Frank Pick, Harry Beck and Edward Johnston are names to conjure with, their efforts held in high regard by Graphic Designers and Illustrators. Their work can be found in the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden which celebrates the technology of transport and all it’s design aspects: from architecture and corporate identity to promotions and advertising. Frank Pick (1878-1941) As Head of the London Underground commissioned some of Britain’s best contemporary artist to design posters. These posters were aimed at improving the quality of people’s lives as they travelled around London and tended to show the attractions of the city and idyllic scenes of the countryside on the outskirts. Man Ray, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland were just some of the artists used and the Museum has a collection of 5,000 posters and artworks.
The Golden Age of poster design was in the 1920s and 1930s and younger artists such as Edward McKnight Kauffer, Abram Games and Hans Schleger brought the excitements of Modernity to poster design with their pared down dynamic abstract designs. The most famous item on display is the iconic London Tube Map designed in 1931 by Harry Beck (1902-1974). Beck was an engineering draughtsman who rationalised the plan of the Underground into its stations, lines and intersections in a simple colour coded and easily read diagram. Based on the fact that people underground don’t need to know what’s going on above them and referring to an electrical circuit diagram, he reduced the lines to horizontals, verticals and 45 degree angles and set the standard for all topological maps used by transport systems around the world.
Pick also forged the London Underground corporate identity by commissioning architect Charles Holden (1975 – 1960) to design new stations and typographer Edward Johnston (1872-1944) to design a new typeface called ‘Underground’ a Sans Serif font first used in 1916 and still in use today. The Museum naturally has its fair share of trams, both horse drawn and electrical, as well as examples of Metroland Trains and carriages and of course the famous Routemaster bus – “that big six wheeler, scarlet painted, London transport diesel engine, ninety seven horsepower omnibus’ to quote Flanders and Swann, but as yet a display of Thomas Heatherwick’s new London Bus now in service on Route 38 has yet to appear.
Following in the great tradition of the poster Design, the Museum is hosting the Serco Prize for Illustration with ‘Secret London’ as its theme. The competition was open to leading illustrators as well as students and 50 examples of work submitted have gone on display. The varied styles employed by the artists reflect illustration today and range from the realistic to the fantastical and brings playfulness and humour to the interpretations of the theme. Traditional techniques tend to dominate, aided and assisted admirably by Photoshop and Illustrator. Alice Vines poster ‘Beneath your feet’ is based on the story that in London you are never more than 6 feet away from a rat, while ‘Third Floor Jungle’ by Freddy Boo reveals the plants and greenery in the Conservatory at the heart of the concrete Barbican housing estate. ‘Mind the Gap’ by Matt Higgins shows pigeons crowding out the platforms on the underground while in Trafalgar Square Pigeons have a Disco inside Nelsons Column as illustrated by Christopher King. Harry Hayson’s ‘Found on the Underground” celebrates the fact that since 1933 Baker Street has been the home to the Underground Lost Property Office and an illustration ‘Harry Beck redesigning the Tube Map ‘ by David Biskup reminds people of the famous Tube Map and its designer.
For those who have missed this show, the next exhibition arriving at the London Transport Museum will be ‘Poster Art 150: London Undergrounds Greatest Designs’ running from February to October 2013.
Take care not to miss it..! ‘Hold very tight please, ting, ting’