When the journey is the destination


On the first weekday of our study abroad trip, our assignment was to complete a scavenger hunt to find landmarks around London. My partner, Mark, and I, found those landmarks, traveling through the city on an Underground tube train and a double-decker bus to do so. As we traveled through the city’s public transit system, I discovered something else to love: the London transportation system, with a specific focus on its graphic design.

I already have a little experience with public transit systems, thanks to growing up in the Chicago suburbs just a couple miles from a station on the “L” system of elevated trains. Last summer, my work alternated between a suburban office and downtown Chicago, so I often took the L downtown.

London’s public transit system is like a supercharged version of everything I loved about the L. The tube’s many intersecting lines mean that almost every point of interest in the city is just a few steps away from a train station. As Mark and I walked through the city, we were often able to find a convenient train route to take us to the next spot on our hunt. And when there wasn’t a train available, there was a bus route.

The design of the London train and bus systems is exquisite in its consistency, and in its messaging. It gets across the message that the rail system is a modern/futuristic development. However, the font that is the basis of this design, Johnston, was actually designed back in 1916. Though it has been slightly altered, its core remains the same as it was back then. Yet, somehow, I found that this 20th century font set a 21st century mood for London’s outstanding transit system.

The font is used across all elements of the transit system–from street signs for the buses, to tube maps, to the hazard signs inside the tube stations. When inside a tube station, you will only see another font if looking at an advertisement. This speaks to the font’s effectiveness in getting across its message, and to the way that the transit authorities have successfully created a unified design theme.

The design of many of the stations inside looks futuristic, too. The stations are generally clean, and some have a metallic theme that makes them look like some sort of airplane hangar from a movie. The trains are generally pretty clean inside, too, and their use of bright colors makes them seem more vibrant.

The transit map could be confusing to read at first, but once you got the hang of it, it got a lot easier. If I lived in a city like London, with such a robust transit system, I don’t think I would even need a car.

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