A suggestion in 1933 by a junior draughtsman, Harry Beck, for a different approach to mapping its railways using an easy-to-follow diagrammatic method based on straight lines, was liked by the public, though no-one has ever attempted to measure its commercial value to the Underground. The map's successors are still with Londoners today and its principles have been used in many other cities and countries.
Beautifully done, but rather a chore to read ... many passages are the equivalent of "and then in April he straightened up the line between Arsenal and Holloway Road" or "changed the interchange to a circle with a dot in it rather than a square" and so on and so forth. It's just not a compelling narrative.
There are certainly many maps. But the main drama is the original creation: choosing a stylized schematic approach, which is certainly easier to read, rather than crowding it all onto an actual map with correct proportions. And because of this, it's rather like reading a version of Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth and Darcy marry in the first chapter, and the successive chapters are accounts of what they had to eat, what their bed times were, and lists of servants as the household changed over time (in case it's not clear, I'd vastly prefer the original Pride and Prejudice, where there were characters and suspense and humour and such).
But this is real life, so the author has to deal with what he's been given.
Note: I have written a novel (not yet published), so now I will suffer pangs of guilt every time I offer less than five stars. In my subjective opinion, the stars suggest:
(5* = one of my all-time favourites, 4* = really enjoyed it, 3* = readable but not thrilling, 2* = actually disappointing, and 1* = hated it. As a statistician I know most books are 3s, but I am biased in my selection and end up mostly with 4s, thank goodness.)
Harry Beck was responsible for the best piece of graphic design of the 20th century - the London Underground map. Commissioned as a freelance designer in 1932, he was paid the princely sum of 10 guineas (about £400 in today's values) for his design. The key element of the design was its clear representation of the underground system without reference to geographic reality above ground. It ensured that the information provided made the passenger's journey through the system as easy as possible. Beck subsequently joined London Transport as an employee and updated the map over the following three decades. But, there was always a vagueness about the copyright of the map and this finally came to a head when LT issued an updated version in 1962 credited to Paul Garbutt. Beck was obsessed about his design and sent the rest of his life trying forlornly to become the designer again. A fascinating insight into the origins of the map but ultimately sad.
Brief and insanely detailed story of the development of the famed London Underground "diagram" designed in the early 1930's by Henry Beck.
The book is both a primer on excellent "information design," and a beautiful thin coffee table book with lots of full-color map reproductions. It's surprising to see just how frequently, and with what attention to minute detail, Beck revised his original design.
The book maybe goes a bit far with the minutiae, and those (like me) unfamiliar with Tube stops and London geography may find a few sections impenetrable. But for the most part this is fascinating stuff. Especially towards the end, as the book outlines Beck's desperate, obsessive work on perfecting his diagram, long after the Underground had stopped accepting his input.
Obviously, I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, but: formatted as something like a coffee-table book, yet informative and fun for a transit geek with enough London time under his belt to recognize the meat of the compromises.