London’S UnDERgrouND

The first introductory lecture of the new year is been given by Alan Power on the identity of the London Underground. The exhaustive and well structured talk has been very detailed with an effective research attached, also the subject matter was perfect as a starting point not being too overcomplicated and detached from the student’s life, the fact that every single one in the room has used the tube before or even on a daily basis has made an effective and involving contact between the professor and the audience –quite sure it wouldn’t have been that successful if it was instead deeply rooted in complicated design’s concept and criteria.

The structure was developed in a very pragmatic way with three main sections: a first introductory “tale” about the history of the London underground with different dates that have beaten time such as the opening of Baker street on 1863, this has made an immediate connection with the class. A second section was related to the craft maker of the identity of our beloved tube from the guy who financed it, to Frank Pick who was the main figure in the creation of the identity of the world’s most famous underground system, to Jhonston which is the actual designer who got commissioned to create the typesetting first and consequentially the logo. The concluding section had the aim to provide a detailed sequence of images and photograph of the complicated and ever challenging development of an effective, clear and struggle-free map.

Back in the beginning of the century the London underground was already daily running a series of different line throughout the city, with the public generally happy about the service provided, even though the fares were a bit overpriced. The main concern at this time for Frank Pick, the former executive in charge of the London underground affairs was to create a solid, clear and recognizable identity to gain a more profound and strong link and national association with the London community. At the time stations were blended unnoticed within a multitude of building and billboard of any kind and genre. Pick was in search of a typeface that would fully represent the time period in which they were living keeping a true simplicity through the lettering, a Sans was clearly the preferable choice of course. Is very curious to discover that many factor in the creation process and reference to society and historical nationalism are the same as the one that took place in the development by Paul Renners of the worldwide well known Futura, with the main intentions and aims laying in the need to produce a typeface with strong national identity. Edward Jhonston was the right man to fully satisfy such a pretentious task with tight restrictions and wide range of needs. With his meticulous approach to typography and a calm,mechanical and precise way to develop projects. A detailed and exhaustive research into the world of  typography with whole chapters dedicated to different stroke weight, relation between letters and forms, white space and black ink, arrangement of text and column and paragraph, as well as a manual on how to write with a fountain pen is included in the book “Writing&Illuminatin&lettering”. Since the commissioning of the project Jhonston started a series of sketches and different possibility to please and catch the eye of the commuters running through the city. In 1908 the new identity was first introduced with a new type and a logo which included a typographical element – logotype. A few arguable improvement have been applied in the following 100years but the original design is still fully detectable and almost entirely defining the nowadays design.

After that a new identity was given to the London Underground with a significant presence and personality depicting a sense of efficiency and rapidity the main problem to solve was to create a map as much clear, understandable and easily providing a way to find your fastest destination. This absolutely hasn’t been an easy task because it was necessary to combine both clarity and a topological reference to the reality on the territory, impossible was either to produce a map that was accurately following the actual route on surface of the lines or one that was heavily detached from the reality. A balance was needed. The first maps, dated around 1910 were very arty and drawing was dominant with the main problem related to the fact that it was including part of the original landscape as much as lines that were going roundy and following the real route of the line. Very confusing and unclear in its end result. And it is now that comes to play Harry Beck an employee of the London underground with a real love for it and a side project based on the idea of creating a full system map in colour. He believed that passengers riding the trains were not too bothered about the geographical accuracy, but were more interested in how to get from one station to another, and where to change. Thus he drew his famous diagram, looking more like an electrical schematic than a true map, on which all the stations were more or less equally spaced. Beck first submitted his idea to Frank Pick of London Underground in 1931, but it was considered too radical as it did not show distances relative from any one station to the others, but eventually after a trial period in 1933 his proposal was accepted and his map became the official one. Beck perversely continued to study on designs to improve the practicability and smoothness of his map but got repeatedly refused.

Nowadays the London Underground identity from the logotype, to the typeface used to the typical colour and all the features of its identity are a solid presence in the London landscape of corporate identities.

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/clivebillson/tube/tube.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_map

http://underground-history.co.uk/front.php

http://www.clarksbury.com/cdl/maps.html

“Writing&Illuminatin&lettering”  Jonsthon

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