1908 to “educate the public of the network’s
growing integration. The map displayed the network almost in its entirety”.
This map clearly laid the foundation for future designs, introducing colour for
the first time, but it also suffered from trying to replicate the route (making
it harder to read than a geometric line) and also distorted the Metropolitan
line to make room for the colour key (Garland, 1994, p. 8). Another company,
the waterloo & City, decided not to join the underground, though it’s line
featured on several maps between 1908 and 1913. All-inclusive maps made it
easier for travellers to navigate the rail routes. However, these first maps
were designed to be geographically accurate and although it was easier having
multiple routes on one map, there were issues with the clarity, which would
become increasingly worse as new lines were added.  

Frank Pick was a transport administrator who spent years working
with trains. In 1912, he became the Commercial Manager of the Underground
Electric railways company of London (UERL) and is celebrated as the main
figure, responsible for its strong corporate identity. Pick was very interested
in design and aimed to introduce a consistent look to advertising and lettering
as he was unhappy with the diverse and endless variety of typefaces used across
the system. In 1915, Pick employed Edward Johnston, a craftsman, to design a
new simplified typeface to apply to all Underground Group buildings, rolling
stock and publications. Johnston’s typeface, (known as Johnston sans) was first
used in 1916 and was so successful that it was used up until 1979 when it was
slightly reworked and renamed to ‘New Johnston’ to keep it up to date and
relevant for the modern age. The Johnston typeface, designed exclusively for
the Underground, was a revolution in communication. Johnston ignored the fancy
calligraphic handwriting that was popular at the time and instead created a san-serif
font that was clear to read. Although Johnston avoided using decorative
flourishes and curls he included elements of calligraphy shown in the square
dots above the I and j, and the extended Q.

The typefaces success was down to its clarity and adaptability
(Sinclair 2016). The Sans Serif exemplified the virtues of modern design. It was
clean-lined and efficient-qualities Pick wanted to see imposed on the system as
a whole. (Green (2013) In the same year, Pick had the logo redesigned as the
heart of a successful corporate identity. Again, he employed Johnston for this
task. Johnston created a logo that consisted of a red ring with a blue bar
through the middle, with the word ‘Underground’ printed on the bar in Johnston
sans. The red ring aimed to draw attention to wording in the middle, especially
station names that would need to stand out from other signs and advertisements.
The Logo was referred to as the bull’s-eye, until 1972 when it became known as the
roundel, which is still used today. There is very little record of what
Londoners thought of the symbol at first. Journalists did observe that the new
signs were part of a massive modernization program on the Underground, and
appreciated the consistency and coherence that the roundel provided in its role
as station sign (Byrnes). Picks need for consistency was further shown in the architecture
of the Underground stations, when he chose architect, Charles Holden to design
the new extension stations. Holden was instructed, that the stations should be
recognisable as part of the Underground system, belonging to the same brand. Holden’s
approach was to create a simple, straightforward, uncluttered design, containing
subtle art-deco elements that emulated the modernization of the underground. Holden’s
stations are characterised by strong but simple shapes, free from fussy
decoration and the use of warm red or brown brick between exposed concrete and
natural-looking quarry tiles. Pick’s aim to present the Underground system as a
consistent and modern brand resulted in further redesigns. In 1925 Stingemore designed
a map which removed all surface detail in hopes of improving the clarity. However,
this proved to be confusing for commuters and in 1932 the Thames was added back
into the design as it created a landmark that help people visualise where they
were a bit easier. This is the
design that Beck went on to develop into a diagrammatic map, much the same as
we use today.


Change (1000)

For more than 50 years the London Underground map was geographic,
which led to passengers finding it difficult to navigate. This led to the
underground losing Money as the underground system was too complicated to
follow. In 1933 Harry Beck created the first abstract underground map for five guineas.
Harry Beck
was an engineering draughtsman and Underground employee, who took it upon
himself to redesign the underground map. In 1933 he created a diagrammatic map
of the London underground system that ignored geographical distances. Beck
aimed to show lines and points of connection in a clear and simple way.
However, he had no graphic design experience and so utilised his skills as a draughtsman to create sketches based on electrical
circuitry. The design Beck submitted presented an elegant, geometrical
structure, which consisted of intertwined straight lines and diamonds that
represent interchanges (. Beck (cited in Garland, 1994, p.17) comments on how
he wanted to simplify the map by using straight lines (including diagonals) and
evenly spacing the stops. This was a deliberate design choice for clarity of
vision and presentation of information. According to Hadlaw (2003) Beck set
aside geographic space in favour of graphic space. This was a real breakthrough and abstract maps have since become
well recognised for their ability to highlight what’s important whilst removing
confusing or irrelevant information. In an interview with Ken Garland (BBC
Design Classics) he comments on Beck’s design and says: What were critical to
Beck’s design were connections: the interchanges between the various lines. His
concept was to ignore what was above ground as it didn’t matter when you were
in the tube’. Beck’s original sketch of the Underground effectively eliminated
all surface detail, leaving only the Thames recognisable geographical feature
(Garland, 1994, p. 16). Beck’s
map was colour coded, each line had its own bold colour as a speedy form of
communication. Beck made a number of important changes to the colours of the
lines. One of the earliest was to switch the orange Central line into red. Red
is the colour that grabs the attention first and has a way of appearing closer
than it is. We see it first, and since the Central line runs right through the centre of
the map, it defines and orients the viewer. The problem with Beck’s map was
that it had no scale or measurements which meant that once underground you have
no idea how long your journey is going to take. It is deceptive, the stations
are evenly spaced throughout the map when in reality, some of the stations are
quite a long way apart. Beck had to compress his distances in order to fit the
stations onto the map, but there was another reason. In the 1920s and ’30s there
was an advertising campaign with posters to entice people away from the cramped
confines of inner London to the tree-lined suburbs, encouraging
people to go to the countryside, or go for a weekend, or visit historic sites.
The problem was to get traffic on the outer lines outside the peak hours. The Map
made those outlying stations at the ends of the line seem close to the centre
of London. This meant that in reality a long and daunting journey would seem on
the underground map, to be reasonably simple. By making people think they were
closer to Central London than they were, Beck’s map successfully helped in the
propaganda. Half a million-people moved in those two decades, and new
communities grew up around the new stations. It could be said that Harry Beck changed the way we see the world
with his revolutionary design. Dennis (2008, p.337
cited in Merrill, 2013, p. 248) suggests that Beck’s design was influenced by
the modernist art movement, and helped to create an “urban, modernist space”.
Beck (cited in Garland, 1994, p.17) explains how his
design was initially rejected in 1931, because it was deemed “too
revolutionary”. Another design was therefore required. Garland (1994, pp.
18-19) describes how the second design (in 1932) was this time opened up to
public scrutiny and their reaction to the map was positive, noting that Beck
was a commuter like them, looking to make their lives easier, without
commission. He saw that there was a need for change and decided to take the
initiative.  In
July 1933, soon after the launch of Beck’s underground map, the government decided
to change the UERL into London Transport. This was to be a public corporation
that had complete control over public transport in London.  (Hornsey, 2012).

(1994, p. 22) notes “that the diagram had to grapple almost continuously with
the growth and development of the system itself”. Harry Beck’s versions of the map were in use until 1960, when Harold
Hutchison (Head of Publicity at LT) thought he would design a new map. It was
not popular as clarity was sacrificed making it look ugly with sharp angles that
only confused passengers further. London Transport’s Assistant Secretary and
Works Officer. Paul. E. Garbutt realised there was
a problem with the map and so in 1963 the map was redesigned once more. In an
interview, Garbutt talks about his design process ‘The problems were largely
geometrical ones. You find that you get one corner of the thing right, but you
cannot get the next corner right. And you have to make some sort of compromise
between the sides of the map. And even a thing like bringing in the jubilee
Line, means a considerable recast of the whole map I tried to get in as many
straight lines as I could. For example, the Northern Line and the Central Line,
through the central area, are straight. I tried in every way to make it easily
comprehensible to the passenger.’

He aimed to fix the design and incorporate the positive elements
of both Beck and Hutchinson’s maps. His design included black rings for
interchanges and lower-case text for non-interchange stations whilst reverting
back to the original style of Beck. Garbutt is also responsible for the
familiar ‘bottle’ shape of the Circle line. Soon after, Beck worked on a new map design based on that of Garbutt, he
wanted to improve the design to incorporate and further promote the Victoria
line. However, Degani (2013) explains in his article
that ‘London Transport managers were not prepared to receive any contribution
from Beck, as there was too much corporate pride resting on the diagram’.
This seemed ludicrous as beck had bought so much success to the underground and
his designs were still the basis of their maps. In 1964, Beck made another
attempt to work on his previous design, but instead based it on a newer version
London Transport has developed. This is considered his best and most
sophisticated design ever but once again it was rejected and never revealed
publicly. (Garland, 1994, p60). In 1965, with limited finances, and a wife suffering
from depression due to the prolonged legal disputes with London Transport, Beck
gave up the fight. Ironically,
more than any of the improvements undertaken by Pick and his successors, Beck’s
diagram became the most sustaining image not only of the London Underground,
but of London itself (Hadlaw, 2003, p31).

Alan Foale is the current designer of the map that is based on
Beck’s design. In an interview he says that Beck’s map is not about geography,
but geometry. It seems to be infinitely flexible. New lines appear, stations
come and go, but the map remains the same. Beck knew that Tube travellers
didn’t need geography, but clarity – what he called “heightened common
sense”. He understood that passengers would need to be able to check
interchanges quickly, often in dim light and make instant decisions. (map men).
The current designers of the Underground receive no public recognition, with
the map bearing just “Mayor of London” rather than the designer. In
1997, Beck’s importance was finally recognised, and as of 2013 the statement is
printed on every Tube map: “This diagram is an evolution of the original
design conceived in 1931 by Harry Beck”. For all his disappointment,
though, the current map is clearly a continuation of Beck’s work, and his
design principles have had an international impact.


Impact (1000)U2 

Harry Beck’s
map designing wasn’t limited to London, in 1951 he proposed a design for the
Paris metro, similar to that of the London underground. The original Paris
Metro map was quite messy, with the names printed over the lines, making it
difficult to read. Beck saw that there was a need for clarity but Paris did not
accept the simplified design and kept to their own. (Ovenden, 2009).  However, other countries were more open to
Beck’s map and many rail services across the world have used his design rules as
a basis for their own maps. The First example of this was in 1939 when Sydney’s
rail network was depicted in Beck’s style on an identical sized pocket map that
even used the roundel design on the cover. (Aitkin)





New York attempted to create their own Beck style map when in
1972, designer Massimo Vignelli created a map that used all of Beck’s
principles. It included 45-degree angles, horizontal and vertical lines for
every line, but, strangely, after a few years, the New Yorkers rejected it.
Another example of its influence across the world is St Petersburg’s metro map
designed in 1994. Although they had used Beck’s principle in their maps before
it was only at this time that they chose to incorporate the river in the map
just as beck did. Before this, commuters didn’t have any reference to the real
world and clearly benefited from the change as it is the basis of their maps
today.  In the last few years, even Paris
have come around to the idea of beck’s design and their map today incorporates
many Beck principles. It uses the 45-degree angles, clear markers all the way
through, all the lines are horizontal or vertical and none of the station names
clash over the top of the lines making it a much easier map to use. The most
interesting example is of Beck’s influence is in Moscow, where they tried to
emphasise the central area. On the edges of town, they’ve replaced the lines
between the stations with dots as people presumably know where they are if they
live in the suburbs. For tourists, the central area has been blown up making it
clearer and perfectly balanced. (Ovenden)

Tokyo, Copenhagen Delhi, Madrid, Montreal

It is clear to see that his influence has gone around the world as
there are now about 160 underground systems worldwide, almost all of them using
a diagrammatic map, copied or adapted from the London system. The uses of
colour coding, clear interchanges and lettering are all now standard practice.
It’s used by road, rail and air networks, too. (design classics) The enduring
appeal of the design also allowed it to be applied to other, non-transport


LegacyU3  (1000)

Walking through London it is clear to see Beck’s map is a big
success, especially in souvenir shops. Becks design can be found on absolutely
everything from homeware to clothing, proving this design has transcended its
original purpose. Beck’s map and its successors have inspired artists, too.
David Booth’s the Tate Gallery by Tube (1986), a poster for London Underground
stations, showed Tube lines squeezed from tubes of paint.

In 1992, designer Simon Patterson created ‘the great bear’, a Tube
map with every station name changed to a famous name. The work is now displayed
in the Tate Modern. In an interview, Patterson talks about how he recognised
that Beck’s design had become the image of the
underground and wanted people to double-take on something familiar. He then
talks about how when he started making his own version, he unpicked the work
and saw how beautifully it had been constructed and the way that it is
infinitely flexible. He says ‘It’s something that you can remove lines or add
lines, it can be extended, but it isn’t a true representation of place – it’s a
complete design solution for how to get to A to B, and also in the clearest
possible way’. There is still debate on whether Beck’s design can be improved
on and many people have made their own attempt at redesigning it. An example is
‘London Tube Map’ by Mark Noad which aims to be more navigationally accurate.
The diagram uses lines set at 30 and 60-degree angles, unlike the original map
by Harry Beck that uses 45 degrees angles only. Station names are typed in a
more space-efficient font that can be easily read on mobile devices as well as
in print. (Frearson) It’s clear that people are still unsure whether or not they
want the map to be more geographically accurate but beck got one thing right
for sure – simplification and the need for clarity. There are many people who
appreciate Beck’s design and recognise its brilliance. This becomes clear when
looking at the impact the underground has and continues to have on popular


Books and films


Novelties/ephemera (lego, Cardiff underground,

150th anniversary

Conclusion (500)

London is a sprawling mass of streets and buildings but Beck’s Underground map
has made London look streamlined and elegant. It’s one of the capital’s great
images, alongside Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the London Eye, but more than
that, it’s made travelling in London easy, and in 70 years, no-one has made any
serious attempt to replace it. For all the worry about distorted geography, no
timings or distances, everybody seems to want Beck’s map to stay. Travellers
regard the simplicity of the map to be a relief from the city’s complicated
surface geography. The Underground is a sanctuary, and Mr Beck’s incredible map
brings order from chaos.

rewriting some parts, restructure

in progress, more in depth analysis of maps

in progress ( more in depth on artwork)
Stamps, 150th anniversary 

Post Author: admin


I'm Irvin!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out