— On Comms Design. From London

First posting from London. Today about the Tube.

Have you noticed how government agencies have no clue about communicating? Or at least that seems to be the case in most of Romania, France and Italy.

I mean, I have travelled some but have never had the feeling that those “public utilities” like transportation or gas, light, electricity ever bother to really speak to their users. Until I came to London and got on the Tube. Not only did everyone I had met LOVE the Tube but you could see there was a real sense of iconicity about the whole thing. The Tube logo, made of the iconic roundel [pls see history below], was and is used as signature on a lot of tourist merchandise and some of the Tube lingo like “mind the gap” has turned into jargon almost.

[While the first use of a roundel in a London transport context was the trademark of the London General Omnibus Companyregistered in 1905, it was first used on the Underground in 1908 when the UERL placed a solid red circle behind station nameboards on platforms to highlight the name.[185][186] The word “UNDERGROUND” was placed in a roundel instead of a station name on posters in 1912 by Charles Sharland and Alfred France, as well as on undated and possibly earlier posters from the same period.[187] Frank Pick thought the solid red disc cumbersome and took a version where the disc became a ring from a 1915 Sharland poster and gave it to Edward Johnston to develop, and registered the symbol as a trademark in 1917.[188] The roundel was first printed on a map cover using the Johnston typeface in June 1919, and printed in colour the following October.[189]]  – from Wikipedia

I am not going to talk about why the Tube is such a landmark when it comes to brand design. People will be aware that some of the things the London Tube has circulated as “mere informational leafleting” are actually staples of design and usability – for instance the Tube map – refined to what it is today in 931 by Mr. Harry Beck [according to Wikipedia] – which serves as inspiration for a lot of subsequent similar renditions. But today I want to speak about brand management through communication as in SPEAKING to your users every chance you get.

The Tube does this wonderfully and they also do it in a timely and smart manner. Two arguments to support this:

– the Tube educates while informing – they have countless posters inviting people to leave their morning paper in the Tube so other people can use it, telling them what to do in case they feel sick (it stands to reason there would be no point in pulling the emergency brake BUT it also refers to a clear insight namely that people’s FIRST reaction when they feel sick is to pull the emergency brake) or letting them know that the Tube may experience disruptions at weekends and they should be mindful and plan ahead.


– The Tube stands by its plans and commitments while informing – and this is even more obvious today when London is about to experience the worst Tube “outage” in a long time due to planned strikes. People at the Tube have purchased full page adverts in most newspapers to let everyone know when and how outages will occurs BUT ALSO to say they stand firm and will not give in to the pressure because the planned changes that caused the strikes are really good for the Tube.







One also relates to the tone of voice and the way they train staff to ALWAYS be communicating everything.

Just look at this poster announcing a so needed Twitter account that lets you get live updates. It’s information but with a Tube kind of tone because of the OMG ☺

photo (1)You would also have to witness the countless hand-written notice boards where staff knows exactly what to announce and they do it in such a quirky and fun way. And if there is nothing to announce there will be a quote or simply “All is working well today! Hurray!”. This, alongside some of the design things I have mentioned, contributes to one of the world’s most outspoken and smart brands I have seen. One that operates in a very difficult environment but does a great job of it.

I <3 the Tube!