This week’s ‘culture’ day out could potentially have me criticised as being a bit of a Geeky McGeekface from Geeksville – but in fact, the topic in question is interesting as it focuses on something that all Londoners, and anyone who has ever visited London, will all have seen and taken for granted, and not even given a second thought to – but in fact there is a history (and a science) behind what is an instantly globally recognised symbol………..and that is the Tube “Roundel”.
The roundel was the brainchild of Frank Pick who had worked his way up through the ranks to the level of Managing Director of London Underground in the 1920s and the first Chief Executive of London Transport. Frank Pick (1878-1941) has had more influence on the look of twentieth-century London than any other individual.
In 1913, to make the Underground Group’s posters and signage more distinctive, Frank Pick commissioned an Edward Johnston, to design a clear new typeface, instructing him to produce a lettering that would ensure that the Underground Group’s posters would not be mistaken for advertisements – giving Johnston a brief that his end product should have “bold simplicity”. This typeface would also need to be applied to all station signage.
Edward Johnston, was the son of Scottish settlers, was born in 1872 on their remote ranch in the province of San José, Uruguay. The family returned to England when Johnston was three years old. He was a creative child, whose hobby was the copying of texts in the manner of a mediaeval manuscript, which developed into him working for the British Museum where he was encouraged to study Roman and Renaissance lettering – and this led him to make a career out of designing various lettering styles.
Frank Pick also asked Johnston to redesign the trademarks for the Underground Group including The Bullseye logo which Frank Pick had first initiated in 1908. Johnston refined this to the now familiar branding of the bar and circle (known as a ‘roundel’) we still see today and which is recognised the world over.
The Johnston typeface/font, was so successful that, with only minor modifications in recent years, it is still in use today.
An adapted version of the roundel is now prominent at bus stops – the London overground stations, and the river taxi services.
Frank Pick oversaw what is now acknowledged to be transport design’s golden age. He commissioned some of the most recognisable icons of London Underground’s identity such as the distinctive red, blue and white ‘roundel’ Tube logo – its font/ typeface – the Harry Beck Tube Map and the art deco architecture of many Underground stations designed by Charles Holden.
With the assistance of my 60+Oyster Travel Card, my quest today was to photograph some of the more interesting ‘roundels’ in situ and on display throughout this great City – which I hope you find interesting