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Designology at the London Transport Museum

designology_johnston_original

We nipped along to the London Transport Museum recently to catch their brand new show, Designology.

The exhibition is part of their London by Design Season, celebrating 150 years of design heritage. As part of this, they’ve already installed a new permanent gallery, London by Design, within the museum. This temporary show adds to that, displaying a selection of bits and bobs that illustrate how the design process works within various strands of London’s transport network.

designology

It’s a slightly cramped show, and the display can feel a little home-made at times, but there are some real gems on display.

Our favourite was the set of archival material from when the London Underground’s iconic Johnston typeface was updated and turned into New Johnston by Eiichi Kono at Banks & Miles. (This provides the perfect complement to the Johnston exhibition currently on at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft.)

It was partly some indecisive crotches that prompted the renovation. Here’s typographer Watler Tracy RDI (at the time, recently retired, but who had worked on some Johnston revisions in the mid ’70s) to explain:

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At the top of this post you can see a page of Eiichi’s preparation for a presentation to London Transport in 1980. It shows the original range of Johnston typefaces. The note at the very top reads: ‘There are six variations but only medium and bold romans are available for LT’s general printed publicity.’ The faces are: Johnston Bold, Medium, Light, Bold Condensed, Medium Condensed and Medium Italic. Here are some of Eiichi’s illuminating notes:

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designology_johnston_med_italic

Brilliant stuff.

Here’s how New Johnston is specified in the current Tfl Design Standards:

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You can read more about the design of New Johnston in this fascinating piece by Eiichi for the Edward Johnston Foundation. And Eiichi will be giving a talk about New Johnston at the museum on Tuesday 7 June.

Also on show at the exhibition, you can see David Gentleman’s original wood blocks for his stunning murals on the Northern Line platforms at Charing Cross.

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Here’s how the print from that block looks:

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And a poster showing how the artwork appears on the platforms (the brown lines on the artwork represent benches):

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And of course, there is a vast array of lovely signs, photographs and ephemera:

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A-young-woman-using-AFC-gates-at-Oxford-Circus-station-1977

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There’s also a fantastic short film showing how bus destination blinds are manufactured… but you’ll have to visit the show to see that!

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Related posts:

London Transport Museum Acton Depot

Poster Art 150

A logo for London

If you think about London, certain images immediately dance around in your mind.

Perhaps some of its buildings: Charles Barry’s Palace of Westminster, Sir Horace Jones’ Tower Bridge, or Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

Or something more recent – Marks and Barfield’s London Eye, Norman Foster’s Gherkin, or Renzo Piano’s Shard?

All individually iconic, but perhaps not representative of the entirety of London.

Often a city becomes known by its skyline, but London has no single point from which it is best viewed, so no single arrangement of its architecture has become dominant. (Though for our money, the view looking east from Waterloo Bridge is hard to beat.)

Other London icons, as evidenced by the wares sold in a thousand tatty tourist shops, include the red double decker bus (probably in the form of Douglas Scott’s Routemaster), and the London black cab (most probably in its Austin FX4 incarnation).

 

Those are the ‘things’ that quickly spring to mind.

But if you’re asked to think of a piece of graphic design that most represents London, then you can’t help but think of the representations of London’s transport systems – either the iconic Transport for London roundel (the name for the circular logo with the bar through the middle), or the ingenious Underground map (shown here in its current incarnation).

While we are familiar with the story of Harry Beck’s design of the map, the story of the roundel has been a little less celebrated (though there is a good short history of its creation on the London Transport Museum site).

Fortunately, David Lawrence’s new book, A Logo for London, sets the record straight, in exacting detail.

The book documents the genesis and evolution of the roundel, demonstrating that rather than being the offspring of any single creative genius, it is the child of many hugely talented designers and administrators – including Frank Pick, Harry Ford, Edward Johnston, Eric Gill, Hans Schleger, and Misha Black from Design Research Unit. It has grown and changed over the course of more than a hundred years to become the defining graphic symbol for London (despite the occasional attempt to find something else to do the job).

Lawrence describes how the roundel had two direct antecedents, in designs used by companies that later became part of the London Transport group.

Firstly, there was the logo of the London General Omnibus Company, designed by a gentleman known as Mr Crane, featuring a spoked bus wheel with a bar through it, adorned by a pair of wings.

Secondly, there were the station signboards of the Metropolitan District Railway, blue enamelled signs with white lettering, which announced which station you were at.

In use around 1906, these were beginning to be swamped by a proliferation of text based advertising which surrounded them at stations. Frank Pick, the real genius behind much of the London Underground’s branding, suggested testing out new signs of different shapes and sizes. A year before, Joseph Carter, Company Secretary of the District line, had done exactly that sort of test, and had come up with a red disc bisected with a blue bar with white lettering. This new design, used for station signboards from 1908 onwards, looked something like this:

These two pieces of design were then brought together by calligrapher Edward Johnston, who had been commissioned by Frank Pick in 1913 to create a single typeface for the Underground (which is a whole other tale in itself). There’s a lovely section in the book detailing Johnston’s correspondence with Harry Carr at the Underground Group about the design of the new Underground logotype.

Johnston’s new Underground roundel, then known as the bulls-eye, was used from around late 1919, and is the moment at which the roundel found the form that is still with us today. Here is a drawing from 1925 detailing its exact proportions:

If we deconstruct the logo, we can see that although it grew out of the spoked wheel logo of London General, and the red circle of the early signboards, it artfully represents both a tunnel, and a train running through it. Or perhaps (at a stretch) a bus running across an abstracted representation of the city. Perhaps, even, the river running from west to east across the city.

It’s possible it doesn’t really matter at this point – its meaning after all is self-defined through use.

Lawrence goes on to show how the logo is gradually introduced across London’s entire transport network, on signage, posters, leaflets, maps and uniforms.

So the old solid red circular sign at South Kensington would have changed to look something more like this:

The design of the roundel stayed more or less the same through to 1935, when Hans Schleger* was commissioned by Frank Pick to put together new designs for bus stop signs. Schleger stripped back the roundel to its simplest form – a coloured circle with a coloured bar, with the type reversed out of the bar. His redesign was gradually implemented right across the network, so that by 1955 station signboards looked more like the one below, stripped of their keylines:

They’ve remained that way more or less until the present day. (Though interestingly, the latest crop of signs have reinstated a keyline, in the form of a silver grey border on some of the signboards.)

Rather brilliantly, nearly all of the Transport for London visual guidelines are available on the TfL website, so it’s easy to see how the roundel is now being used across the city’s vast transport system.

For example, here are all the different networks it represents:

 

 

Not bad for a hundred year old logo. (Although it doesn’t always work perfectly – Taxi·Private Hire roundel, we’re looking at you there.)

A Logo for London, while occasionally a tad dry, is a great addition to the recent crop of books detailing the design of the capital’s transport system (you should also check out Mark Ovenden’s fantastic London Underground By Design).

For more roundel goodness, take a look at the London Underground Poster and London Underground Signs groups on Flickr.

*No Wikipedia page for Hans Schleger? Astounding.

Poster Art 150

We dropped in to the London Transport Museum over the weekend to check out their truly fantastic new show, Poster Art 150.

Put on to celebrate the 150th birthday of the London Underground, the densely packed show is a collection of 150 of the best posters produced for the tube. It features a stack of brilliant designs from the big names in poster design, including Abram Games, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Frederick Charles Herrick, Tom Eckersley, Edward Bawden, Fougasse (above); as well as a few fine artists, including Man Ray and Howard Hodgkin.

The show is split into six thematic areas, which neatly sidesteps the possible problem that might have occurred had the exhibition been chronological – namely that the more recent designs just aren’t as good. Partly this is due to the rose-tinted nature of nostalgia, but it’s not just that – the earlier designs have an energy, simplicity and wit that seems to have faded away from most of the contemporary designs we see now on the tube. Hopefully this show might serve as an inspiration though, both to the commissioners at the tube, and also to designers.

And you know, it’s interesting to stop there and linger on that word ‘designers’.

It feels like most of the contemporary commissions on the underground are given over to fine artists rather than designers. Witness the Olympic and Paralympic Posters for London 2012, Mark Wallinger’s Labyrinth, and The Roundel: 100 Artists Remake a London icon – all commissioned through the Art on the Underground programme. Where are the commissions for designers? Surely a show like this demonstrates just how brilliant a tradition of design London Transport has – it’d be great to see them embracing that by commissioning more contemporary designers, rather than just fine artists.

Anyway, here are some of our picks from the exhibition:

‘A train every 90 seconds’, the first poster Abram Games designed for London Underground, in 1937.

‘Behind the seen’, one half of a pair poster by James Fitton from 1948.

‘The lure of the Underground’, by Alfred Leete (the chap behind the Britons: Lord Kitchener Wants You poster) from 1927. This is a glorious poster – a fantastic economy of line, with wonderful characterisation, as you can see in the detail below:

Austin Cooper’s poster advertising the V&A’s first major poster show in 1931, and depicting Mercury, the winged messenger of the gods.

One of the highlights of the show is the fantastic array of different and frequently bonkers typographic styles. Here are some lovely ligatures from Frederick Charles Herrick’s ‘The lap of luxury’ poster from 1925:

And two Os getting up close and personal in Charles Paine’s ‘Boat Race’ poster from 1921:

And Alan Rogers’ lovely styling of the word Underground from his 1930 ‘Speed Underground’ poster:

Tasty stuff.

‘For the Zoo’, from 1933, by Maurice A. Miles, one of many posters for London Zoo featured in the show.

‘Away from it all’ by M.E.M. Law in 1932 – has a tube train ever looked so dynamic?

And finally, ‘Cup final’ by Eric George Fraser in 1928, which puts you right in the heart of the action.

The show runs until 27 October, and is really outstanding – do get along if you can.

100 Years of Iconic Posters

This looks like it could be an interesting talk: London Transport Museum’s Senior Curator Claire Dobbin is giving a talk, 100 Years of Iconic Posters, at Covent Garden’s new Apple Store, on Wednesday 27 October. “The illustrated talk will show highlights from a century of outstanding design, which transformed the Tube into London’s longest art gallery. Featured artists include Man Ray, Graham Sutherland, Howard Hodgkin and Sir Peter Blake.”

The poster above is The Lure of the Underground by Alfred Leete, from 1927.

(Thanks to Alex for the heads up.)