Harry Beck • London Underground Map • Iteration • 1930s

photo-4I was in the studio last week and was shown this…it’s a hand drawn and watercolour iteration of the famous London Underground map by Harry Beck…I didn’t see the exact date, but I think it is from the 1930s.

Beck was an obsessive, who worked to perfect his conceptual diagram of London’s underground railway network, by constantly amending various details…so, there are an endless stream of variations and improvements. Sometimes he went back to first principles…

The diagram is based on a few simple rules…it has become the default model for mapping urban transport systems around the world. Beck’s London Underground map is the original and still the best. It’s never been bettered.

This comes from the London Transport Museum, where Ken Garland has placed the Harry Beck archive.

That’s good. Ken was the first designer to understand the design significance of Beck’s diagram…and discovered Beck living in, I believe, slightly reduced circumstances. Certainly, Beck’s relationship with LT had deteriorated….his diagram work wasn’t officially commissioned and he was viewed as a maverick obsessive.

Beck’s unsolicited work was acknowledged by a small additional payment in addition to his official salary as an electrical engineering draughtsman at LT.

Ken saved the archive and wrote the story. Without him, this would all have been lost.

So, well done Ken Garland, well done Harry Beck, and well done the London Transport Museum…Good sense all around.



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