Trivia

Hard

Modern Subway Maps Were Inspired By?

Postal Charts
Circuit Diagrams
Abstract Art Deco Paintings
Business Flow Charts
A modern map of the New York City Subway system.
CountZ (Jake Berman)/Wikimedia

Answer: Circuit Diagrams

Early subway diagrams weren’t the easiest things to read. Designers of early maps strove to make them properly scaled, accurate, and they were often superimposed over a roadway map of the city they ran through, which meant that the numerous downtown subway stations were clustered together and the peripheral stations were positioned far to the edge of the map.

In short, they were terribly impractical and in serious need of rethinking. That rethinking came to us courtesy of Harry Beck, an English technical draughtsman who is best known for his invention of the London Underground Tube map that bore his name through 1960 and which cities all over the world imitated.

He based his design on that of a circuit diagram and eschewed complex information and true scale for simplistic depiction that told travelers what they really wanted to know: what line am I on, where does it stop, where is that relative to here, and what line can I transfer to. Beck’s arrangement of information proved to be very easy to read and we’ve used the general design principles he created ever since.

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