The London Underground Map – Is it a work of art or design or both?

I think it is a work of art, I guess some would argue this, saying the reason it was created was not for arts sake, but to solve a practical problem. It is interesting that art can take many forms, and much of the best art used everyday is not art created for arts sake, but serves more than one purpose – not just performing a function, but doing it in an asthetically pleasing, perhaps clever way. Here we have another part, perhaps, to the answer for the question of ‘what is art?’ or ‘what is design?’ then.

Art and/or design isn’t just something to look at and ponder on, it can also be something that causes action and be informative, and add knowledge. In the case of the underground map, it helps you to understand where you should go, and causes you to set off in a certain direction. Perhaps some could even say it is therefore almost like a form of indirectly interacting with the art or design because it might change your mind – in this case literally lead you down a different path in your thinking, and physically in where you are going.

However, there is at least one flaw in the London Underground map. It works perfectly while you are within the tube system, but what about when you are above ground. Precisely because it is schematic, you can’t tell which direction you are in, or about the lie of the streets above ground, so you need a different map for that, and then need to work out the relationship between the two. But, the purpose of the London Underground map is to enable people to navigate the underground system, and for this it is more than fulfilled the brief! Today, there are many similar schematic maps for other underground systems around the world too.

Other Related Links

Google images showing London Underground map
Basic article about the history of the London Underground map
history of London Tube maps


In case you stumbled across this blog post, expecting to find the London Underground map you can use, here is a link to the current London Underground Map and other maps.

Image sources:
1889 London Underground map linked from A History of the London Tube Maps
2010 London Underground map – download from Transport for London website