A visit to The London Transport Museum

Written by:
Ben Gallagher – Creative Lead

I’ve lived in London for the best part of 4 years now, and in all that time I’ve done nothing even remotely tourist-led. With good reason. I, like most people, hate queuing. For anything, ever. I really do loath it, I have to make that clear because its for that reason that I’ve put off looking at some museum exhibitions.

Turns out, I should have just built a bridge as they say.

That being said with the pandemic basically annihilating the concept of the queue in most cases, due to people not wanting to stand side-by-side for long periods of time having a stranger potentially make you ill, I’ve found myself more open to the idea of joining a short queue in order to enrich my life.

Hooray, for, me.

Anyway, my abject resentment of standing in a line aside – this past weekend I had the opportunity to go to the London Transport Museum.

I like engineering, broadly speaking, moreover, I love craftsmanship, from pre-mass production period furniture to a handmade belt for example. Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me.

In that vein, the TfL visual language and the signwriting and painting of the original London Buses and delivery vehicles are glorious examples of craftsmanship. Oh, and quite a few of those delivery vehicles were made by an automotive company called Leyland Motors,

To keep this particular post design orientated, I’ll focus on the exhibits that lean more into the TfL brand.

The best part of the museum experience from that perspective is the area titled “London by Design”. Inside this space, about the size of four of the large meeting room in the studio, side by side, there are projections of TfL posters from the 1920s, advertising anything from services offered by TfL, to sights that can be found in and around the City using the network.

Even as projections they’re beautiful, though they also have a selection of them in print, peppered around the room which are much nicer.

There are also the original typesetting blocks of a cut of Johnston, the typeface used for TfL on display, alongside the drawing of those letterforms pre-casting and, this is truly stunning, a FLOPPY DISK (Google it, younger people) of that typeface in a digital format and a guide on how to install it. A GUIDE ON HOW TO INSTALL A FONT… Let that sink in.

A chunk of this work came from ‘The Design Research Unit’. A coming together of British design institutions to form one super organisation covering a variety of design practices.

The DRU ceased to operate under that name in 2004 but Google the DRU too, some beautiful works to be seen, there’s also a book on the DRU I recommend buying called “Design Research Unit, 1942-72”. Oh, also Google the “Federal Design Improvement Program” if you want more lovely eye candy, but I digress.

Summing up – for me personally, the jewel in the room is the original draftsman’s drawing of the TfL roundel.

It is old, worn, and beautiful.

A superb snapshot into a bygone time where there was no CMD+Z. Once there’s ink on the page if the proportions weren’t correct, start again, if the lines weren’t perfect, start again. I love it.

I love how it encapsulates design thinking, it’s not a quick render of what “should be done” with a logo. It’s a detailed representation of what goes into making it. 

It’s the time and attention paid to crafting this form that perfectly sums up why it’s been around, albeit with a minor tweak, for over a century. It’s the history of efforts to create a design like this that got me into this line of work in the first place, like I said above, I love craftsmanship.

If you haven’t been recently, or ever I highly recommend it. if nothing else you’ll get to sit on a bus from the 1800s, next to a mannequin of a victorian lady reading a newspaper, which is truely haunting.

Why would you not want that?

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