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Bend it like Becks


June 25, 2014

The recent passing of much lauded designer Massimo Vignelli made me think. Every one of his obituaries sang his praises as being one of the greats: ‘the man who tamed the New York Subway system.’ But I’m not so sure. Yes, no one can doubt his talents and creativity (I wish I had as much as he had in his little finger) but I think you have to give some credit to Harry Beck, the inventor of the schematic map of the London underground. Unquestionably, Massimo’s map is a nice late 60s / early 70s vibrant interpretation. But it’s still a simplified circuit diagram version, just like Beck’s.

The interesting thing is that Massimo was born in 1931 – the same year that Beck drew the first wiring diagram of the London Underground, so I think I can safely say that Beck got there first… and yet he never gets any credit. Yes, New York had simplified versions in the 50s but you have to applaud Beck for coming up with it long before Vignelli.

I don’t want to take anything away from Massimo. I love his New York Map, and of course his death should be a time of celebration of his life, work and influence. I’d just like a bit of credit to go for Beck for his contribution. He never got any when he was alive, so how about some now? (Perhaps a retrospective knighthood wouldn’t go amiss in the New Year honours list, for example).

R.I.P. Massimo Vignelli, 10.01.31 – 27.05.14.

by Greg Mackenzie