Harry Beck, designer of the London Underground map, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque, unveiled today at Beck’s birthplace in Leyton
London Transport Museum director Sam Mullins unveiled the plaque at 14 Wesley Road, Leyton, E10, marking the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Beck’s revolutionary design and the 150th of the London Underground system.
Beck’s original 1933 map
Mullins said: “Beck’s map was revolutionary in its simplicity. It has become a London icon and influenced the design of many Metro maps across the globe, as well as being the inspiration for many contemporary artists and designers. His work forms part of the overall design ethic of Transport for London and its predecessor organisations, and his original artwork for the London map and the Paris Metro are both on display in London Transport Museum’s Design for Travel gallery.”
There is already an ‘unofficial’ blue plaque for Beck in London. In 2003, The Finchley Society placed one of their versions at 60 Court House Gardens, West Finchley where Beck lived from 1936 – 1960. Details here
Harry Beck. Image courtesy Ken Garland
Beck was born in Leyton, the son of Joshua and Eleanor Beck, who themselves had been born and raised in nearby West Ham. He spent roughly two years at Wesley Road before moving to Highgate.
In 1925 he started working for London Transport as an engineering draughtsman in the London Underground Signal Engineer’s office. It was during one spell in between jobs, in 1931, that he produced his first design for a diagrammatic map.
The last Beck version of the tube map was published in 1960. However, Beck ws then involved in what his official biography refers to as “a simmering dispute over its remodelling by other designers [which] led to an unbridgeable rift with his former employers. Despite this he continued to work on updated designs on his own, featuring the new Victoria Line as a neat diagonal in lilac; these were never used, and nor were the elegant prototypes he produced for the Paris Metro map. Beck was notably ahead of the game in producing a version of his London map showing all train services, underground and overground, as early as 1938; this was then deemed too complex for publication, but an integrated diagrammatic map of this sort is now ubiquitous.”
CR subscribers can read abut the latest attempts to improve on Beck’s original design in the March issue of the magazine (a special issue dedicated to the London Underground) or online here. All the content from the March issue (which is now sold out in print) can also be found on our iPad app.
The April print issue of CR presents the work of three young animators and animation teams to watch. Plus, we go in search of illustrator John Hanna, test out the claims of a new app to have uncovered the secrets of viral ad success and see how visual communications can both help keep us safe and help us recover in hospital
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