This is a rendering of what Zone One of the London Underground map would look like if it was geographically accurate (the whole thing is here). It’s not a new idea, the original Tube maps were done this way but the system had fewer lines back then and looking at the messy spaghetti above makes me appreciate the brilliance of Harry Beck‘s famous 1931 map even more.
Beck was an electrical draughtsman who based his map on circuit diagrams and his genius decision to ignore above-ground reality and strip it down to its need-to-know basics influenced the maps of almost every subway/ metro/ underground system in the world. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to choose the single greatest piece of graphic design ever (but why would you do such a thing?) I’d probably choose that.
The design of the map has evolved over the years (and inspired several different interpretations) as the Tube system has got bigger and more complex, my personal favourite version is the 1986 map because it symbolizes my travels around the city during the time when I felt that London really did belong to me and I was taking full advantage of all it had to offer, especially at night. I should have a poster of this on my wall with the title “Good Times 1986-1992” underneath.
One criticism of the Tube map is that it distorts the actual locations of some places in the city and the distances between them. Tourists can emerge from a station having no clue where they are or that they could have more easily and quickly have walked to get where they wanted to be — Leicester Square to Covent Garden for example. But I don’t care about the bloody tourists — serves them right for standing in the way everywhere — one of the best things about being a native of a big city is the feeling that you have some secret knowledge not available to outsiders (like where to get a drink after 11pm) and while Harry Beck might have brought logical order to the city’s unfathomable sprawl, London does not reveal all its beautiful complexity that easily.