Frank Pick’s London

Much of London Transport’s history, and particularly that of the London Underground, is imbued with a palpable design language.

Frank Pick's London

Source: London Transport Museum

Frank Pick’s London

As the Underground revels in its sesquicentennial (150th) year we’ve seen some of its greatest design icons celebrated – see related stories.

Now a new book reveals how this design philosophy can be attributed to the stewardship of London transport’s first chief executive Frank Pick, who recognised the social and civic value of art and design and how it could improve Londoners’ lives.

Frank Pick's London

Source: London Transport Museum

Pick commissioned publicity posters by Paul Nash, Edward Bawden, Graham Sutherland, and Edward McKnight Kauffer, upholstered fabrics by Marion Dorn and the Piccadilly line extension by architect Charles Holden.

Marion Dorn-designed fabric 1936-38

Source: London Transport Museum

Marion Dorn-designed fabric 1936-38

It’s worth noting that moquette fabrics designed by the likes of Dorn have become so desirable that the London Transport Museum now sells them as soft furnishings for the home. 

The Underground logo was adapted to take the trading name of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933 and variations were designed for each department

Source: London Transport Museum

The Underground logo was adapted to take the trading name of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933 and variations were designed for each department

Perhaps Pick’s greatest achievement was to steer and build a recognisable brand, commissioning calligrapher Edward Johnston to create a typeface for the London Underground, and principally to re-draw the roundel symbol that we know and recognise today. 

The first pocket version of Becks Underground map, 1933

Source: London Transport Museum

The first pocket version of Becks Underground map, 1933

The much-lauded Tube Map, designed by Harry Beck in 1931 came to be under Pick’s tenure, and is explained in all its glory.

The book makes a case for influence of Pick’s legacy on the likes of the look of the Jubilee Line, the Crossrail project and the Heatherwick Studio designed New Bus for London.

Charles Holden creaated a house style which became instantly recognisable on the Picadilly line stations of 1931-34

Source: London Transport Museum

Charles Holden creaated a house style which became instantly recognisable on the Picadilly line stations of 1931-34

There are plenty of stunning photographs of identity development, Becks map sketches, Holden’s Deco towers, and hundreds of posters reflecting the illustration styles of the day.

It is published by the V&A, written by Oliver Green, former head curator of the London Transport Museum, and designed by Webb & Webb.

Sporting events were often promoted on small panel posters inside tube cars

Source: London Transport Museum

Sporting events were often promoted on small panel posters inside tube cars

The stunning cover has been adapted from Alan Rogers poster, Speed Underground, 1930.

1924 poster by Horace Taylor

Source: London Transport Museum

1924 poster by Horace Taylor

Frank Pick’s London: Art, Design and the Modern City is published in 4 November by V&A Publishing, priced £25

Latest articles

Remembering Jon Daniel: 1966-2017

We look back on the life and work of the Design Week columnist, independent creative director and social activist “who helped put black participation on the political map”.