The London Tube and Its Graphic Legacy


Harry Beck’s Tube map, Edward Johnston’s typeface and the roundel symbol embrace the identity of London. They are landmarks in the history of graphic design, and the envy of many cities or public transport authorities.

Every aspect of TfL’s branding elements, from their use of typefaces, logos, down to stationery or even their corporate design standards themselves, is highly inspirational.

More broadly, the London Underground has a special feel about it, both familiar and exotic, modern and old-fashioned. It has been the subject of many books, some of which were published for the 150th anniversary of the Tube in 2013.


Here is a selection of books I liked, dealing with the history of the tube, design or trivia.

London Underground By Design
By Mark Ovenden
Publisher: Penguin

The Roundel: 100 Artists Remake a London Icon
By Tamsin Dillon, Claire Dobbin, Jonathan Glancey & Sally Shaw
Publisher: Art/Books

London Underground — Architecture, Design and History
By David Long
Publisher: The History Press

Underground — How The Tube Shaped London
By David Bownes, Oliver Green and Sam Mullins
Publisher: Allen Lane

The Story of London’s Underground
By John R. Day & John Reed
Capital Transport Publishing

The Little Book of the London Underground
By David Long
Publisher: The History Press.


Video of the week | 03

New Order, ‘The Perfect Kiss’
Directed by Jonathan Demme | Cinematography by Henri Alekan

When this video was released in September 1985, it was to a certain extent a risky venture: to shoot an 11-minute video live, with live sound and no overdubs, for a unconventional song by a major, though not world-famous rock band was not the mainstream approach.

The Perfect Kiss | New Order

The vinyl, twelve-inch version of The Perfect Kiss (FAC 123)

The result is a unique piece of work/art, showing a band ill at ease in front of the camera, but playing great music which was to inspire dozens of bands in the decades to follow.

Jonathan Demme, who won the Academy Award for Best Director a few years later for ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, had previously directed the Talking Heads’ live performance ‘Stop Making Sense.’

It is worth noting that the cinematographer on this video was Henri Alekan who worked, just to name a few, on Jean Cocteau’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (La Belle et la Bête, 1946) or ‘Wings of Desire’ (Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987), by Wim Wenders.

Like all Factory Records releases or events, the video had a catalogue number, (FAC 321), which can be seen at the beginning of the video.

The full-length, studio version of this song appears on Substance, New Order’s 1987 major (2-CD) compilation. It is unedited, contrary to the 1985 album version which appears on Low-Life .

God Save La Marseillaise






In these troubled times, and in the aftermath of the Paris Attacks, I found it both moving and elegant from BBC Radio 4 and historian Simon Schama to explain how, in their view, the French national anthem La Marseillaise was one of the ‘greatest national anthem[s] in the world’.

However, even though I am a French citizen, I think “God Save the Queen/King” is musically superior to La Marseillaise. And it inspired artists in a more brilliant way: compare Queen’s version of GSTQ with Serge Gainsbourg’s version of the French anthem. Not to mention the eponymous song by the Sex Pistols, one of the most powerful songs in rock history.

As always in music (but also design, contemporary literature, trade, humour etc.), the British beat the French!

When Concert Tickets were not pdf files

Not so long ago (or, to be perfectly honest, about two decades ago) when you bought concert tickets, you actually got paper tickets with similar graphic artwork as the album the artist was promoting on tour. Now all you get is a pdf file with a barcode.

Here are tickets I found in some bottom drawer. Regardless of the questionable variety of musical styles, the average price of a ticket when I started attending concerts was the equivalent of twenty euros, i.e. the third of what it costs now.

Design and Music

The Peter Saville Show was held between 23 May and 14 September 2003 at the Design Museum in London. It traced the career of the graphic design legend who created artwork for Factory Records, including record sleeves for, among others, New Order.
It was therefore natural that the latter composed the score.

The Peter Saville Show Soundtrack is an atypical, 30-minute atmospheric and instrumental piece of music which has little to do with any material released by the band before or after that.

If the usual New Order line-up was not complete, Peter Hook’s basslines are easily recognisable, alongside drummer/keyboard player Stephen Morris and guitarist Phil
Cunningham, who had just joined the band as a touring musician.

I was not lucky enough to see the exhibition at the time or get the soundtrack, but I ordered one of the 3,000 CD-only copies from a website selling rare vinyl records and CDs.

The Peter Saville Show CD
As you can read on the disc, it was designed, as well as the show in itself, by the
London-based graphic design agency Graphic Thought Facility.

Front sleeve:

The Peter Saville Show CD front

Back sleeve:

The Peter Saville Show CD back

Apparently there was no official exhibition catalogue, but the book Designed by Peter
was published by Frieze when the exhibition opened.

Ridiculous Design Rules

design books

A few years ago I came across small books with an elegant layout, which I believe any graphic design enthusiast willing to escape the dogmas of the industry should read: Never Use More Than Two Different Typefaces and Never Use White Type on a Black Background.

As their title indicates, these books dissect some design rules with a tongue-in-cheek tone. They are published by BIS Publishers, a Dutch independent publishing house based in Amsterdam and specialised in creative arts.

Video of the week | 02

Depeche gear, or history for sale

In 2011, ex-Depeche Mode virtuoso keyboard player Alan Wilder decided to put up for auction most of the equipment, records, instruments, clothes and memorabilia he collected over the years he spent with the band.

Whether he did that to pay taxes or out of resentment for his DM years, nobody knows (a little bit of both, probably). However, this brilliant musician turned into a salesman just for the length of four interesting videos shot prior to the auction, in which he presented several of the items listed in the catalogue, and that were to be sold shortly afterwards.

Two years later, Alan Wilder put up for sale his s-class Mercedes convertible. Even rock stars can be practical.

Typography, from record sleeve to headstone

Factory Records Palatine boxed set | Photo by @MPoitrenaud

In 1990, the independent, Manchester-based music label Factory, created and headed by Tony Wilson, released a four-piece boxed set featuring its major artists such as New Order, Joy Division, the Happy Mondays, OMD, James and many more. Typography and graphic design always were of prime importance at Factory. The typeface used for the sleek, uncluttered cover design was Factis 90, a font based on the Sans Serif version of Otl Aicher’s Rotis, which had been published two years before.

Rotis was quite innovative at the time, and has since been used by many firms or organisations for their brand identity. Based on my own experience, I think Rotis features some of the most beautifully designed letters taken individually (i.e. a, e, p, b) but does not really work for paragraphs or as a fully fledged typeface, as stated by type designer and author Erik Spiekermann.


Anyway, the Rotis/Factis version used by Factory, and the overall Palatine design owed to John Macklin worked very well, as did the new factory logo designed by Julian Morey. It perfectly matched Factory’s minimal approach and refined style created over the years under the artistic direction of Peter Saville.

Factory Typeface CD Palatine

In 2010, three years after Tony Wilson’s death, Peter Saville and Factory-era associate Ben Kelly designed his headstone. The clean and modernist memorial may look a little bit like a stationery product or even a giant business card, but it definitely looks great, particularly thanks to the use of the right layout and typographical elements.

Cemeteries would probably look less bleak with such well-designed gravestones…