There’s nothing like an imminent Olympics to get the world talking about logos (did you know that Sochi’s rather chilling mark is the first to lack drawn elements?). Anne Quito looks across the pond at a classic.
The city of London teems with icons—from Big Ben, to the red double-decker bus, even to polarizing 2012 Olympics logo, or lately, the much parodied “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters. There is no shortage of visual symbols for the city. But perhaps the most ubiquitous among them is their transport logo, or the roundel, as it’s officially called. Introduced in 1908, the original circle-and-bar design has remained mostly unchanged, surviving the tides of brand makeovers for over a century.
A Logo for London (Laurence King, 2013) explores the evolution of the symbol vis-à-vis the socio-political climate of the city it represents, written as a kind of biography for this enduring brand mark. Packed with a treasury of archival images and drawings, this well-researched volume by the design historian David Lawrence casts the roundel as trademark that evolves to become a cultural marker and a civic symbol.
Particularly noteworthy is the chapter “Symbol Goes to War,” the story of how the logo transformed to become a badge of British patriotism during First and Second World War. It was a time when transport operators wore the roundel on their uniform as a sign of support for thousands of their colleagues recruited to fight in the war and public service posters bearing the logo communicated safety messages during precarious times. Lawrence also chronicles the shifts in its brand stewardship that inspire myriad creative appropriations and variations over the years.
These days, the red and blue symbol appears in signage as well as souvenir shops, adapted in tourist bric-a-brac like key chains, mugs and apparel. Simple, graphic, and mod, the logo embodies not only the best of British graphic design but also the character of London, if not England itself.
Anne Quito is a design writer and a student in the MFA Design Criticism program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Follow her on Twitter at @annequito.