“Harry Beck’s London tube map from 1933, which sacrifices a representational view of the city to make its underground comprehensible, takes on the allure of a treasure map.”

Kristin Hohenadel


The London Underground is the world’s oldest subway, most people know it colloquially as the Tube. An engineering marvel and just as almost as famous is the map. The Tube map is instantly recognisable all over the world. It is a simple and elegant diagram of the 400-kilometre subway network. It is considered by many as one of the great images of the 20th century. It consists of a rainbow pallet, clean angles and a pleasing if slightly old-fashioned typeface. It is a graphic design icon.

Designed by Harry Beck

Harry Beck designed the map in the 1930s, and it first appeared in 1933. Only 500 copies were printed as a trial run. It was an immediate success. Beck was paid five guineas for his design. Since then millions have been printed. The map is as much a worldwide symbol of London as Big Ben and the Beefeater’s. Since the 1930s, there have been steady improvements however the map is still primarily the same as when it was designed almost 74 years ago.

Choosing the path

Beck’s relations with London Transport had always been informal. During his life, he had tried to exert some form of copyright but was told that this could not be done. Ironically, under modern copyright laws, he would have had the right to forbid amendments to the map.

Beck, worked on the task of creating the map in his spare time, completed the challenge within days. It is an innovative “lattice of lateral lines and notches provoking remarkably little hostility”. The only change back made of his own volition for the rest of his career was to alter the use of the diamonds to earmark key stations and replace them with the circles of today. Even his choice of colours for the various lines has remained unchallenged.


teamSimon is a Sydney based digital designer. He is the Director of a boutique digital design studio, Bailey Street Design located in the vibrant inner west suburb of Newtown.  Simon studied graphic design at Shillington College and specialises in web design for small and medium size businesses.  Simon and his team (Toby the studio dog) are passionate about visual communication in the digital environment


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