Why was London underground diagram significant?

((Henry Beck, Map of the London Underground, chromolithograph, 1933))
The London Underground Diagram
Importance of the diagram as design object:
• Successful for its longevity – lasted over 80 years.
• Influence in founding a world genre: many cities based their subway maps on this
diagram.
• Successful model for graphic presentation of information.
• Invention that becomes innovation (not all inventions take off and become accepted and
celebrated by the public).
Background:
Commercial printing had expanded, the half-tone screen permitted the mechanical reproduction of photographs. In Britain, artists with varied backgrounds take interest in modern graphic visual communication, and adapt to the requirements of modern printing technologies – another example of technology influencing design.
The design of new type required both invention and respect for tradition.
Edward Johnston, a master typographer and teacher, created a sans serif typeface for the London Underground in 1916 that remains in use to this day.
Eric Gill developed a family of typefaces (Gill Sans) used for The London and North Eastern Railway for all of their printed materials.

The London Underground Diagram
Creation of the diagram:
• Frank Pick, Vice-President of the London Passenger Transport Board supervises the creation of a unified identity system, that would create the impression of order, reliability, and control for the public.
• Pick turns to Henry Beck, a London Underground employee, industrial draftsman, who realizes that because the railway ran mostly underground, the physical locations of the stations were irrelevant to the traveller wanting to know how to get from one station from another.
• This approach to visualizing information can be compared to electrical circuit diagrams (though this was not Beck’s inspiration).
• Beck devises a simplified map, consisting of stations, straight line segments connecting them, and the River Thames. Lines ran only vertically, horizontally, or on 45 degree diagonals.

The London Underground Diagram
Influence:
• The diagram demonstrates that geometric abstraction can attain the level of an almost universal visual communication, that functions effectively for the user.
• This approach became the basis for the design of subway maps and transportation symbols around the world. One notable example is Massimo Vignelli’s design for NY subway in the early 1970s.
Problems:
The map had no uniform sense of scale of distances between stops, or a means of explaining the sometimes lengthy walking distances that accompany changing from one color-coded line to another. One result was that suburban locations often seemed far closer to the center of the city than they actually were.

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