Designology at London Transport Museum

me-at-the-london-transport-museumA few weekends ago, Mum came to stay and I decided to take her to London Transport Museum. I’ve visited the Museum a few times (and wrote a blog about it once upon a time) but it was so exciting to be back! All the red shiny vehicles, signs in the distinctive New Johnston font and moving models are engrossing, and I wore my metaphorical anorak with pride and a broad grin throughout the visit!

Designology Exhibition

The present temporary display is all about London Transport Design. The upper floor has a series of objects on display, from bus stop flags to handrails and ticket barriers, a favourite exhibit being a collection of seat moquette and a video about how they are made. If you are interested in that too, there should a number of free drop in events as part of ‘Weaving Futures’ pop-up studio which will run 21st November to 18th February 2017.

Down the spiral stairs takes you to a ‘design studio’ of sorts which attempts to explain the design process for projects both realised, scrapped and for the future. I particularly enjoyed learning about how designers tested the effectiveness of the wayfinding mini- and monoliths (Legible London) using a full scale mdf and paper replica. I remember the real things being installed in Worcester Park and then Kingston a few years ago, a sort of proof that we are in London, despite what my ‘city’ friends might say about us ‘suburbians’!  The other half of downstairs is a space dedicated to designing, where a large table invites you to get stuck in and where the drop-in events are held.

This exhibition emphasises how integrated good design is with our everyday lives: ‘design that is often hidden by its familiarity’. It therefore connects quite well to my own interest in transport – the potential connections between place, heritage and everyday life – with these themes touched upon and celebrated in the display.

Designology is part of a wider project called ‘Transported by Design’ being run jointly by the Museum and TfL.

Gallery Activities

The design theme continued in a variety of wonderful gallery and visitor activities including: The Unfinished Bus, Make your own Oyster Card, Design your Own station and Create your own Bus! Definitely worth a visit, something fun for everyone and one of my favourite museums.





Roads and Road Transport History Association

The Roads and Road Transport History Association, let’s call it RRTHA for short, is something I’ve been involved with for a few years now. It is an association of people interested in researching historical and contemporary developments in all things road transport. I’ve met some wonderful people through the Association all with a particular passion – or a few – who are welcoming, supportive and non-judgemental, characteristics all too lacking in much of day-to-day life.

We meet twice a year for a conference and are always eager to give researchers an opportunity to speak at the conference or publish in our quarterly journal so do visit if you’d like to get involved. The other thing that RRTHA does is publish books. At our meeting in Coventry a few weeks ago I purchased the Companion to Road Passenger Transport. A work of over a decade, involving contributions from 157 people to create a compendium of 850 names/articles involved in the development of road passenger transport in the last two hundred years in Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. It’s a really good introduction for students and people interested in getting more involved in research, with lots of texts referenced and an extensive range of subjects to learn more about. It’s also got a summary in French and German.

Autumn Conference, 2016

This was held at Coventry Transport Museum on Saturday 29th October. I decided to travel on the day and was super impressed to get from my door to the museum’s in about 2.5hours. We had a number of speakers: Roger Torode talked about writing his book on the privatisation of London’s buses, Rod Ashley spoke about nostalgia and motoring (particularly interesting was the dilemma of utility value v. pleasure and ideas surrounding social responsibility), Martin Higginson spoke about bus liveries and heritage branding of companies and Richard Wallace shared lots of information on buses in East Kent. A day well spent.

Roger’s talk was particularly interesting to me and I noted the following:

  • Very intrigued by the formation of 8 bus districts in the late 1970s (with very beautiful logos which I can’t find on the internet, further proof that it is not the source of all knowledge!).
  • The militaristic nature of London Transport pre-privatisation with huge hierarchical separation, poor performance, unreliability and a low expectation culture; unions held a lot of sway which made scheduling buses incredibly difficult. How to incentivise good performance in the public sector?
  • Lack of political consensus surrounding the issue of transport in the UK context. How do we work toward political consensus on such an importance issue?
  • Red was kept as a unifying colour for buses, in part to make privatisation of the buses(11 different companies in 1988) less obvious, and therefore more palatable to the public
  • Tendering works in the London context but only because the service is still within a publicly owned and coordinated network, i.e. regulated; it favours big companies due to short contracts and has delivered a more reliable service overall