Legible London

An exercise in simplexity

London is a city of complex structures, some originating from medieval times. It has few long vistas but a multitude of destinations, impressive landmarks and tourist attractions and with more than 27 million visitors a year, walkability is paramount. The London underground map is widely acknowledged as one of the best wayfinding diagrams in the world but wayfinding information for pedestrians has not been a consideration until recent years. Interestingly, more than 45% of people have been using the tube map as an aid for walking too!

The Legible London concept represents the most comprehensive and innovative approach to implementing a wayfinding system in a global city and seeks to provide better support for the millions who walk around the city every day – that’s more than half of all journeys in the capital.

The concept of city legibility originates from Kevin Lynch, an American urban planner in the 60s, most known for his study The Image of the City (1960), the result of a 5-year study on how people take in information in the city. It was in this publication that Lynch coined the term wayfinding and developed the idea of city legibility.

The concept was conceived by Applied in 2005 in response to a study brief to investigate ways in which walking could be improved in Central London. The study identified no fewer than 32 separate pedestrian sign systems in the central area, resulting in visual noise rather than reliable and coordinated information. Legible London aims to provide that coordination: across neighbourhoods and borough boundaries, connecting up with the other transport modes, and delivering information not just in the street, but in all the ways people find their way around.

The proposals in the study – to develop a coordinated system across the capital in time for the 2012 Olympic Games – received in principle support from London boroughs and following a public exhibition, Applied and a product designer developed a prototype sign system which was installed in the West End in November 2007. TfL then commissioned Applied as System Designers to oversee three large Legible London pilot schemes that were implemented by late 2009.

Legible London has since developed into an on-street pedestrian system with over 500 signs, a suite of printed walking maps for retail, tourism and business activities, digital maps, smartphone apps, integrated public transport information and a unique walking identity for London.

The Legible London design standard has since been adopted globally, by local government and transport authorities, private companies, landowners, business improvement districts and stakeholders with an interest in providing better wayfinding information. Legible London’s mapping system has also been used to support the new Barclays London Cycle Hire project displayed at each of the docking stations across the city, helping expand its impact on encouraging active travel whether by foot or bike.

The project is a multiple award-winning information design and transportation system that New York City’s Department of Transportation Commissioner has described as the ‘gold standard for wayfinding research and design’. for the millions who walk around the city every day – that’s more than half of all journeys in the capital.