Which of Beck's maps of the London Underground do you most prefer, and what properties does it have that elevate it above the others in your opinion as a designer?
My absolute favourite Beck-drawn Tube Map is actually his unpublished 1961 Victoria Line proposal, which I wrote about in this post back in 2012. Go take a look at it – it’s simply gorgeous, with an arrow-straight lavender Victoria Line cutting directly across the map.
However, if we’re limiting ourselves to published Beck maps (those from 1933 through to 1960, when he was unceremoniously dumped as the diagram’s designer), then I’d have to give the nod to the 1954–1858 version. Really though, anything from 1949 onwards is top-notch work and I’m really splitting hairs to determine a winner.
How do I love this map? Let me count the ways:
This is the first version to represent the Circle Line as a perfect rounded rectangle, which looks fantastic. The 1949 and 1951 versions shoehorned the new line into the pre-existing setup, while post-Beck versions acquired the now distinctive “thermos flask” shape.
The spacing of stations across the diagram is nice and uniform, with very few cramped-looking areas, even in the busy central portion of the map. This is really noticeable on the Northern Line between Finsbury Park and Old Street, which is beautifully spaced when compared to the 1951 version.
Like that version, this one is also thankfully spared of having to show any of the planned extensions to the Northern Line that so cluttered up the map from 1946 to 1950: this is an immediate and obvious improvement!
Beck’s obsession with reducing the diagram to its barest rectilinear form – using an absolute minimum of diagonal lines – is starting to become evident, as he represents bifurcations of route lines completely equally, rather than presenting one as a branch line of the other. This is especially evident at the northern ends of the Northern and Metropolitan Lines. This approach is arguably less successful on the Thames than the route lines, as it looks a bit severe and fussy as it takes rigid 90-degree turns through London.
By this time, the diagram is really starting to look like what we expect a Tube Map to be, as viewed through our modern eyes. This version has thicker route lines compared to previous ones, and makes great use of the “white connector” interchange circles which are still in use on the Tube Map (and imitators!) today. Technically, the map is superbly drawn, with even, harmonious, flowing curves where the routes change direction – these curves also help the diagram look more like its modern counterpart. In short, this is where the last 20 years or so of Beck’s work on the diagram really, really gels into a cohesive, unified piece of design, and that’s why it’s awesome.
What’s your favourite Beck tube diagram?