Innovate the Tube Map Way


In 1908 the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) in conjunction with four other underground railway companies combined forces as part of a common advertising initiative to publish the first Tube Map:

London Underground’s Tube Map 1908

As you can see, it’s not what we’re used to seeing, and whilst it’s probably a better depiction of where exactly each station is located, it’s pretty complicated and hard to navigate.

So in 1931, a gentleman by the name of Harry Beck recognised that when you’re 70 metres below London’s footpaths, the physical locations of the stations were irrelevant. To busy travellers, only the topology of the railway mattered. Beck simplified the map with lines that only ran at 45, 90, or at 180 degree angles and despite the Underground’s initial scepticism, the public loved it.

The London Underground Tube Map as of 2010

For nearly 80 years, this topological map has illustrated the growing network ever since and with the forthcoming London 2012 Olympics, it’ll be a handy little resource for visitors.

Whilst the London Underground were unwittingly complicating their communications to their customers and holding back revenue growth, they thankfully let what they viewed as a ‘maverick’ logic reach out and fix a problem. Bearing in mind that Beck had to repeatedly try and convince them about his mapping concept, it shows that persistence, vision, and clear understanding of the needs of the customers.

What’s more, it helped achieve what is now the most profitable revenue stream for the company. Poor old Beck though, he only received five guineas for the work!

How can you help simplify existing strategies and activities within your organisation or even your customer’s businesses to help generate new opportunities?

Pub quiz question: What’s the London Underground’s second most profitable revenue stream?

Susanne Dansey is the Managing Director of Purple Cow Ideas Management – an organisation that facilitates a paradigm shift in the collaborative nature of the ICT Industry. You can follow her on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.

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2 thoughts on “Innovate the Tube Map Way

  1. So you’ve hit my “transport geek” and felt the need to comment.

    London Underground’s map has reached iconic status. It is not only innovative from a design perspective, but copied by transport systems around the world. Systems, such as my own Washington DC’s Metro, base their design ideas around the Tube Map. The map design has reached the point of even ‘meta’, as the design is used to show the list of transport maps:

    Its an example of well thought out design. It focuses on the “customer experience”, making sure the design fits the usage well. Focusing on what your customer needs — in this case, the commuter — results in a better customer experience.

    Don’t be afraid to innovate. It results in amazing things.

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