London’s iconic Tube map turns 80

First distributed for free on a trial basis in 1933 because officials didn’t think it would be successful, London’s Tube map turns 80 this year:

Instantly recognizable the world over, the simple yet elegant diagram of the 249-mile subway network is hailed as one of the great images of the 20th century, a marvel of graphic design. Its rainbow palette, clean angles and pleasing if slightly old-fashioned font (Johnston, for typography buffs) have endured since hurried passengers first stuffed pocket versions of the map into their raincoats in 1933.

“It’s a design icon,” said Anna Renton, senior curator at the London Transport Museum. “You shouldn’t use that word too often, but it really is.”…

Inspired, some say, by electric-circuit diagrams, Beck straightened out the lines, drew only 45- and 90-degree angles, and truncated distances between outlying stations. Then he submitted his unusual schematic rendering to the London Underground’s publicity department…

The design led to imitations around the world. Within a few years, it was copied by the transit system in Sydney, Australia. The New York subway map of the 1970s also paid homage to Beck’s brainchild.

And it still inspires design efforts today.

It is interesting to read how this map became so successful even as it skewed the actual spatial relationships between lines, stations, and London itself. The map may make more conceptual and aesthetic sense but it doesn’t fit aboveground London. I don’t know if anyone has ever tried to test the mental work London residents have to do to match the map to the city.

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