What Would Harry Beck Say?

Befuddled travellers on the London Underground are currently being helped on their way with free, fold-out maps bearing this distinctive interpretation of the famous Tube Map by artist David Shrigley

OK, so it’s not meant as an alternative to Harry Beck’s map (the original masterpiece of information design can be found on the reverse) but Shrigley’s impassioned scrawl does offer an apposite, present-day response to the rational certainties implied by Beck. The latter’s original map was introduced in 1931 and, although updated several times since, the core design has endured. The network, however, has not aged so well. Beck’s map was introduced at a time of great confidence and pride in the Tube. Under Frank Pick’s direction it became world-renowned for every aspect of its design. Beck’s map exuded authority and control – getting from A to B was simply a matter of following its colour-coded tendrils.

But now, when Londoners and visitors alike are forced daily to run a gauntlet of the line closures, suspensions, signal faults and security alerts that are endemic in the ailing network, Beck’s confidence seems sadly misplaced. It’s Shrigley’s chaos that more closely portrays what it feels like to use the Tube in 2006.

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