The history of civilization,
in some ways, is a history of maps:
How have we come to understand
the world around us?
One of the most famous maps works
because it really isn't a map at all.
[Small thing. Big idea.]
[Michael Bierut on
the London Tube Map]
The London Underground
came together in 1908,
when eight different
independent railways merged
to create a single system.
They needed a map to represent that system
so people would know where to ride.
The map they made is complicated.
You can see rivers,
bodies of water, trees and parks --
the stations were all crammed together
at the center of the map,
and out in the periphery, there were some
that couldn't even fit on the map.
So the map was geographically accurate,
but maybe not so useful.
Enter Harry Beck.
Harry Beck was a 29-year-old
who had been working on and off
for the London Underground.
And he had a key insight,
and that was that people
riding underground in trains
don't really care
what's happening aboveground.
They just want to get
from station to station --
"Where do I get on? Where do I get off?"
It's the system that's important,
not the geography.
He's taken this complicated
mess of spaghetti,
and he's simplified it.
The lines only go in three directions:
they're horizontal, they're vertical,
or they're 45 degrees.
Likewise, he spaced the stations equally,
he's made every station color
correspond to the color of the line,
and he's fixed it all
so that it's not really a map anymore.
What it is is a diagram,
just like circuitry,
except the circuitry here
isn't wires conducting electrons,
it's tubes containing trains
conducting people from place to place.
In 1933, the Underground decided, at last,
to give Harry Beck's map a try.
The Underground did a test run
of a thousand of these maps, pocket-size.
They were gone in one hour.
They realized they were onto something,
they printed 750,000 more,
and this is the map that you see today.
Beck's design really became the template
for the way we think of metro maps today.
Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, São Paulo,
Sydney, Washington, D.C. --
all of them convert complex geography
into crisp geometry.
All of them use different colors
to distinguish between lines,
all of them use simple symbols
to distinguish between types of stations.
They all are part
of a universal language, seemingly.
I bet Harry Beck wouldn't have known
what a user interface was,
but that's really what he designed
and he really took that challenge
and broke it down to three principles
that I think can be applied
in nearly any design problem.
First one is focus.
Focus on who you're doing this for.
The second principle is simplicity.
What's the shortest way
to deliver that need?
Finally, the last thing is:
Thinking in a cross-disciplinary way.
Who would've thought
that an electrical engineer
would be the person to hold the key
to unlock what was then one of the most
complicated systems in the world --
all started by one guy
with a pencil