Communicating Complexity around the world: The London Tube Map

At LCubed our focus is on communicating rich and complex information in a simple, easy-to-understand way, without losing any substance or meaning. We love creating elegant solutions that communicate the complex.

That’s why, from time to time, we like to celebrate the best examples of communicating complexity from around the world.

The London Underground system (known more commonly as The Tube) is one of the most extensive and complex public transport systems in the world. With 260 stations, 13 lines and 402km of track spread across an enormous metropolitan area, replicating the system on a two-dimensional map could have been a confusing, sprawling mess of intersecting lines.

Enter Harry Beck. In 1933, Beck – an electrical draftsman – came up with the idea of basing the Tube map on electrical circuit diagrams. He took out unnecessary geographical components, made all the lines straight, dismissed the need for geographic precision or scale and reduced the tube network down to its most important features. The famous London Tube map – clear, fabulously easy to use and instantly recognisable – was born.

Beck’s original Tube map, 1933

tube map old

How it appears today

tube map new

It’s had some updates since, but the central design remains. What’s more, it has become the prototype for transport system maps around the world.

And if you’re still not impressed – take a look at how the tube map might appear if it was based on actual geographic locations. Not so pretty.
tube map actual