diamond geezer

 Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Underground Maps Unravelled

It's widely acknowledged that the London Underground tube map is a classic. Maybe not the current version, but the general idea of simplifying a rail diagram to render it more easily understood. For this we must thank draughtsman Harry Beck, whose 1933 redesign brought order and elegance to London's twisted layout. But do his rules work quite so well today with a more complicated network, and are they applicable to other systems in other cities? An academic exhibition, curated by Dr Maxwell Roberts, aims to find out.

Art NouveauTo reach Max's exhibition you'll need to head for a station that appears on Beck's original tube map but isn't on the network any more. That's Southend Central - formerly a seasonal outpost of the District line, and rather further out of town than any exhibition about the tube would normally venture. It's a bit of a trek but, on arrival at Southend station, your destination is only a few metres to the north inside big shiny South Essex College. You'll need to collect a visitor's pass from the front desk (which sort of makes you an honorary student for a brief time) and then it's up to the first floor to have a look at some maps.

There are a lot of maps. Big computer-generated maps, some of them based on real diagrams, others best described as topological flights of fancy. You may need to have the order of display explained to you, because it's not immediately obvious where to start, but the first is a pre-Beck map designed by F H Stingemore. See those cartographically-accurate wobbles? Those are what Harry removed, and his map is positioned alongside for contrast. If you're the sort of person who could spend a minute comparing nuances between the two diagrams, then this exhibition is for you.

Next up along the balcony, an experiment. Max is a psychologist by trade, and reckons that maps are really an intelligence test set by their designers. He experimented by presenting people with three different versions of the London Underground map - the present one, a simplified version and a design nightmare - and invited his subjects to try to plan a series of journeys on each. Unsurprisingly the simplified version - one of Max's own - performed best. And that's before you take into account all the daggers, blobs and additional symbols on TfL's current map - all of it information pollution - which would widen the usability gap even further.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh -style mapNext up, what happens if you change the rules? Beck initially insisted on a 45° angle for all his diagonal lines, but there are examples here of what happens if that angle is changed to 15° (ooh, very wide) or 75° (ugh, that's severe). He also insisted on octolinearity (essentially that's a square grid plus diagonals only), whereas it's perfectly possible to draw maps that are tetralinear, hexalinear or even dodecalinear (no, my spellcheck doesn't recognise those terms either). These make for intriguing alternative tube maps, but none quite so unnerving as the design which rotates London through 90° and sticks Upminster at the top. It'd never be acceptable to the general public, obviously, but I thought that this was the very clearest version of them all.

Off the balcony and through the double doors are some wilder flights of fancy. An Art Nouveau whimsy with curling branches and buds (illustrated above), and a Charles Rennie Mackintosh number that's all elegant and griddy (illustrated above). Max has clearly had a lot of fun knocking up all of these maps, and has been utterly painstaking in their execution. A brief series of foreign metro maps follow, both the official version and a Roberts retweak. In Paris and Madrid, Max argues, carefully sculpted curves could make the network far easier to comprehend. In 1970s Moscow, however, a single circle crossed by intersecting straight lines might have been the most optimal tube map ever.

curvy tube mapAnd finally, of course, Max's legendary curvy tube map. Are its gentle arcs the solution to TfL's 21st century design problems? Or does removing all of the kinks take a familiar map too far? No conclusion is drawn - as with all these maps you're left very much to make up your own mind. But with an extended DLR and Overground about to debut on the official diagram, and later Crossrail to jam forcibly across the centre, maybe the time has come to bend some of Beck's original rules for the greater good.

This isn't the largest exhibition you'll ever see - it's laid out along an architecturally inept balcony and around a couple of ante-rooms. And it's only open for another week, so you'll have to hurry if you want to get there. But if good design, or the psychology behind it, interests you, then a trip to Southend is in order. Go next Saturday and you should meet Max himself, with the added bonus that (unlike last Saturday) there are no rail replacement buses to endure along the way. You might choose to buy a colour copy of some of the maps, four of which are available for you to take home and treasure. Fold and laminate the curvy version and you could even carry it around London in preference to TfL's latest design. Not suggesting, just saying.

Underground Maps Unravelled [flyer]
South Essex College, Southend
Fri 26 Feb - Mon 8 March (9am-5pm)


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Scandinavian Xmas Market
Friday 21 - Sunday 23 Nov
Festive northern wares at the
Norwegian Church, Rotherhithe

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
tired of london
in the aquarium
round the island
christopher fowler
thamesfacingeast
one bus at a time
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
uk general election 2015

read the archive
Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv