Minding The Gap from a designer’s perspective

There are many, many things that I love about London. But if there’s one thing that intrigues me the most, it’s the London Underground. Yes, I am in love with a subway system.

Affectionately called ‘the Tube’, the Underground is more than a mode of transportation. If you’re a Londoner, you live and breathe the Tube. You can’t walk a few blocks in London without seeing the infamous UNDERGROUND logo; it’s everywhere. It can take you virtually anywhere you want and introduce you to new adventures. Living there for some time, I had my fair share of Tube rides. I would set goals for myself, like memorizing the order of stops on the Piccadilly line, or riding on every line. Zapping my Oyster Card in and out of each station like a pro, learning how all of the lines somehow connect, knowing my way around the winding tunnels, and memorizing the endless amounts of ads. I felt so attached to the Tube while living in London because when I rode it, I felt a sense of belonging. I felt like a real Londoner, not an American student abroad, and nobody knew that’s what I was.

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my beloved oyster card and holder

One of the most interesting things about the Tube is the design aspect. From the start, I was attracted to the beauty of the branding, from the eye catching colors to the sleek and simple advertising and everything in between. I visited the London Transport Museum late into my trip and it became my favorite museum in the world, hands down. It reaffirmed my obsession with the Tube, and also taught me more about the design history:

There are three guys that made the Tube what it is today. Edward Johnston designed the sans serif font for the Underground that’s still used on everything Tube today. It’s simple yet modern and can be identified by any Londoner. He also played a part in designing the symbol of London, the Tube logo. The logo is known as ‘the roundel’ because of it’s signature red circle crossed by a horizontal blue bar. Frank Pick was the one who commissioned the font and the logo, when he was the chief executive of London Transport in the early 20th century. He essentially changed the way London Transport was visualized to the public, which made it a forefront of modern graphic design in its early years. Lastly we have Harry Beck, who produced the well known Tube map we still use today. He was working as an engineer draughtsman at the London Underground signals office and was paid 10 guineas for the design he invented. Beck simplified the original map and made it color coded, using shapes to mark stations, lines, and interchanges. His map was at first thought to be too different from the norm, but the public grew to like it, making it the official map in 1933.

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Here are some of my favorite vintage Underground posters:

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Did you know the London Underground has made a name for itself around the world with a reputation for designing cultivating poster designs since the very beginning and continuing to this day?

And here is in my opinion, the best Tube poster yet:

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When I first saw this in a station, I probably stared at it with a smile on my face for a good five minutes. It’s commemorating Londoners using the Tube for 150 years now, showing us the decades of users in iconic stages. At this time I was taking a ‘British Youth Culture’ class and was learning about Mods. Being able to spot the Mod in the green parka was the greatest feeling. The ad shows how all Londoners, past present and future, are connected because of the Tube.

I’m not the only one with a love for the Tube. Here are some of my favorite Tube things out there:

Poster Art 150 : A fascinating exhibit at the London Transport Museum that displays the Tube’s best 150 pieces of poster art from the past 150 years to celebrate.

Animals on the Underground : Yep, that’s right. Take a closer look at a map and you can actually find shapes of animals in it!

London Transport Museum : You. Must. Go!

Every Tube Station Song : Exactly what it sounds like. It’s perfect.

The Tube Challenge : Yes, it’s real. And these guys mean serious business.

Live Tube Map : You can watch the trains go from station to station in real time. I wish I knew about this when I was there!

– This really useful Tube poster!

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So, what’s your favorite thing about the Tube?

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Earls Court. My home station.