ltlogo21.jpgIt’s a simple pictogram of London, the circle with the straight-line river running through it.

It’s a tube tunnel with the long line as the tube, oblique.

It’s the deck of a Routemaster, low set with a wheel in the middle.

It an old school commuters head, bowler hatted, on the way to work.

CIRCLE and LINE: it’s the Circle Line.

It is the London Transport logo and it is without a doubt one of the best logos ever designed.

For all the innovations of London Transport (first tube, double decker buses, the tube map) one of the most surprising is this fantastic and continuing emphasis of brand and design. They even have their own FONT, and it is as recognisable as everything else on the network. For all the other city rip-offs of the Tube map design, the London grid still seems the most elegant. The intersection points on the map is yet another re-occurance of this ubiquitous logo design. The art team seems to constantly innovate in poster designs, and yet everything seems to fit within the branding. A trip to the London Transport Museum will emphasise that. And then there is that logo.

The drowsy zero.

Saturn in oblique.

The circle with a line through it. Genius.

What is most remarkable about London Transport as a brand (even as Transport For London, or its constituent bits), is that there is no reason for it to be as good. When centralised it should have been as poor as any other public sector communications: as stuck to the whims to changing controllers as any government publications. Think of those various NHS logo’s in full, the sundry attempts at public communications. Unchanged by the years, with only minor touch up, it has survived unchanged, ageing but ageless. After mini-deregulations it surely should have just splintered. Why does it even need a strong brand identity? What competitors does it have?

I think the strong brand identity softens the constant blows the crumbling system gives those of us who use it every day. The clarity of communication that their posters give us, the omnipresent logo with its built in smile, makes it feel like a friend. A friend who is often useless, but something on our side in the maze of the city. Because whatever else they do wrong, London Transport has always been there for us, and will be again. The simplicity of the logo shows the strength of a truly great brand: it becomes part of your life: trusted if not trustworthy.

All from a circle and a line. Magic!