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Project: 1939 Map of Sydney Railways, Digital Recreation

1939 Sydney Trains Map (Digital Recreation)

Prints for sale from $27

If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then H.C. Beck must have been blushing when this diagram of railway services in Sydney, Australia was produced in 1939. Designed just six years after Beck’s famous London Underground diagram first appeared, it mimics the original’s style almost perfectly, even to the point of using an almost exact copy of the  iconic Underground roundel on the cover. If nothing else, it shows how quickly Beck’s idea was adopted around the world.

1939_wikimedia-720pxI’m always on the lookout for great vintage transit maps to add to my online store, but the high-resolution scan of the original map on the Wikimedia Commons (left) is unfortunately way over-sharpened and not suitable for reproduction, even with retouching. So — as is my wont — I decided to redraw it from scratch in Adobe Illustrator.

Technically, the original map is nicely drawn, with fairly consistent 45-degree angles and corner radii throughout. However, there are a couple of spacing oddities that I decided to fix in my version of the diagram. Firstly, the label for Kirkham station on the Camden line was sitting inexplicably higher than the other labels along the same branch; and secondly, I moved all the stations on the Richmond line a little further up and to the left to give the label for Seven Hills station a little more room to breathe. Apart from that, everything is faithfully reproduced from the original.

The typography of the map was a little more challenging than the layout. The notices to the top right of the map are obviously set in Gill Sans, although it’s an ever-so-slightly different cut to the modern digital typeface that I have. However, the rest of the labels are actually very neat and precise hand-lettering, much as Beck’s early maps had (he described his lettering as “Johnston-like”, as its form somewhat approximated that of the Underground’s official typeface). Matching hand-lettering with a modern font is next to impossible, so I used one that matched the metrics of the lettering as closely as possible — an almost perfectly circular capital “O” being the major ingredient required. The labels also have some idiosyncratic and variable letter spacing, which I tried my best to emulate. Once I had set all the labels, I converted all the text to paths and roughened them up to simulate the more organic feeling of the original hand lettering. It’s not perfect, but it looks pretty good.

Prints of the redrawn map are for sale in my online store, and comments on the diagram are always welcome!


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