Monday, 13 June 2011

London, the Brand

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in London.

(No, this isn’t my excuse for not updating my blog in a while. Well… maybe it is)

Although I don’t live in London, I’m close enough to go there frequently. I do find myself there very often because of work, but I also like to go there to play. The more time I spend there the more I realize that perhaps I should be an honorary Londoner.

One thing that really fascinates me about London is about how it appears to have a Brand. Somehow the brand revolves around buses and the Tube, both forms of transport. Well, there are also red telephone boxes and the Queen’s Guard but for now let’s focus on the Tube.

Not only is the signage for the tube almost universally recognized as a London icon, but so is the famous tube map by Harry Beck. Not to mention the gorgeous underground posters and the phrase: “Mind the Gap”.


I can’t think of many other cities in the world that are defined by their transport, and defined so well, following the principles of Branding. All I need to do is see a tube sign in the distinctive New Johnston typography and I know I’m in London. I like the Paris Metro or the NY Subway but I can’t now recall any unique iconography. (Before I get blasted, I’m sure Parisians and New Yorkers differ in this assessment, which is fair enough as they live there). In these places the trains are used as a mode of transport between tourist attractions – not an attraction in itself. Does the Paris Metro have a gift shop? Are the NYC subway posters an art form in their own right?

This means that London Transport can make some extra money flogging us every possible trinket that either has the Tube map on it, or the roundel or even fabric designs from the train seats. The branding is so sharp that underground stations and bus stops are easily identified because of the distinctive typography and colors. These design elements work beautifully together in the other parts of LT like the Docklands Light Railway, River transport, London Overground services and even the Barclays cycle hire. There are of course extensive rules about how the elements should be used, to ensure consistency.

It all works so well. I am consistently impressed by how well this branding works and how well it adapts to new uses (like the cycle hire elements, which are not that old at all). It all feels like it’s ALWAYS been there, because it’s so faithful to the well-loved elements.

I have spent a lot of time admiring all these elements of London iconography. I love the fact that they are clear, simple, timeless and modern. I love that they help me find my way, help me find stations and various modes of transport. I love that they look very, very cool.

I think I’ve been spending too much time in London.


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