Harry Beck’s Diagrammatic Map

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About this sample


Words: 817 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2018

Words: 817|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2018

Harry Beck’s diagrammatic map was an engineer and Underground employee, who charted the way we commute. Under the appointment, Frank Pick, Beck in 1933, devised a diagrammatic map of the London underground system that ignored geographical distances and instead presented an elegant, geometrical structure, which consisted of intertwinedstraight lines and diamonds that represent interchanges. Beck (cited inGarland, 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. 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.

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According to Hadlaw (2003), Beck set aside geographic space in favor of graphics space. This was a real breakthrough and abstract maps have since become well recognized for their ability to highlight what's important whilst removing confusing or irrelevant information. Beck’soriginal sketch of the Underground effectively eliminated all surface detail, leaving only the Thames recognizable geographical feature (Garland, 1994, p.16) 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. July 1933, soon after the launch of Beck’s underground map, the government decided to change the URL into London Transport. This was to be a public corporation that had complete control over public transport in London.

London Transport publicly appointed, the London Passenger Transport Board (LTPB) to be accountable for decisions made on its behalf (Hornsey, 2012). Garland (1994, p. 22) notes “that the diagram had to grapple almost continuously with the growth and development of the system itself”. HarryBeck’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 realized there was a problem with the map and in 1963 he decided to redesign it. ‘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 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, theNorthern 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 andHutchinson’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.

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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 versionLondon 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 diagram became the most sustaining image not only of the London Underground but of London itself (Hadlaw, 2003, p31).

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Harry Beck’s diagrammatic map. (2018, August 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from
“Harry Beck’s diagrammatic map.” GradesFixer, 02 Aug. 2018,
Harry Beck’s diagrammatic map. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2023].
Harry Beck’s diagrammatic map [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Aug 02 [cited 2023 Nov 29]. Available from:
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