Design Makes a Difference: Frank Pick in London

Many cities are fortunate to have visionaries in their past whose influence extends far beyond the grave. New York had Frederick Law Olmstead and Robert Moses; Toronto had R.C. Harris; London has had many, including Frank Pick. Alice Rawthorne writes in the International Herald Tribune about how he was put in charge of the London Underground when people were confused and nervous about using the new system; Pick simplified things by standardizing the design of maps, signs and timetables, and placing them in particular positions, so passengers would know where to find them.

In 1916 he commissioned a typeface that was "unmistakably to the 20th century," and in 1931 he replaced the geographic map with a diagrammatic one, based on an electrical circuit. He hired the best artists and architects (this poster is by Man Ray) and built a system where new walkable suburbs could coalesce around his stations.

Rawsthorn concludes: " Pick strove to create a modern, dynamic transport system with trains, trams and buses that ran on time while offering an informal education on art and design to the masses. How did he do it?

Well, the bad news for wannabe Picks is that he worked exceptionally hard, often ending up at remote stations after midnight in his regular trawls of the network to check that the staff members weren't slacking."

We conclude that if you want to get people out of their cars and build a sustainable society, then you have to design it really well, think about all aspects of it right down to the typefaces, and make it attractive and interesting and fun. Like Frank Pick did. ::International Herald Tribune with a great slide show here.

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