London Underground, the link collection
I’ve spent a good chunk of the last 11 years living under an unhealthy obsession with Harry Beck’s London Underground map, which I feel is not only one of the greatest works in cartographic history, but a fantastic work of art.
It’s been a subject on this site several times – from a short story about my time on the Underground to my constant pining for this Underground poster. Something about the mix of maps and public transport and England and colored lines really strikes me as the perfect intersection of everything that’s great about the world. And, I think cartography is pretty sweet. It’s the Buster Bluth in me, I suppose.
What’s REALLY great about the map, though, is its dedication to usability. It’s not a perfect rendering of the Underground lines (here’s what it would look like); instead, it offers relative – and parallel – tracks in an effort to both rein in the system’s wandering tunnels and improve readability. From a recent post by Theo Inglis:
The problem was that the train lines were getting longer and this made it impossible to fit everything into one map. Keeping it geographically accurate would have meant that the centre became smaller and harder to read, and the centre is the most densely packed and most important part. In comes Harry Beck in 1931, inspired by electronic circuit diagrams he had the idea of scrapping geographical accuracy and making all lines straight with only 45 and 90 degree angles. Design history was made and the map has barely changed since, becoming an icon and one of the easiest to use maps in the world!
The evolution of the map shows a reliance on traditional cartography giving way to a surprisingly forward-looking design that still holds up today.
Kottke.org has a fantastic run down of this post and a whole bunch more on the greatest map ever created.