Assignment 1 – Underground Cultures

“Create a series of posters for the London transport system that celebrates the idea of underground culture in some way. This could be an aspect of London Underground’s own typographic or design history, an aspect of popular culture or music, or a celebration of minority cultures’ heritage within the city. Choose something that you find interesting to research and visually explore, or an area you currently don’t know that much about.

The posters will be A0 in size, but you only need to design them at A4 or A3. The scale of the poster invites a bold and playful approach that should be as much decorative as informative. Your audience will be people walking past the posters in the corridors and stairwells of the Tube, sitting or standing on train platforms or viewing them on the sides of buses, so they need to be eye-catching and colourful. They must have a strong visual dynamic but at the same time carry some information about the underground culture you’re portraying.”

Here’s an infographic about the history of the London underground itself (from Buzzfeed) much of this I didn’t know at all!


This infographic about British subcultures comes from menswear


Of course a few more groups have emerged since the 1980s. Peter York’s exploration of Hipsters was highly entertaining (Peter York’s Hipster Handbook currently available on BBC iplayer) He is familiar with identifying groups of people from a marketing viewpoint. We may all object to labels, but its often rather accurate grouping people together.  He also points out how often these trends filter down to the mainstream, such high street coffee chains, and I’ve noticed a fair few beard-y blokes in the Fatface catalogue!

Anyway. I decided to focus on music. But I got pretty bogged down reading about all the subcultures and complicated history. Its a fascinating subject, but there’s so much information, I was finding it hard to filter anything down, or refine visually with what I was looking at. The genres, and sub-genres are endless, not to mention that some well known music styles, such as Bhangra and Brit Pop could be associated with the Midlands and the North more than London.


The typographic posters of the London skyline incorporating London bands is very effective. They have impact both in monochrome and colour.Theres a lovely flow to these, and very effective composition. I noted the use of ‘white’ space (in the sky and for the thames) and the use of focal points (e.g. Blur and the london eye). So clever!

I looked at rave culture, reggae, and rude boys….hippies, punks, garage and grime…


Its hard to distill such a large topic and I felt a bit overwhelmed trying to represent quite a large time frame too. At some point you need to start to simplify…

I took a bit of time out to read and watch a few things about poster design. I found the design company Blind and others had some really interesting information. Here are my notes – I found it really helpful to try and properly clarify hierarchy in poster design, and think about what I want to achieve.


And some useful info from one of my graphic design books

img_3129 img_3126

This really helped me to simplify and sift through the information I had gathered.I originally thought I would link music styles to certain areas/tube stations of London, but this proved to be difficult – some music styles just aren’t associated with a single area.

I decided to pick a few styles/genres, particularly if they can be fairly easy identified visually. A few things stuck out – Ska/TwoTone is often connected to a checkerboard design, Mods a target symbol, and so on.

Obviously, there are issues about what sort of images I can source without infringing copyright. A creative commons search allowed me to pull together some other genres – folk and punk. Here’s my image resources for inspiration and some available to re-use:



There was also free vector of a trilby I found which was very lucky! Should be useful!!


I would like to use people for my posters but I’m lacking a strong face for Mods which might be an issue if I want to make 4 consistent posters. Here’s some images I thought would look great as the main focal point…The woman with the guitar could be cut out from her more modern background, and her hat made to look a bit more checkerboard, as a Ska reference. Jamaican culture had a big influence on Ska, so we could possibly view her as representing that link.




My next step was to work on some really rough designs on paper. You can see I was exploring the checkerboard, trademark trilby and referencing the underground map, designed by Harry Beck. I chose landscape as the format, as the brief mentioned the side of buses.



I explored using the style of the underground map as a background, or connecting with lettering. Perhaps running above or over objects, such as the trilby.


I think sometimes you can see what might work from roughs, other times I need to work things up a little to explore where it might go. Unfortunately I discovered some images online of lettering shaped from the london underground map – which made me feel like I wasn’t being very original.

I moved on to Illustrator to see what I made of the trilby. At this stage I simply chucked a checker board around it to see if that would work.


From there I worked up some others, at first simply using Myriad Pro as default.

Next I wanted consistency between the sans serif of the London Underground logo and the typeface on the main part of the poster. Unfortunately, the original was Johnston and I don’t have it. So I made a vector of the logo using Gill Sans as a substitute.


I also took the liberty of changing the colours within the logo to experiment (Whether you would actually be allowed to do this is debatable! It could be that they specify only the red and blue of their own logo) Here are my variations

gillsansska-01 gillsansska2-01 gillsansska3-01 ska1-01 ska2-01 skagillsans-01

It seems to me the checkerboard background has the most impact, so thats my first choice.

Next up is Mod. Again here are my roughs – as I need to be thinking about these as a set, I’m trying to think about how I can link these as a theme.


I wanted to work up a poster using the photo of the Vans (shoes) with a mod logo – its a strong image that will hopefully have good impact. And I also wanted to explore the bike. Oops I forgot the logo with the bike.

mod1-01 mod2-01Anyway.  Some variations.

mod3-01 mod4-01 Obviously I’ve used a diagonal background again, and experimented with making the ‘o’ a target, but I think perhaps its fighting with the circular logo?

mod5-01 mod6-01 mod7-01 mod8-01

I don’t feel the whole bike works as well. This is better


Next I chose to look at punk

punk1-01 punk2-01 punk3-01 punk4-01

I quite like the colours of the ones above, but the placement of the lettering is off.

punk5-01 punk6-01

Again, this looks cluttered…and the lettering needs re-positioning…

punk7-01 punk8-01

This is better I think – the lettering corresponds to her eye line, I’ve also moved her to the left.


And lastly, folk… these came together more quickly, and I think work quite well.

folk-01 folk3-01 folk4-01 folk5-01 folka-01 folkb-01

As I was working in Illustrator, I kept little jpegs on the art board of the previous posters, to try and keep a sense of unity between posters – obviously they need to work as a set. I then had trouble because I felt my Ska poster (which I had done first) was the only one with a diagonal set at a different angle. It should be simple to correct, but I found it quite tricky. I’m still wondering if the checks running at the bottom make your eye drop off the page? Hmm..I think its OK but I’m also aware that this is the only poster where the text overlaps the image. However, the logo is now positioned top right in all the posters, which I prefer.


Poster Set – Final Images








Plus points –

I think these posters are eye catching and do have impact.

They are clear and easy to read.

They are easily identifiable as a set.

Minus points –

They may be too similar!

In keeping to Gill Sans throughout, there’s no variation in typography.

The logo is not in precisely the same place. I feel it should be exactly aligned or obviously different, not ‘nearish’!


I think in an effort to ensure I have a set, I played it too safe.  It might have been better to vary the composition more, and experiment with typography. Clearly there’s a balance between consistency and originality which I could have explored more fully.

I fell into the trap of assuming that because ‘Ska’ and ‘Mod’ are usually written in sans serif capitals that I had to mimic that. I did briefly look at using a serif for the subheading for my ska poster, I now feel I should have carried that through.

These comments apart, I am pleased that my confidence levels have improved – I feel I can work more quickly than I used to, and assess strengths/weaknesses in my designs more effectively. At level one graphic design I often found myself thinking ‘thats not right, but I don’t know why’! The ‘why’ is emerging (I think!)

In preparation for the assessment, I reworked these posters in response to my tutor’s suggestions of enlarging the folk guitar and using flat colour. Here’s the final outcome. You can see I have varied the height of the titles to create some variation. I did try these at a uniform height, but when I mounted them on my wall, I preferred this arrangement.


Refs – Discussion of music & subcultures”



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