Blog Post 2



Information Management: Beck and Vignelli


The non-spatial topological map of London Underground by English Engineering Draftsman Harry Beck, under commission by the former head of the London Transport Frank Pick, is a significant design accomplishment from the 1930s. This map can be considered the prototype design of the subway systems which has been adopted worldwide. An example influenced by Beck’s map is a map created by Massimo Vignelli, which employs this non-spatial element of map making. The focus of this design is to help with information management by solely focusing on the use of graphics information.


When Beck first pitched his ideas to the publicity department,  which the new map can provide commuters a better comprehension to understand the complexed underground system. Despite the fact that the publicity department held negative hopes to his attention that when the map is finally introduced to the public for the first time, it quickly made a great success among the public, since after more copies were printed and released.


Before the Beck diagram, the geographical-based map by  F. H. Stingemore only provided passengers with the geographical information but less on how to get to destinations.  Beck sees the necessity of providing commuters with information on how to exchange stations and figure out the best route to travel instead of focusing on accuracy in geographical distance.Beck introduced his new map in colors and geometry, as he drew inspiration from the diagrams of electric circuits.

The inspiration for the map comes from diagrams of electric circuits. The cursive lines were converted into straight horizontal lines; each station is distributed equally in space on the visual presentation without providing accuracy in the distance since when people are traveling underground the turns and distance is not be seen.

Beck’s new map provided commuters a better comprehension of the understanding of the underground system, which became widely popular after it has been launched for the first time.


In 1972, a map designer Massimo Vignelli, became the official map of the New York subway system with influences from the London underground design. He took inspirations from the clean lines and use of geometry, simplifying a larger wayfinding system to its most significant part, withholding information that isn’t necessary and made it much easier to gain the actual information from the map. Everything was made to sit at 45- or 90-degree angles on the map and every subway line on the map has a color. Vignelli process which referred as “dot to dot” was intended to make the experience of using the subway as seamless as possible.

Massimo obtained credit for introducing a European Modernist point of view to American graphic design. According to Vignelli, this wasn’t a map of the landscape but was a system of logic”.   


However, when the map was first introduced, it was not embraced by the public, since it had moved away from geographical accuracy using clean lines and geometry, such reduced eliminated many streets, parks and other familiar features of the cityscape. Which upset many riders because of it ignored much of the city above ground. Another problem that occurs to riders was that New York city is different from London,  riders couldn’t relate the geography with the station, with the lines, and they were confused by design.


There are both benefits and issues with this design, however, because of the geographical differences, the design has received different impacts.  Although they are ideologically similar also their use of approaches that it still has an influence today on maps created for information management purposes. This type design is still relevant today and entrenched in ways of using clean lines and colors as a great tool to indicate key information.

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