Happiness – We’re All In It Together!

There’s a great moment in Brazil where the camera pulls back to reveal the origin of the “We’re all in it together” slogan Tuttle has previously quoted to Sam. Sam is visiting Buttle’s widow in her dystopian tower block, a relentlessly grim monochrome world of poverty and deprivation. At the base of the tower is a giant poster: above the smiling parents and their two children, joyously driving through a multicoloured world is the slogan: Happiness – We’re All In It Together.

So the first time I saw the poster below on the Tube, I rather unsurprisingly started to laugh:
It's up to all of us

In fact, unfortunate dystopian echoes aside, Transport for London have done a very smart thing with their poster design. Using the Tube is like facing a battery of information, all desperate for that brief moment of attention. A teacher I had at college told me that returning to London from the then Soviet Union was a sensory overload. There’s the service board, the special announcements, the ‘do not obstruct the doors’ on the lifts (or, if you have the misfortune to use Covent Garden, Lloyd Grossman telling you about his favourite museum[1]), the ‘we are sorry to announce…’, the maps, the dot matrix display of trains due. And then there are the adverts: posters outside the station, posters in the lifts, posters on the escalator (including the new moving posters), posters in the corridors, posters along the platform, posters along the wall opposite the platform, posters in the trains…

When the train bursts into a station, there’s not only the shock of the light after staring at the grimy walls beyond the window [2]] but the shock of colour and image and text. All of it trying to get you to notice it for a moment.

Transport for London have gone retro, borrowing a leaf out of both WW2 iconography and Soviet propaganda of the 1930s.

Festive Season Please move along the Platform
D*n't t@ke !t out It's up to all of us
[all images taken at Tufnell Park]
Each poster uses block colour and simple text in a clear contrast. Several of them highlight the key phrase (move along, mind the gap, take care) and all use either a typographical quirk or a simple graphic, but never both at the same time. There may be smaller print, but the key aim – of arresting the eye – is done with minimum fuss. You can see the reflections of typical adverts in these photos, showing how fussy they seem in comparison.

It’s not only a clever visual design in terms of conveying information through the noise of the Tube, it also ties in with the perceived design style of the Tube itself. The Tube is Modernist: the branding in the 1930s overrides the Victorian reality of much of the infrastructure[3]. Beck is rightly praised for redefining how to map the space, and the various typographical and poster designers of the past are praised[4] for creating iconographic images. This is canny not only for extending the branding of the Tube and officialising the posters but because, despite the actual reality of the system and its service, there is a vague sense of affection towards the iconography. So despite the alarming phrase and ghosts of WW2 propaganda, the ‘It’s up to all of us’ poster is familiar and curiously comforting.

I actively want them to produce a ‘Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases‘ one.


Notes:
[1] Possibly this has stopped, given the museum is closed.
[2] Or trying to follow the mysterious orange cable as it snakes in and out of view
[3] Although the Victorian designers were working pretty radically: see this detail from Tufnell Park.
[4] see Art of the Underground (via Going Underground). A sibling showed me a great one of South Woodford, depicting a hunting lodge in Epping Forest, over Christmas but I can’t find it online

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One Response to “Happiness – We’re All In It Together!”

  1. moosifer jones’ grouch » Blog Archive » Mind the Reality Gap Says:

    [...] early evening talk by Nils Norman at the London Transport Museum on the Fantasy Piccadilly line. As a previous post indicates, I have a certain fascination with design and the Tube, and I’ve always had an [...]


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