Fresh approaches to the tube map: a new exhbition explores usability and aesthetics


Since revolutionising map design in 1933, Henry Beck’s iconic map of the London Underground has set the standard for the mapping of transport networks worldwide but is this template always a success?  Following the recent bad press about the redesign of the tube map, which removed the river and the zones, is it time to look at an overhaul of the maps and the underlying design rules we have followed since the 1930s?

That is the subject of an exhibition of map designs, by University of Essex researcher Dr Maxwell Roberts, which is being hosted at architectural practice Scott Brownrigg’s Covent Garden office from 7 to 22 October 2010.

Underground Maps Unravelled: Explorations in Information Design explores the use of Beck’s basic design rules: replacing chaotic, twisting routes with straight lines, horizontal, vertical or diagonals at 45 degrees only.  The exhibition explores the usability of schematic network design.  Using the London Underground map as a framework, it explores why traditional design rules help people, whether they are adequate for today's complex networks, and whether we can improve design by taking fresh approaches, breaking the rules.

The exhibition presents a selection of Dr Roberts’ own work: maps that break all the rules, maps that are easier to use, maps that teach us about good design, maps that challenge our preconceptions, and maps that are just intended to be decorative.

He explained: “With today’s emphasis on using public transport, and the ever-increasing complexity of networks around the world, it is vital that designers create the best possible maps.  All too often, the general public is faced with designs that are poor quality, off-putting, and perhaps barely useable.  We need to take a good look at whether fresh approaches are required.”

With the Olympics coming up, and a reasonable map showing all London's railways currently lacking, and with Crossrail set to add to the confusion, there are all sorts of design pressures stacking up for the immediate future that designers will need to address.  Breaking the rules might be the only way forward.

Dates:   7 - 22 October 2010
Opening times:   Monday to Friday 10am - 6pm
Venue:    Scott Brownrigg, 77 Endell Street, London, WC2H 9DZ (Map)

For more information about the exhibition visit:

Travel:   Tube stations:  Covent Garden, Holborn or Tottenham Court Road