How a map saved London

How a map saved London

Maps translate the real world into powerful, and beautiful, abstractions – often demanding stunning levels of precision and attention to detail. But sometimes, this level of accuracy can be a problem.

Like presentation slides, good maps have a clear purpose and enhance clarity.  To show you what I mean, let me share the famous tale of Harry Beck and the London Underground.*

As the story goes, the early days of the Underground were not going well. The trains worked, but people could not get to where they were going. To navigate, they were using a geographically accurate street map with train lines printed on top. It was a mess.


The Underground had taken a map designed showing places, roads, and spatial relationships and layered the train system over it. They had the right purpose in mind, and packed in a lot of information, but clarity was nowhere to be found.

In 1931 a technical draftsman named Harry Beck realized the problem could not be solved by adding information to the map. In fact, he believed that removing detail was the answer. His approach threw geographical accuracy out the window and focused on the two things people wanted to know when taking the train; how to get from station to station and where to change trains.

The result:


Rider’s rejoiced, more people used the Tubes, and the subway map style we know and love today was born.

Remember this tale when designing slides. Every slide must serve a purpose in your story, and help you clarify your point. Removing detail and focusing on making a clear point is often the best place to start.


*There are many versions of this tale. For the sake of this blog I’m sticking with a simplified tale. If you are interested in learning more about the whole story, this article is a good place to start.


team Zum