Beck’s maps, like any abstraction, have their drawbacks. They don’t tell you that it’s quicker to walk from Covent Garden to Leicester Square than to take the tube: it’s only a block. Or that from Paddington mainline station, the quickest way to get into the city is to walk to Lancaster Gate and take the Central line. Looks like miles away on Beck’s map.
What Becks map definitely does have is a small and clear set of ‘ideas’, which he reduced to the minimum needed for a specific job – navigating the tube system. OK, so when you emerge from the tube station, the first thing most of us do is stare around to get our bearings in the ‘real world’, or look at a street map. So it’s not the only abstraction we need to get around. More are needed for some purposes. But his maps are famous for their clarity and utility. Which is why they are the standard for transport maps all over the world.
If we can create abstractions which are this clear and this useful, then we’re really being modelers.
More about the London tube map:
(first published on the “Artful Modeler” blog in 2015.)