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Design at the Centre of the new London Transport Museum

Advertising, Graphic Design, Music Video / Film, Photography

Posted by Mark Sinclair, 20 December 2007, 14:07    Permalink    Comments (4)

Roundel 1925
Part of a drawing by Edward Johnston of the iconic London Underground roundel and bar, known as the
"bullseye design", that forms part of the design gallery at the newly opened London Transport Museum

The London Transport Museum has recently opened its doors to visitors once again and CR was lucky enough to have a good look around. Of particular interest is the new design gallery which, if its placing in the middle of the museum is anything to go by, now takes centre stage among the tube trains and buses that fill up the floor space. Design, it seems, has always been at the very heart of London Transport and this is now something the new-look museum aims to celebrate wholeheartedly.

The Design for Travel gallery is part of a major transformation project at the LTM which has cost £22.4 million and taken two years to complete. Also new is the World Cities gallery – the walkway into the museum itself – that was designed by the Conran Design Group. This display highlights the many different transport systems from around the world and features footage made by passengers that was collected via a call for content made by the museum on Facebook.

City wall
The World Cities gallery design by the Conran Design Group

It's not quite what you expect as you enter the museum, but then much of LTM's redevelopment has gone into making it feel more interactive and contemporary, with touch screen information points located at each display. Indeed, the most progressive part of the new-look museum is the enormous Complex Connections screen, designed by Ralph Applebaum Associates and Paragon Creative, which displays live data feeds of the city's traffic flow and maps of people's journeys across the network.

Central display
The huge Complex Connections screen (designed by Ralph Applebaum Associates
and Paragon Creative) displays real-time traffic information and shows how individual
customers use the network in a given day

The new design gallery has been created to showcase what the museum refers to as its "crown jewels" and this lovingly curated section explores how transport has proved vital in shaping London's cultural identity. The development of the London Transport poster runs along many of the previous displays (the ones on show are only a fraction of the 5000 held in the London Transport archives in Acton) with one particularly well-covered area being the growth of leisure opportunities provided by the transport system as it expanded. "Metroland" refers to the areas of suburban growth that followed the expansion of the Metropolitan line, with places like Neasden, Harrow, Watford and Wembley springing up along the way. Many posters were made to reflect the new opportunities that the expanding boundaries of the city could provide.

Design space
The Design for Travel gallery at the LTM

Famous names like Edward Johnston and Harry Beck are, of course, more extensively celebrated in the design gallery itself and their work appears among London Transport's considerable achievements in architecture. There are some great models of the beautiful modernist stations of Charles Holdern – like Rayners Lane and Arnos Grove – for example.

Beck 1933 original
Harry Beck's original 1933 underground map

Beck 1933 detail
Detail of Beck's 1933 map

While Harry Beck's original re-drawn map of the London Underground is on show (Beck was an engineering draughtsman so there's some suggestion that he based his design on a wiring diagram) one of the museum's most recent acquisitions also bears the great man's name. What's interesting, however, is that it's his design for the Paris Metro system, which employed the same approach as his London map. Not wanting to appear copyist, Beck's Paris design was promptly rejected by the French authorities and was never used.

Design space detail
Beck's rejected Paris Metro map can be seen bottom right in this image, under the London map

What's apparent when you browse the many treasures on display here is the vital links between London Transport and the graphic artists of the time. Man Ray and Abram Games both designed classic posters for the network and, with the opening of the Victoria line in the 1960s, artists (like Games) were also invited to design murals and mosaics for individual stations.

In this way, the work of countless celebrated designers still has a place within the contemporary network. But to see some of the great work from London Transport's past, a trip to the museum's design gallery is most definitely worth the tube fare.

1947 poster2
Misha Black and John Barker's At London's Service poster from 1947

1947 poster
Abram Games' At London Service poster from 1947

1938 poster
Man Ray's Keeps London Going poster from 1938

1931 poster
Power: the Nerve Centre of London's Undergroud poster by Edward Mcknight Kauffer, 1931

See for more details


I'd love to have a print of that first Bullseye design schematic. Looks like they have some great poster prints on their online store, but not that one. Bummer.
2007-12-27 17:48:40

Those posters are so brilliant. i guess we have to accept the ker-azy interactive part of the museum, obviously intended to suck children in with the bright lights and pretty colours, if we want to see the good stuff.
2007-12-29 04:37:04

Yes, it's a shame they aren't able to show more of their huge collection in the museum itself. However, while the curators will be rotating the poster displays within the gallery spaces, you can now look through the entire collection (over 5000 posters) here:

Also, the interactive stuff has actually been done really well. While kids (and adults for that matter) can still clamber aboard some of the exhibits, the large Connections screen has a lot of potential. When I visited it was showing the average traffic speeds in the capital (about 12 mph if memory serves), then playing out a series of routes across the network that various people used to get to work everyday. The idea is that visitors will be able to plot their own journeys on the screen and see how their own travel impacts on the system as a whole (highlighting where bottlenecks are etc). Check out the shop, too, if you like the posters.
2007-12-31 16:34:26

The underground has always been the nucleolus of the London communication and transportation center! Ever since WW2!
2008-02-26 19:05:01

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