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The History of The London's Underground

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Before Charles Tyson Yerkes was an American Financier, who in 1900, created the Underground Electric Railways Company of London as a way of controlling the District Railway. Yerkes wanted to become involved in the development of the London underground railway system and strived to unify it. Though he died in 1905 before any of his works had been completed, his ideas were carried out by his successors when they were bought together on one map. The first combined map for London’s Underground railways began to be issued for passengers in 1906, before this, each line had its own separate map. The next year, the UERL, central London, metropolitan, Great Northern & City, and City & South London Railways agreed to create the first all-inclusive map, which would combine lines from their companies. Some of these companies were in a poor financial state and so in 1907, they joined together to create a complete system of underground railways under the name ‘Underground’. As Jackson & Croome (1964, p. 132 cited in Merrill, 2013, p. 247) outline, a new map was designed in 1908 to “educate the public of the network’s growing integration.

The map displayed the network almost in its entirety”. This map clearly laid the foundation for future designs, introducing colour for the first time, but it also suffered from trying to replicate the route (making it harder to read than a geometric line) and also distorted the Metropolitan line to make room for the colour key (Garland, 1994, p. 8). Another company, the Waterloo & City, decided not to join the underground, though it’s line featured on several maps between 1908 and 1913. All-inclusive maps made it easier for travelers to navigate the rail routes. However, these first maps were designed to be geographically accurate and although it was easier having multiple routes on one map, there were issues with the clarity, which would become increasingly worse as new lines are added.

Frank Pick was a transport administrator who spent years working with trains. In 1912, he became the Commercial Manager of the Underground Electric railways company of London (UERL) and is celebrated as the main figure, responsible for its strong corporate identity. The pick was very interested in design and aimed to introduce a consistent look to advertising and lettering as he was unhappy with the diverse and endless variety of typefaces used across the system. In 1915, he had the logo redesigned as the heart of a successful corporate identity. 1915, Pick had employed Johnston to design a newly simplified typeface. The Sans Serif exemplified the virtues of modern design. It was clean-lined and efficient-qualities Pick wanted to see imposed on the system as a whole. The pick was very concerned to present the Underground system as rational, scientific, and efficient in its management. One of the ways he tried to do that was through the architecture of the Underground stations. He chose Charles Holden to design the new extension stations, particularly on the Piccadilly and Central Lines.

Holden’s approach was to use a kind of architecture which would be understood as rational and modern – a kind of European modernism. He realised or was instructed, that the stations must be recognizable as belonging to the same species. If one saw an Underground station, it should be recognizable as part of the Underground system. clear new typeface to apply to all Underground Group buildings, rolling stock and publications. Johnston’s typeface, (known as Johnston sans) was first used in 1916 and was so successful that it was used up until 1979 when it was slightly reworked and renamed to ‘New Johnston’ to keep it up to date and relevant for the modern age. The Johnston typeface, designed exclusively for the Underground, is a sans-serif font that remains in use today its elegant simplicity taken for granted – as much great design often is.

The typefaces success was down to its clarity and adaptability (Sinclair 2016). Johnston is also responsible for the rebrand of the London underground in 1925 when he designed the iconic roundel logo that is still used today. There is a very little record of what Londoners thought of the symbol at first. Journalists did observe that the new signs were part of a massive modernization program on the Underground and appreciated the consistency and coherence that the roundel provided in its role as station sign. (Byrnes) In 1925 Stingemore designed a new map which removed all surface detail in hopes of improving the clarity. However, this proved to be confusing for commuters and in 1932 the Thames was added back into the design as it created a landmark that helps people visualize where they were a bit easier. This is the design that Beck went on to develop into a diagrammatic map, much the same as we use today.

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