Since the birth of civilization, humans have recorded their surroundings, transforming the information and data around them into graphic information that can help us understand the world. This is also called a map. The history of our civilization is essentially the history of maps, and map information that can be traced back to tens of thousands of years ago. For our civilization, the importance of the map is self-evident, it is not a simple record of geographical conditions, but the complex information, integrated into a clear and understandable small system, which is one of the most important missions of the map.

But today’s case, and map has inextricably linked, but in a strict sense to define, it is different from what we said before the traditional sense of the map.

The London Underground is one of the earliest and most sophisticated map systems in the world. It was brought together and put into use in 1908. After eight years of construction, individual Metro branches converged to form a metro system, so they needed a complete metro route map to help passengers understand the route of travel.

Of course, we can imagine that the version of the subway map created in 1908 was not the best Bonaparte. The route was complicated, and it contained information about the terrestrial environment, such as rivers, waterways, forests and parks. The information of the station was so full that some of the information of the station could not even be put into it. How bad it is is no longer able to describe it in words.

But geographically, the entire map is very accurate, but it’s not enough for passengers.

The map shows all the important central sites, but it’s hard to find your own location on the map. The names of the sites are not large enough to show on the map, and what’s more troubling is that they appear at strange angles, with all sorts of less important lines that interfere with vision. This early map is not only good for treating cervical spondylosis, but also for testing vision and intelligence. Fortunately, the design of the entire map has been continuously improved over time. Decades later, the version is much stronger.

When you see this map, you have to say a person, Harry Beck. Harry had worked on the London Underground at the age of 29 and lost his job in the turbulent times of the late 1920s, but he was still interested in London’s transport system.

At that time, he had a very critical idea that the passengers on the subway did not want to know about the conditions on the ground. In other words, the passenger’s goal is to get from Station A to Station B by subway. In the process, they usually only think about where I come from and where I want to go.

Therefore, in Harry’s view, the entire subway system itself is the most important presentation, on the contrary, the geographical environment itself is not significant. So Harry created a new project to simplify the entire subway map. Initially, the informative subway map was simplified into a ball of spaghetti in his hands. As he later recalled, “Straighten the lines, adjust the diagonals, and balance the distances between the sites.” In this way, the subway map becomes a subway route map, each subway line only in the horizontal, vertical and 45 degrees of diagonal extension of the three directions. In addition, the visual distance between the site and the site has become average, and the site and its route have also used the same color to indicate belonging.

Finally, the new subway map was born. It is more graphical, each symbol above the meaning of each color, can be easily understood by passengers. In 1933, his friends encouraged him to send the results of the project, a brand new subway route map, to the UERL at the time. No matter how they responded, there must be a result. As a result, the other party decided to buy Harry’s design for 10 pounds — in that year, 10 pounds was equivalent to 600 pounds today, equivalent to 5,000 yuan. When UERL took out the beta version of the new map and sold it as a pocket version, 1,000 copies were snapped up and they quickly realized that the version was much stronger than before. Then, immediately decided to add 750 thousand copies. It’s another story, of course, about how much the authorities are making out of it, but that’s why we see today’s London Underground Route.

The design of Harry has become the benchmark of today. Today, Metro maps of major cities around the world are basically inherited under this set of design standards, whether Paris or Tokyo, New York or Beijing, and even Pyongyang Metro maps also follow this set of design strategy. To transform complex geographic structures into clear and easy-to-understand geometric figures, subway route maps use symbolic language that we can all understand: to represent stations with dots or other geometric figures, to outline routes with lines, and to distinguish different lines with colors. I’m sure Harry Beck, who came up with this design in the early 20th century, didn’t know what the user interface was, but it had the same spirit in it.

Pyongyang subway route map

Today’s designers do the same thing Harry Beck did, taking the challenge, breaking down the requirements into pieces, removing the dross, and preserving the essence.
He used three important principles in his design, and after a little adjustment, they can be applied to almost any design project. The three principles are:
Focus: focus on the target audience you serve.

Simplicity: convey information in the most direct way.

Multi angle thinking: good ideas and solutions may come from anywhere or anyone.
Whatever the product you’re polishing right now, keep in mind that good ideas can come from anyone. Even if he is just your intern, your spouse, children and even strangers are strangers. Who would have thought that today’s subway map designs are based on an irrelevant electrical engineer?

Over the years, the size of the London Underground has expanded a lot. The map of the subway is naturally complicated. Subsequently, new designers joined in, and without Harry Beck’s consent, they made the whole map more complex, and the actual effect of the new version was not as good as expected. Subsequently, the more modern version of Paul Garbutt reversed the situation by retaining Beck’s original design rules and visual perception.

Keep it simple, keep the focus on the core unchanged, and this is the subway map that still makes passengers feel comfortable and easy to use today.

Excellent user interface design is neither metaphysics nor black technology. It’s just a vehicle to help people perform their tasks and reach their goals more easily. It’s a gateway to provide users with the necessary information. But as designers, they often subconsciously make it more complex, making it look like “software” rather than “human-computer interaction”.

2 thoughts on “What lessons can we learn from the evolution of the London subway map?”

Comments are closed.