2013 marks the 80th anniversary of London's beloved Tube Map, one of the greatest graphical information designs of the twentieth century. Conceived and created by Henry (Harry) Beck, the radical design presented the complex Underground system as a stylized diagram rather than a geographic map in an effort to make it easier for the public to understand. Embraced by Londoners for its clarity and ease of use, the Tube Map quickly become an icon, not only of the Underground, but of the city itself, which it remains to this day.
However, while the Tube Map's updates over the decades have attempted to follow Beck's design, a glance at the current iteration reveals that his design heirs have failed to retain his core credo of clarity and ease of use. Ongoing expansion of the Underground, the addition of the new Overground system, and essential disability access information have made most modern Tube Maps, both official and independent, overly complex and difficult to read.
Contributing to the confusion is the trend of modern Tube Map designs to be even more abstracted than Beck's original, resulting in a severe disconnection from the above-ground geography of London. This unfortunate drift is apparent by looking at London's geographic anchor, the River Thames, and its relation to stations as drawn by Beck, and comparing it to the present Tube map's Thames rendering and its relation to stations. Indeed, a few years back the tendency toward abstraction culminated in the Thames being removed entirely from the official Tube Map. Thankfully it had to be restored as the public loudly protested its absence.
We believe that the London Tube Map is wanting for a better, clearer graphic solution.
Unlike New York City's official 34-year-old transit map design which we feel was a graphic and communication failure from the start, the London Tube Map's core design premise is still as sound as it was 80 years ago. So instead of redesigning the entire map vocabulary as we did for KickMap NYC, we embarked on a fresh new effort to recapture Beck's clarity and ease of use.
First, we went back to the lines' actual geographic routes and applied our hybrid stylization from that point -- just as Beck had done at the outset when he had no other system diagrams to copy or emulate. Next, we restored a stylized but accurately rendered Thames and rectified its relation to the city and to the Underground. The hybrid concept behind KickMap London means that station placements are more location-accurate to one other and to above-ground London than ever before.
And finally, because of the KickMap's hybrid design premise, classic above-ground landmarks such as Regent's Park and Hyde Park, the Houses of Parliament, and St. Paul's Cathedral could now be incorporated without sacrificing clarity and ease of use. As a matter of fact, we strongly believe that the addition of these landmarks enhances the map's ease of use by orienting and reassuring the user as to where they are and where they want to go.