First designed in a diagrammatic format in 1931 by Harry Beck, the London Underground map is THE perfect infographic. Some may say its a map. Full stop. How is this a infographic, what makes it so? Here, I say, why this isnt merely a map but the perfect example of data visualisation.
Using Topology to visually represent Londons rail network (under and over ground lines), the Tube map has become a design icon. It is surely an example of perfect data visualisation design. By creating a simplified map consisting of straight lines running vertically, horizontally or on 45 degree diagonals connecting stations displayed with simple circular (cross line stations) or dash line symbols Beck built a graphic that very much has you as the user right at its heart – knowing that for you as a traveller in London the exact physical location of the stations is irrelevant, what you need to know is the travel relationship from one to another. Harry Beck was decades ahead of his time, a true user centric designer, who was in fact a engineering draftsman who worked up the Tube map during his spare time.
Real User Centric Design
Not only does the Tube map present the user with a very clean, crisp topology based map meaning that you as the traveller have a map based on how you want to travel, a map engineered to making your travel journey simple and easy – the map also displays Zones 1-9 which means at the same time you can keep track of how much your journey is costing you.
It has layers. Multiple layers of information. All presented in a way that each is as clear as the next – the underground network, overground trains, national rail links, connecting stations, zones, wheelchair access, stations with parking (including bicycle parking) and toilet facilities. The London Underground map doesnt prejudice what type of data you need from it, the use of iconography, colour, lines and signposting makes sure all user needs are catered for.
“The London tube map is the perfect example of form following function. It even twists (or straightens out) the real-life geography to produce a simplified easy to read representation. The emphasis is truly on readability and ease of use.” Tom Wallis, Graphic Designer, Zabisco Digital.
When I’m discussing a new infographic brief, whether a initial client requirement meeting or briefing our design team, I love to talk about infographics in terms of a story – a content / data journey we will be taking our audience on. Its a great design challenge to illustrate just one clear data journey, even more so if your infographic works along 2, 3 or maybe 4 data streams towards the take out final message – BUT, the London Underground map has infinite journeys. Wherever in the world you are arrving from, take yourself on a discovery journey around London by letting the best piece of data visualisation I have ever seen lead you on your way.
Application of colour
Arguably the most visually iconic aspect of the London Underground map is the use of colour. Viewed from a distance, the map is instantly recognisable through its use of colour. The strong red of the Central line running horizontally, the Northern lines black vertical line – 13 pantone references working together as a whole palette, complete with a mix of soft and hard pantone colours.
As a whole or smaller parts
There are occasions when your piece of data visualisation needs to be broken down and communicated in bitesize chunks. Maybe you want to focus on one part of the content journey, or you are working within a size / format that means you have to rework the original layout. Its with this in mind that the topology format of the London Underground map works so well in converting from the overall complete landscape version, to either the portrait formats on platforms or the thin landscapes you see in the tubes.
On your first visit to London, I guarantee that after 1, maybe 2, looks across the complete London Underground map (remember there are slight variations of the one total complete map, including mini version for individual lines) you will be so comfortable with this piece of data visualisation that the whole experience of being in London, arguably the worlds greatest city, that you really feel like the infinite possibilities of London are only a straight lined, horizontal, vertical or 45degree stop away.
Quality Transport for London posters
I regularly see real quality design in TFL posters – the example below has caught my eye a couple of times recently. A great play on the Tube map – that London Underground map just keeps on working hard!