Its just over ten years since Legible London signs first made their roots on London’s streets. Everybody’s been tweeting, blogging, about the 10th anniversary of these signs. However this is a look at whats left of the original 2007 scheme. Where were the original monoliths/miniliths/fingerposts located? And do they still exist….
Legible London was originally conceived as part of a plan to make London one of the world’s best walking cities. Surveys prior to 2007 revealed at least 32 different types of signs and maps used to waymark the streets in Central London and no doubt it was confusing despite the best intentions of those who put these signs up.
Thus Legible London was a means of providing higher quality and more visible signs. Two important elements – better information and walking distances. The first signs went live in November 2007 as part of a pilot. This ensured a good spread centered around Bond Street tube station, including as far as Oxford Circus and into Mayfair.
There is no common standard for the positioning of street signs. By contrast, our road signage for motor vehicles is consistent, clear and accepted right across the country – it tackled these issues decades ago.
One of the first concerns was the sign systems for pedestrians (pre 2007) was far too confusing. As the above quote shows, it was not right that motorists have been provided with a clear and concise signage system for decades but pedestrians were expected to manage with a system of non-complementary, inconsistent and confusing signs.
With this in mind, TfL and its partners set out to try and build a new pedestrian wayfinding system.
Confusing signs in London! Credit: Simon Charbonneau
The beginning of Legible London began 2004 when the Mayor of London said he would make London a better walking city:
London is a great city for walking. My vision is to make it one of the world’s most walking friendly cities by 2015. Walking is an enjoyable, free and accessible activity and for most people, a necessary part of their everyday journeys.
The Mayor’s Walking Plan for London 2004
The statistics for walking are impressive. Despite having excellent transport systems more people are choosing to walk around London:
Walking is popular as a mode of travel for leisure purposes in London, with 49% of adults regularly making leisure orientated trips on foot. Almost 33% of leisure journeys over 200m are on foot (London Area Transport Survey – LATS 1991).
High demand for walking makes the quality of pedestrian links to leisure attractions and for leisure walks important. Particularly important are links between attractions, routes from underground/bus stops, information and signing. (Quotes from the Mayor’s Walking Plan 2004.)
By December 2005 the scheme was mooted London wide for the first time. This was at a conference involving all 32 London boroughs and a standard waymarking system was very positively welcomed. In June 2006 Central London Partnership held a day long workshop where “where architects, transport specialists, business partnerships, local authorities, government departments, the police, environmental groups and many others came together to discuss issues pertinent to the Legible London scheme.”
The next steps were in October 2006 where a six month long exhibition was held at Store Street:
The site attracted almost 3000 visitors during the first three weeks of the exhibition, with the poll showing that 45 per cent found London street signage ‘unpredictable’, while 54 per cent enjoyed walking and were prepared to do more of it.
On the basis of feedback from that Legible London Exhibition, TfL held two further consultation meetings in 2007 followed by a decision to begin a prototype scheme. This was launched on 27 November 2007 and entailed 17 monolith/minilith signs (5 of the former, 12 of the latter) plus 2 finger posts.
Legible London signs needed to be both consulted (time rich users) and the information easily digestible. It would ultimately be a better system than even the classical brown tourist signs.
The sign system is derived from a set of wayfinding questions that are asked by pedestrians. These can be silent or subconscious, but what we know is that they are fundamental to getting around. The on street sign system is designed to respond to these basic, as well as sophisticated, questions. It is designed to provide answers in the right order so that the questioner can work out the answer they are seeking.
The modus operandi behind Legible London’s signs. How they present information and give answers
TfL’s page on Legible London implies ‘The scheme was developed in November 2007 with a prototype at Bond Street.’ Its quite a misleading statement for it suggests a single monolith instead of seventeen signs, and does not behove of the fact the original scheme was much more widespread.
Before the current scheme began, another pilot was instigated. This was in early 2010 when new signs were installed at Bankside/SouthBank, Bloomsbury/Covent Garden and Richmond/Twickenham. The idea was to test the signs in different environments, with different companies being responsible for each location. Those companies were Atkins, AIG and Faber Maunsell respectively.
Following that second pilot, the scheme was initiated as a full roll out. The idea was to have as comprehensive a system as was possible in place for the London 2012 Olympics. Born Digital were responsible for designing the 3d buildings on the maps. The databases (information geolocations, distances etc) are maintained by TKartor whilst Applied Wayfinding conduct on site surveys for possible locations and gather data/information to use on the signs. Trueform Engineering are the people who make the signs.
A rare Legible London waymarker by the Lee Navigation. This sign was sadly destroyed by vandals.
The signs are now in most boroughs and even found in London’s parks, along the Thames, the Lee Navigation and the city’s canals. There are even miniature waymarkers about three feet high, the above picture of that at the Middlesex Filter Beds nature reserve by the Lee Navigation being an example. Digital versions have also been made for Canary Wharf.
Canary Wharf’s digital versions, one inside DLR station (shown) one outside the Jubilee Line station.
Waymarker, Minilith A, Minilith B, Midilith C, Monolith D, Finger Post standard, Finger Post headline.
These signs are not cheap. But they are a good investment in terms of the number of people that rely on these signs. It is said over 2 billion people use these in London each year alone. They have greatly improved the ease of walking around London.
At 2015 prices its apparently £20,000 each for the monoliths. The miniliths are probably about a third of that cost. In that year it was suggested rolling out Legible London right across London would cost somewhere in the region of £50 million. Thats about 2,500 Legible monoliths, or perhaps more sensibly a mix of 4,000 or so monoliths, miniliths, midliths and fingerposts.
It may not be widely known however the typography used on Legible London is the famous Johnston font, used on London’s underground system. It means both tube and street signs now complement each other, presenting a comprehensive visual means of getting around London, not just by walking but also by using the underground as the first step towards somewhere to walk.
Derivation of the Legible London scheme at Barbican
Its not a problem to present the same design standard throughout the street signs and the tube signs because both are invariably owned and managed by TfL.
To date just a few tube stations use the actual design standard for Legible London especially where there is a large tourist footfall. A good example of the use of both TfL and Legible London signage can be seen at Barbican station. As station signage gets updated or replaced, there is sure to be increased incidences of both types of sign depiction found across London’s transport system.
Legible London elements incorporated into standard tube signs (Barbican)
Some cities have tried to introduce their own schemes based on London’s Legible Signs but stringent intellectual laws means these cannot be copied. Inevitably there are attempts at producing similar schemes. There are some good efforts but also many bad ones too. London had the original idea and it is also without a doubt the best to be found anywhere.
The beautiful embossed map featured on the original versions
The main changes between the 2007 scheme and the present are few. To the uninitiated both protoype and production signs look the same. The biggest difference is the map panel. The originals for the 2007 scheme had maps printed, embossed in fact, onto the very surface of the panels.
The process, a time honoured one known as vitreous enamelling, has been around for more than a century. Its quite a costly process these days however, and in order to reduce the total cost of each Legible sign, the newer ones instead sport vinyl printed maps fronted with glass. Otherwise the rest of the panels still use vitreous enamel lettering, as its a much easier process doing these on a plain colour background as opposed to doing a complete map.
The embossed lettering gives a much better look and is much more aesthetic. There are other advantages to vitreous enamel signs. They are hard wearing, low maintenance, graffiti resistant, and have a long life.
The printed, glass fronted map, found on the newer Legible London signs
Original Legible London Sign Locations:
The 2007 scheme. Positions of the nineteen monoliths/miniliths/finger posts
Wigmore Street/Mandeville Place (original)
St Christopher Place (original, slightly damaged)
Pair on opposite corners by Gap/James Street (original)
West One Centre (original removed by 2012, possibly original reinstalled 2014 with hybrid panels)
Bond Street Tube/HMV (vanished, no replacement)
Two in South Molton Street (original)
Two fingerposts Avery Row (one original, one at south end vanished 2014/15 – possible replacement)
Claridges Hotel (original)
Victoria’s Secret (original)
Pair on opposite corners by Debenhams/New Bond Street (original)
Two at rear of John Lewis (original)
Pair on opposite corners by John Lewis/Holles Street (original)
Hanover Square (original vanished in 2012, replaced circa late 2014 by one facing east – west)
Hanover Square monolith – not an original
The only real changes to the original 2007 scheme is that of the two found at Bond Street tube station, one has been removed. That at Hanover Square seems to have been replaced. The original faced north south. In 2007-2008 it went missing. No sign was seen here again until 2015 when the new one appears positioned facing east-west. I think the original may have been involved in an accident with an articulated vehicle.
The Bond Street Legible London mentioned above sign (pictured below) is in the collection of Tim Fendley, one of the scheme’s original innovators. It was sold at auction and Tim was fortunate to be able to acquire the sign – and the most appropriate person as he is still the lead designer for Legible London.
The other monolith outside Bond Street tube (West One Centre) seems to be part-original – or if one prefers, a hybrid. It was clearly removed for at least two years but returned in 2014. My assumption is it had the map panel replaced. This is the advantage of these signs, individual sections can be updated in preference to a completely new unit.