Head of design at TfL, Jon Hunter

Hunter tells about the variety of design tasks that come across his desk. Think maps and signage for new trains.


Words by Pamela Buxton

What does your role at Transport for London entail? What types of spaces and projects are you involved in commissioning design for?
Everything from templates to the design of trains. The variety of projects undertaken is vast - ranging from branding for the new Cycle Quietways project through to the magnificent new trains for London Underground and Crossrail. No two days are the same - across my desk today are items as diverse as the development of maps for the newly announced Night Tube, samples of winter gloves for our frontline staff, signage proposals for Crossrail and various maquette designs for upcoming refurbishment projects.

How many different design projects do you generally commission a year, and what sort of work is this?
Generally, about 100 a year - with a mix of long-burn, medium-term and business-asusual projects across all design disciplines.

Jon Hunter
Jon Hunter

How do you go about commissioning designers and architects? Is there a roster system? If so, how many are on it and why is this useful?
I use various existing rosters for commissioning design and also engage with the design community on projects that require more specialist disciplines - for example uniform design.

What qualities do you look for?
Design vision, a deep understanding of what we are as an organisation and the ability to add value to a commission - challenging and pushing me where needed to ensure the best possible result is delivered.

The new train for Crossrail
The new train for Crossrail

You have an in-house design team - what sort of work does this do?
We have three in-house teams - dealing with corporate/graphic design; industrial/product design; and film production/photographic services. These are essentially design professionals working as a collective to deliver the best design solutions possible to the people of London and users of our transport network.

What are the priorities for achieving a well-designed transport environment?
To quote Frank Pick, the former London Transport chief executive, the pursuit of an environment that is 'fit for purpose for all uses and by all users' is still our mantra. A fundamental priority is the re-establishment of form being as important as function, and the need to look at design proposals through the eyes of our end-users.

What particular challenges are there to overcome?
The ever-present tension between form, function and affordability - our transport environments are incredibly hard working, and obtaining high-quality design in these environments is achievable - but requires a great deal of work with internal and external stakeholders to get the balance right.

The transport industry is governed by some very rigorous safety standards - but these should be viewed as part of the design challenge.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Pragmatism, and getting the balance right between stakeholders who can often have competing requirements for the same product, or design solution.

Priestman Goode’s trains for the New Tube for London initiative
Priestman Goode's trains for the New Tube for London initiative

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Being part of an amazing organisation that keeps the capital moving and growing constantly.

What recent projects do you feel have turned out particularly successfully?
New Tube for London. This project was started back in 2009 as a design response to the increasing sterility of transport environments as a whole, with the ambition of creating a vehicle that balances form, function and price perfectly, and with the customer at the heart. The desire is to create a vehicle that a customer would choose to travel in, providing the same quality of design that we experience in our own homes or cars.

Thomas Heatherwick has delivered the same with the new Routemaster, and it is only right we deliver the same level of customer experience across our other vehicles. TfL has been working on this with Priestman Goode - a formal invitation to tender is expected to be issued later this year and a contract to build the new trains to be awarded in 2016. The first train is expected to come into service on the Piccadilly line in 2022.

What future design projects are in the pipelin? Who will be designing them?
Crossrail - lots of work is going on for this monumental project. The design for the rolling stock is being finalised at the moment in collaboration with BarberOsgerby. This project uses the same design strategy as applied to the New Tube for London, and delivers a real step-change in customer experience for national rail services.

Wayne Hemingway and his team are creating a singular uniform design for all of our operational modes, with subtle branding variations as required - but the main aim being to provide our singular customer with a consistency of experience no matter what part of our network they are using.

A new uniform design is being designed for TfL staff by Wayne Hemingway
A new uniform design is being designed for TfL staff by Wayne Hemingway

Do you have any favourite public transport systems (other than your own, of course) that you take inspiration from in terms of design?
London has the best transport network in the world - but I do admire Stockholm for its bold approach to integrating the environment in which its Underground resides with public art, and the Moscow metro for its sheer beauty.

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