Today’s Transport for London Poster Designs are All The Same

London Transport are justly proud of their design and branding of yesteryear. They have exhibitions and books that celebrate their design history. There are thousands of posters in the collection of the London Transport Museum.

Design and business students from all over the world study how LT’s Frank Pick advanced the art of corporate branding — even though London Transport was a public body.

Sadly, the same impulse to consistently apply a brand means that for many years London’s transport poster designs have remained the same.

Here are some examples:

They have the same design. They don’t look the same. They use the same design — as specified in the gradually evolving brand guidelines of Transport for London:

  1. Write a headline
  2. Commission an illustration
  3. Lay out the poster, applying the standard format: Text in standard range of sizes, add statutory logos, pick colour from illustration for solid area of colour.

It is about time that Transport for London acknowledge that poster design is not only about the right illustration. It is the harmonious balance between message-specific typography, layout, colour and the right illustration.

They should also consider how multiple different posters look when shown next to each other. This is more common than not. They could then be confident enough not to have ‘MAYOR OF LONDON’ and ‘TRANSPORT FOR LONDON — EVERY JOURNEY MATTERS’ on every poster. It is likely that people who see a well-designed poster that includes some Transport for London branding will recognise it as such. The fact that some funding for local transport comes though local taxes may be important to a few people, but everyone else doesn’t need to be reminded of it on every single piece of TFL printed collateral.

If the current design rules were applied during the decades when London’s transport posters were distinctively well-told stories, here is what they would have looked like. The left-hand side shows the original: the right shows what the same poster would look like if it was designed today:

It seems to me that Transport for London is more interested in commissioning great illustrations than commissioning great poster designs. That’s a pity. This is an example where the lesson of consistency in design learned from providing a complex transport service is being applied too stringently.

Other modern organisations — both public and private are able to make more of poster design. It is time for Transport for London to take note and once again create great public art based around poster design again.