Earlier this week TfL launched The London Underground Station Design Idiom, "a revolutionary new design vision which gives Londoners an insight into the future look and feel of Tube stations... to ensure future station designs build upon the network's heritage and provides customers with welcoming, comfortable and straightforward journeys."
It's a mammoth document, 225 pages long, detailing the design philosophy that will be enacted on the tube network from this day forward. All station works will follow the Idiom, which proposes how fresh stations like Nine Elms will be built and classic stations like Southfields will be maintained. It's marvellouslly detailed stuff, clearly written by people who know what they're talking about and have the interests of passengers and heritage at heart. You've got to love a document that can casually slip in the phrase "ox blood faience" before going on to divide up the network into twenty distinctive architectural styles.
For a detailed summary and thoughtful overview, London Reconnections has a lengthy report, complete with a tube map showing which stations match those 20 different design palettes. To read the entire enormous document, which'll more than fill an empty Friday afternoon, click here.
What I've decided to go for is more of a cut and paste job, first summarising what the nine London Underground Station Design Idiom principles actually are.
1) Achieve Balance Across the Network
The Underground’s environments are complex and often space constrained. While primarily there to enable and ease movement through the network, they also perform other functions, like being world-class commercial destinations. It is vital to strike the right balance between, sometimes competing, priorities – and maintain a purity and clarity of space to create a sense of order and calm.
2) Look Beyond the Bostwick Gates
London is a growing city and the Underground network must expand, evolve and become more flexible to accommodate and support this growth. To achieve this, we must shift our traditional ideas of ownership and management boundaries, work together to challenge the theory that a station ends at the Bostwick gates, and engage with communities to embed stations in their place.
3) Consider Wholeness
Often station interventions are designed and implemented in isolation, but this can have negative knock-on impacts to the broader environment. When designing new stations or altering existing ones, create whole spaces, involve the whole team, and keep stations free from clutter.
4) Prioritise Comfort for Staff and Customers
Stations are not just for customers, they are for staff too. Our people are the lifeblood that ensures the smooth and efficient delivery of the service day after day. Consider all design from both a customer and staff perspective. Remember to design stations for people.
5) Delight and Surprise
Each station must have at least one distinguishing feature, one special moment, which allows it to be memorable and engage with its immediate neighbourhood.
6) Use Materials to Create Atmospheric Spaces
The Underground network is vast and diverse. Each station architectural type has a family of colours, materials and special features which should be used to create engaging atmospheres and elevate the experience of every customer journey.
7) Create Ambience with Lighting
Lighting is a key element of the Idiom and, when applied properly, can transform a station. Use layers of light to create spaces that are safe and functional but also create excitement and drama. Use light as a tool to make stations flow better.
8) Integrate Products and Services
Ensure you have the right station products and services to best serve the customer. Integrate these products and services carefully to create user-friendly environments, which are logically laid out and promote smooth customer flows.
9) Prepare for the Future
Customer expectations evolve rapidly and our stations must change to meet these needs. Remember to design stations with durability and flexibility in mind. Understand future maintenance needs and consider whole-life costs upfront.
Tucked away part-way through the Idiom is this intriguing design roundel-inspired concept:
Applying the principle of the circle and rectangle
The combination of two shapes leads to a simple but fundamental framework that underpins the Design Idiom. The circle should be used as a consistent network-wide aid for customers finding their way, defining customer information areas, ticketing, meeting points and lighting. The rectangle should be used for everything else, a locally responsive ‘frame’ for all other services from advertising to retail.
And that mention of advertising isn't the only one. Indeed I was struck as I skimmed through the document how frequently advertising was mentioned, presumably as a fundamental part of station design (and TfL funding) going forward. Here's some of what the LUSDI has to say on the subject, each with reference to the appropriate numbered design principle listed above. This might be the future, but alas not all of London Underground's cherished 20th century design values may survive the 21st.
1) It is important to achieve the right balance between the amount of customer information, retail and other commercial units, and advertising. Thought should be given to customer needs so that station spaces do not feel dominated by one thing. For example, a station crammed with retail or advertising will be hard to navigate and distracting for customers. Conversely a station with no retail could represent a loss to a customer’s sense of convenience. A smaller amount of well-placed advertising is more valuable to advertisers – and therefore London Underground – than a lot of less prominent advertising.
2) Shops should bring the local community into the heart of the station. Nearby retail services should be encouraged to become part of the overall travel experience. Internal, external and semi-external retail environments should be used to bridge the gap between inside and out.
3) All commercial activities within the station should contribute to the station’s feeling of ‘wholeness’. This can be achieved through:
∙ Matching retail materials and trims to those of the Design Idiom palette and flashcards
∙ Ensuring that tenant lighting does not compete with the lighting of the station
∙ Choosing retailers which are appropriate to the station and its setting
∙ Ensuring retail signs do not dominate the station
5) Impact advertising can be immersive, stimulating and thought-provoking. It can lighten the journey, while providing entertainment. Impact advertising is best when specific to its space and fitting to the architecture. It is even stronger when it is rooted to its neighbourhood. Engage with commercial development to attract brands which make the Underground and its spaces more interesting, dynamic and stimulating. Make it appropriate to its place (historic interiors do not suit all types of advertising). Retail brings convenience to stations and, by using interesting brands and showcasing of devices such as pop-up shops, can look great and create excitement.
7) Where digital advertising is present, the lighting scheme should take this into account. The lighting should provide a subtle backdrop to the screens to enhance the aesthetic of the space, without interfering with the advertising itself.
8) For an advertiser, the ticket hall is one of the most sought after parts of the station as it has the potential to deliver 100 per cent of traffic flow and usually good dwell times too. The best locations for advertising are those that deliver head-on messages to customers, ideally with long sight-lines so messages have time to be absorbed. Often the area with the highest impact for advertisers is also the most useful for essential customer information, so in such locations a balance must be struck.
Where a prime spot can be found, and the station provides sufficiently high footfall, a digital display can be used. This maximises the number of advertisers that can be displayed in any given period. Ticket gates offer further advertising opportunities and are available across all Underground stations. Carefully consider the type and quality of the advertisements in these areas to ensure they do not overly distract customers when entering or exiting a station.
Escalators can provide advertisers with good dwell times to deliver smart, static advertising through the escalator panels, or interesting animated copy through the digital escalator panels – usually when they are leaving the station. The escalator arch is also sometimes used by advertisers wanting to create extra impact. In larger spaces, use a station feature halo at the top of an escalator or stairs to draw customers upwards. Allow breathing space at the top and bottom of an escalator or stairway so passengers aren’t distracted as they step on or off.
The corridor space is often dominated by advertising, usually a combination of dry posted or glazed four sheets and 12 sheets, with illuminated six sheets or a digital display at the corridor turns. However, owing to the lack of dwell time, head-on locations and long sight lines, this area of the station delivers the lowest revenue returns on a like-for-like space basis. In stations with wide aisles, for example Oxford Circus, a combination of fixed advertising assets, such as six sheets and digital displays can be found which, when combined with vinyl wrapped displays, can deliver a stunning result, dominating an entire area and creating true recognition for any advertiser.
On platforms the space available across the track is highly sought after. With an average dwell time of three minutes on a platform, it allows advertisers to deliver detailed messages to a captive Underground audience. Passengers look to advertising to give them inspiration for ‘books to read’ or films to watch, and the platform environment is the perfect time in which to provide this information and distract from the daily commute.
9) Digital technologies allow adverts to be combined with other customer messages, to make spaces work harder. The placement of advertising will be specifically picked for the quality of location, and in the future driven by a ‘less is more’ philosophy. Ticket halls will include more large format advertising to make use of the high level of wall space and create high-impact advertising locations. The merits of using these advertising assets, but with travel information displayed on each side, will be tested soon.
Wireless technology allows staff and customers to connect more easily to the world above, to the internet and to one another. This means staff can access real-time information updates to pass on to customers, and customers can access more retail and advertising services while travelling.
Video walls along the entire length of the escalators are planned; hopefully, sound, lighting and perhaps smell will also be available for a completely immersive sensory experience.
Case study: the future of ticket halls - Oxford Circus
The Oxford Circus of the future will be one free of clutter, opened up to its original ‘circus’ form and with integrated retail and advertising. There will no longer be a gateline, which means customers can travel more freely through the ticket hall. We started by stripping the ticket hall back to essential information and removing clutter and anything which impeded the original circular form of the ticket hall. Following the principle that ‘place should begin at platform’, Oxford Circus will offer an immersive digital, often branded and tailored experience. The station will be opened up to reveal its perfectly circular form; a halo of natural light will be filtered in; branding and art will decorate the walls and ceilings, and a digital and changeable 3D experience will be created for both customer information and commercial opportunities.