Friday, 17 December 2010

MA Book Design class of 2010

These happy people graduated today!

Photo by Laura Bennetto

Ngram font mania

I’ve clearly got carried away with Google’s new corpus analysis tool. Here are timelines for Garamond, Times New Roman, Gill Sans, Univers, Helvetica, and Arial in British English.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Fonts threaten typefaces

Google’s new ngram tool shows how the word typeface is losing ground to font.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

I can’t believe he wrote that!

Thomas Hanmer’s edition of Shakespeare was printed in Oxford in 1745, and shows the move away from the Fell types to newer founts by Caslon. Hanmer is determined to improve the authenticity of the text of Shakespeare’s plays, but is he also determined to improve Shakespeare?

Most of these [false] passages are here thrown to the bottom of the page and rejected as spurious … and it were wished that more had then undergone the same sentence. The promotor of the present Edition hath ventured to discard but a few on his own judgment, the most considerable of which is that wretched piece of ribaldry in King Henry V. put in the mouths of the French princess and an old Gentlewoman, improper enough as it is all in French and not intelligible to an English audience, and yet that is perhaps the best thing that can be said of it. There can be no doubt but a great deal more of that low stuff which disgraces the works of this great Author, was foisted in by the Players after his death, to please the vulgar audiences by which they subsisted: and though some of the poor witticisms and conceits must be supposed to have fallen from his pen, yet as he hath put them generally into the mouths of low and ignorant people, so it is to be remember’d that he wrote for the Stage, rude and unpolished as it then was; and the vicious taste of the age must stand condemned for them, since he hath left upon record a signal of how much he despised them. In his Play of The Merchant of Venice a Clown is introduced quibbling in a most miserable manner, upon which one who bears the character of a man of sense makes the following reflection; How every fool can play upon a word! I think the best grace of wit will shortly turn into silence, and discourse grow commendable in none but parrots. He could hardly have found stronger words to express his indignation at those false pretence to wit that were then in vogue; and therefore though such trash is frequently interspersed in his writings, it would be unjust to cast it as an imputation upon his taste and judgment and character as a Writer.’

¶ Hanmer is referring to Henry V act 3 scene 4, where Princess Catherine learns English from her maid Alice, allowing some humorous mispronunciations of body parts and clothes as she points to each one, culminating in con for gown:

CATHERINE D’hand, de fingre, de nails, d’arma, d’elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de cown.
ALICE Excellent, madame!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Ancient and Modern


The recently reprinted 1911 Oxford ‘facsimile’ of the 1611 King James Bible contains a major anachronism: the types are resolutely ‘Modern’ in style, that is they derive from designs that were developed at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and bear no relation to the styles used in the original edition. The illustration shows the original 1611 setting of the Preface, and the 1911 resetting.

The problem is that the 1911 edition is not a simple reprint; if it had been, a photographic reproduction of the original pages would have sufficed. It was intended to be read as well as admired, so the black-letter type of the original, deemed unreadable, had to be abandoned, and rendered in roman type. And while Caslon was available for some headings, a Modern with a Scotch flavour was used for most of the setting. Some pages (the fiendishly difficult to re-set Kalendar, for example) were reproduced from line blocks.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Make your own book

The English Atlas, the first volume of which was printed in Oxford in 1680, was an ill-fated venture that ultimately contributed to the bankruptcy of its promoter, the bookseller and printer Moses Pitt. An oversize folio, the sheets took so long to emerge from the press that the following frank admission of the book’s inaccuracy had to be made in the second volume:


The sheets were too large to be bound conventionally in signatures of 8, 16, or 32 pages; instead, each leaf of 4 pages, supplied separately, was pasted on to a guard, which was attached to the spine of the binding. Furthermore, the text was printed letterpress and the maps from copper engravings, two quite separate printing processes. (The printing shops would have been at different locations in the city.) This required a clear plan for assembling the book:


But the nature of the task meant that purchasers could decide exactly what to do with the plates and text, as this final note freely admits:

E. G. R. Taylor. ‘ “The English Atlas” of Moses Pitt, 1680–3.’ The Geographical Journal, 95, 4 (April 1940), 292–9

Friday, 19 November 2010

Remind your reader

Mathematical notation took many centuries to develop. By the mid-seventeenth century, the main operators that we know today were established, +, –, =, but the multiplication sign × had only been used since 1631, and the proportion sign :: is of similar vintage. So the list of symbols in this 1703 edition of Archimedes’ Elements of geometry may have been technically redundant, but would still have acted as a useful reminder.

If you’re wondering why the division sign ÷ isn’t included, it wasn’t introduced into England until 1688.

Tacquet, Andrea. Elementa geometriæ planæ ac solidæ, & selecta ex Archimede theoremata. Cantabrigiæ: Typis academicis. Impensis Corn. Crownfield, MDCCIII [1703].

Oughtred, William. [Clavis mathematicae] Arithmeticae in numeris … Londini: Apud Thomam Harperum, M.DC.XXXI [1631].

Johann Heinrich Rahn, trs. John Pell. An introduction to algebra. London: printed for Moses Pitt. 1688.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Kinda nice

Reading Lidwell, Holden, and Butler’s excellent Universal principles of design, I noticed one that isn’t enunciated: being kind to your users. The authors of the 1662 the Book of Common Prayer clearly thought this was an important principle of design, as evidenced by these two examples, from ‘The visitation of the sick’ and ‘Prayers for use at sea’:

The very sick get spared the lengthy sermonizing, and those in peril on the sea are able to make their peace with their maker – quickly.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The whole world in your hands

However elegant this title-page from Christopher Plantin’s press may be, in 1583 it had a hard selling job to do. Nomenclator (‘dictionary’) is the title of this multi-lingual glossary ‘of all things’, organized thematically, but the largest type on the page announces that it covers ‘EVERYTHING’. This is the third edition: ‘much enlarged and corrected from the previous editions’ is the gist of the subtitle. Dictionaries are always announced as new and better than before. And of course the largest graphic item on the page is Plantin’s well established brand of the golden compasses. Fittingly for a classification of all human knowledge that is published in book form, the first section is about … words relating to books.

Hadrianus Junius, Nomenclator, omnium rerum propria nomina variis linguis explicata indicans, 3/e. Antwerp, 1583.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Dexter Sinister at Reading

This week’s visitor was Stuart Bailey, who presented some of his work under the Dexter Sinister label. Discussing publication/events in New York, Edinburgh, and Basel, Stuart demonstrated how his artwork/design is intended to set up frameworks that provoke writing, because writing can never take place in a vacuum, but must always have a form to fit into. Illustrated is the text to be read by an ‘elevator operator’ at the Whitney Museum, NYC, charmingly set in Johnston and Monotype Fournier.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Just like that!

David Pearson demonstrates the magic of Tschichold’s redesign of Penguin book covers to an appreciative audience at the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication today. David was visiting MA Book Design students who are working on a paperback series project with Fraser Muggeridge.

Friday, 29 October 2010

When typography doesn’t help

Careful use of typography should eliminate ambiguity. But it falls down when faced with the mind-set or expectations of the reader. Take this example from the 1662 service for the ordination of priests in the Church of England.

What must have struck seventeenth-century readers as a very positive declaration (‘I think so’) strikes the modern reader as at best an equivocation, at worst absent-mindedness (‘I think so’).

Friday, 22 October 2010

AV translators did not read Fowler – official!

The entry ‘which, that, who’ occupies five and a half dense columns in Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Boiled down, the ‘Warden of English’ claims that which is informative but non-defining, while that is defining. (‘The river, which is tidal, is dangerous'; ‘Rivers that are tidal are always dangerous’). But look at this presentation of the sermon on the mount from the AV:

(Visulization by ManyEyes)

Circling the square

Stan Rueker, of Humanities Visualization, visited the Department recently and showed, among other visualization tools, Mandala.

This lets you search an XML file and create collocations between words. To give you an example, I’ve loaded Book 1 of War and Peace, and looked for paragraphs that contain the names Natasha, Pierre, and Andrei. Mandala is presenting me with those that contain both Natasha and Pierre, and Pierre and Andrei.





Paul Stiff raised an interesting objection to Stan’s visualizations, namely the problem of the circle in data graphics. It’s much less easy to instantly assess the relative sizes of circles than it is to assess the relative sizes of squares. Below I offer examples from the ManyEyes site that I think support Paul’s point of view.



(While you are on the ManyEyes site, look at our own Gerry Leonidas as the subject of data visualization!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

In his own write?

What more appropriate volume for John Lennon’s birthday?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Design legend or design history?


If you were impressed by Evan Davis’s flight in a Spitfire on Today this morning, it’s worth disentangling some of the myths about the aircraft by reading Kenneth Agnew’s excellent article about the aircraft in Journal of Design History.

In this little classic of design research, Agnew discusses the problem of deducing design processes from surviving objects, especially when the original documentation is incomplete, there are few (or no) un-restored examples, and there are many popular misconceptions about the quality of the design or the performance of the object.

The photograph, from the Aircraft Restoration Company website, shows the elliptical wing design discussed by Agnew.

Kenneth Agnew, ‘The Spitfire: Legend or History? An Argument for a New Research Culture in Design’. Journal of Design History, vol. 6, no. 2 (1993), pp. 121–30

Monday, 16 August 2010

The book that Fell to earth



A Dodo in Oxford: A Panel Discussion

Wednesday 13 October at 7pm
Blackwell Bookshop, 48–51 Broad Street, Oxford
Tickets: £2

In 2008, a diary was discovered amongst some books donated to a charity bookshop in Oxford. It was a most remarkable book, supposedly written over three hundred years ago by a student, describing his life and unusual pet, a dodo. The author of the diary was student of science and recorded his pet’s every move, as well as the reactions of his friends and acquaintances. He had some idea of the bird's rarity, but not that his pet might have been the last dodo to have walked upon the earth.

Doubts have been cast over the authenticity of the diary, so every page has been photographed and reprinted here, meaning that this work does at least three things – it provides a portrait of the famous bird, it reveals glimpses of seventeenth-century Oxford, and it offers the history of a book – how it was printed, made, unmade, forgotten, and ultimately revived.

Four panellists will discuss the details and vicissitudes of this piece of history – Professor Paul Luna, Head of Typography and Graphic Communication at Reading University; Clive Hurst, Head of Rare Books and Printed Emphemera at the Bodleian Library; David Shirt, scientist and lexicographer, with a special interest in ornithology; and Michael Johnson, editor of A Dodo at Oxford. John Mitchinson, one of the men behind QI, will chair this discussion.

Tickets cost £2 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A seventeenth-century ASBO

The impressive Fell types owned by the University of Oxford were not always used for imposing, learned tomes. They were also used for jobbing printing – they were the University’s Arial and Comic Sans as well as its Garamond Premier Pro and Perpetua Titling. Here’s an example of a piece of jobbing printing from 1672 (Madan 2932), set in leaded Double Pica (about 22 pt):

‘Whereas Tuesday next is to be observed as a day of Fasting for the martyrdom of Charles I. No shops are to be open, no children or servants are to loiter about, no tippling or drinking to be allowed in taverns, &c.

‘Jan. 27. 1671

‘Oxford, at the Sheldonian Theatre’

It was ‘stuck up on all common places of the city’. See Anthony Wood's Life, ed. Clark, ii.
215 n.

Why graphic design is futile


This cheap’n’cheerful identity for UK television station Five, introduced last year, is due to be replaced now that porn publisher Richard Desmond has gobbled up the station. While I’m not sure it will be missed, it does make you think that graphic designers would be better off making something that had a reasonable chance of a working life, like a cheese soufflé for example.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Designing the candidates

David MilibandEd BallsOnly two Labour leadership statements have arrived so far, and at this point a Miliband leads Ed Balls in the design stakes.

DM’s is clean, using white backgrounds and green counterpoints to the necessary red highlights. Set in two recent sanserifs, with a simple grid, and printed on matt stock it declares ‘I’m careful with money, organized, and plain-speaking’.

Not so sure about EB’s effort – is that curious street-sign logo trying to channel EastEnders’s Albert Square and Coronation Street? A man of the people (well, soaps) and street-wise? It’s printed on squeaky shiny stock, with over-busy ‘Polaroid’ photographs – and someone ought to tell Ed that nobody in the real world uses Georgia for street-signs!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Ask me another

Rob Waller recently mocked web security systems that demand you use their list of fatuous questions to provide ‘memorable answers’ to prove that you are you, and not a Turing machine. His point was that the questions seem more suited to the under-12s, rather than the over-50s who must be the only ones still stuffing money into these accounts. Here’s my contribution, from the normally sensible Nationwide:

It’s all Greek to me

The Woodstock Literary Festival’s website is currently under construction – so our old friend lorem ipsum gets another outing …

By the way, the label that this site leaves in your web browser history is ‘Oxford Literary Festival’, which is run by quite another newspaper altogether. But when you look at their website

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

New readers start here

When times change, we have to learn new ways of reading. Currently, we’re learning how to cope with electronic texts, even though the support that they give to serious readers through their limited typographic palette is pretty miserable. At the turn of the seventeenth century, as the reformation finally turned England from a catholic country into a protestant one, new kinds of reading became possible, indeed, were required by law.

Connecting with scripture became a personal act of commitment to a text, not a social act, as reading the Bible in English replaced having chunks of it read to you, in Latin, as part of a collective ceremony. James Shapiro writes of the internalization of religious experience in 1599, and the confusion it caused. ‘[In] an imaginary dialogue, two churchgoing women [are] confused by all these changes: “Alas, gossip,” one says to her friend, “what shall we do now at church, since all the saints are taken away, since all the goodly sights we were wont to have are gone, since we cannot hear the like piping, singing, chanting, playing upon the organs, that we could before?” ’ The reformers’ answer was ever-closer study of the Bible, and printers declared how their editions enabled this.


‘ ❦ THE PRINTER to the diligent Reader.

‘Deare Christian Reader, to the intent that thou mightest the better enjoy the benefit of these notes or expositions vpon the New Testament: I thought it not amisse to declare vnto thee the vse of the same. And first, forasmuch as the quotations or citing of places of the Scriptures in the margent which direct to other places, conteining like phrase or sense, haue been so placed, tht none without great labour could find out the texts alledged, I have made these sixe severall figures or marks, ✣ ♣ ·.· ✜ ❉ , and haue set them aswel in the margent as in the text, so that thou mayest easily find that which thou desirest. For example, in the first worde of the first Chapter of Matthew is placed this first marke ✣ : looke out the like marke in the margent, and there thou shalt finde Luke 3.23. which place agreeth to this in Matthew: and so likewise thou shalt finde in the residue. But if many quotations belong to one place, word, or sentence, the first is onely marked, and those that follow vnmarked, appertaine to the same. And if it fall out that there be more then sixe directions in one columne, then is the first repeated againe, and the residue following in order as at the beginning: as it appeareth in the first columne of Matthew, where both in the text and margent also, they are all two times set downe, and the foure first repeated againe.

‘The notes which are directed by the figures of Arithmeticke, as 1. 2. 3. 4. &c. thorowout the Euangelists and Acts, declare the effects of summe of the doctrine contained between one of the said figures, and the next that followeth: as for example, from the figure 1. in the first line and first worde of Matthew vnto the figure 2. in the 18. verse of the same Chapter, the doctrine there gathered is set down in the margent in this sort: 1 Iesus came of Abraham of the tribe of Iuda, and of the flocke of Davide as God promised. And in the Epistles in like sort they declare the methode and arte which the Apostles vse, and how euery argument or reason dependeth one vpon another: thesee figures are begunne againe at the beginning of euery Chapter.

‘Lastly, the Notes which goe by order of the letter of the Alphabet placed in the text, with the like answering them in the margent, serue to expound and lighten the darke wordes and phrases immediatly following them. As in the first line and second worde, the letter, a, being referred vnto a, directly against him in the margent, sheweth that this worde, Booke, signifieth A rehearsall as the Hebrews vse to speake: as Genes. 5.1. The booke of the generations. These letters beginne at the beginning of euery Chapter, continuing vnto z. and so beginning againe with a, if there be so many Notes that they do exceede in number the letters of one Alphabet. This haue I faithfully done for thy commoditie, reape thou the fruit, and giue the prayse to God.

Farewell.

The New Testament. Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, 1610/11 (Aaa2r)
James Shapiro, 1599: a year in the life of William Shakespeare, London: 2005 (p. 171)

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The (beautiful) numbers game

And now I see the Dutch have rather nice square Wendingen/Rietveld/De Stijl-inspired numbers on their shirts.

Photo: Guardian

Where’s the world book capital this year?


There’s still time to enjoy sunshine, books, and letters – not to mention a Zlatorog beer – in Ljubljana, World Book Capital 2010; the Festival of Letters site is here.

The information design series at the Architecture Museum continues after the summer (you take a 20 bus to Fužine – Ljubljana’s equivalent to the middle of nowhere – and then walk to the Castle).

In the picture, taken from Jože Plečnik’s Castle Tower, and looking over the curve of the Ljubjanica: (foreground, centre-right) Plečnik’s Tromostovje (Triple Bridge), behind it Prešernov trg (Prešeren Square); in the centre of the picture, the square Nebotičnik (Skyscraper) is visible in the middle distance, just below the edge of the trees of Tivolski vrh (Tivoli Park).

Sunday, 4 July 2010

No, don’t stop the carnival

Eynsham Carnival

This year’s Eynsham carnival, while not reaching the glory days of the 1970s (when half the Chatto & Windus editorial board would turn up to support local author Mollie Harris) was still a Grand Day Out, with fun-fair food, an American Civil War re-enactment, some distinctly art-less craft stalls, the jazz and beer tent, and a singing robot (see above).

Best by far among the craftspeople was Ros Long of By Hand Books, who showed beautifully made portfolios and sketch-books.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Class of ’10

Congratulations – more typographers arrive on the market! At least two of these graduating BAs will join us as MAs next year.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The numbers game


Are England and Germany’s typographic cultures represented in their football strips? The England team’s numbers stay close to the Johnston/Gill model, while Germany’s have more than a nod to DIN stencil forms, and Herbert Bayer’s universal alphabet. Humanists or technologists to win?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Why paper-based publishing will survive


Edit If you think the strip above is too small to read (because it has to fit the Blogger grid), then click on it to see it in situ at the Doonesbury website – and look here, too.

Edit For a take on Murdoch’s on-line pay-wall, see here.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Confessions of a justified reader


Apple has built a Reader option into Safari 5 (above) that clears the clutter of adverts and marginal items from news articles on web pages. But it isn’t as customizable as Readability’s offering (below) – for example, Apple expects you to read text that is justified, and offers no options of typeface, column width, or background colour.


(The article on Polaroid photography shown is these screen shots is well worth a read.)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Convicted by ephemera

Shotguns required (still require?) material to be inserted between the powder and the shot, to prevent gases from leaking past the projectiles at firing. Gun-wadding was frequently torn-up waste-paper, whatever was to hand. As it was ejected with the shot, it could survive to provide much-needed evidence. In Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, Lady Dedlock is incriminated in the murder of the lawyer Tulkinghorn when detective Bucket discovers that wadding near the body is ‘a bit of the printed description of [the Dedlock’s] house at Chesney Wold’.

Judith Flanders points out in this week’s TLS that Elizabeth Gaskell uses a similar plot device in Mary Barton, and that these (and several other) authors drew on a real-life case in 1840, when wadding proved crucial in identifying the murderer. And, Flanders continues, ‘life finally caught up with fiction in 1884, when John Toms was convicted of murder on the evidence of a piece of wadding which was identified as matching a broadside in his possession.’

Johnson’s Chemistry of Common Life (illustrated) was the wadding in the murder weapon in ‘The Judgement of Conscience’, Female Detective, ?1862/3. Judith Flanders will give a paper on female detectives in 19th-century fiction at the Second Annual Conference of the Victorian Popular Fiction Association.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

London Transport at London’s service

This was the slogan LT used whenever they did something that the public would loathe, such as getting rid of trolleybuses. But in 1951 LT took its obligation to inform the public seriously, as its emphasis on the quality of its information design in this advertisement placed in the Festival of Britain Guide shows.

Cox, Ian. South Bank Exhibition | Festival of Britain | Guide (London: HMSO, 1951), p. xxii

Symbols clashing everywhere

Keith Tam’s second-year students from the School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University visited Reading today to see items from the Isotype collection and work by our MA students. Here they are looking at examples of Russian IZOSTAT charts.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Gill on a Ghost

The new Rolls-Royce Ghost (yours for $245,000) features a start-stop button engraved with a stencil version of Gill Sans.

Picture from the New York Times

Monday, 3 May 2010

Classic texts for elections

Boris Johnson is the latest in a long line to discover the Roman handbook to electioneering, Quintus Tullius Cicero’s Commentariolum Petitionis: Chairman Boris’s thoughts are here.

Over at OUP’s blog, there’s a nice parallel drawn by Nicholas Shrimpton between Anthony Trollope’s Plantagenet Palliser and our own Gordon Brown. (It might be worth mentioning that Palliser stays in power for 3 years, albeit at the head of a coalition government …)

Eric flies United

The new identity for the proposed merger of Continental and United Airlines features a seriffed typeface, Perpetua Bold. Back in the 1970s, when Negus & Negus designed a logo for the newly-merged British Airways, Dick Negus chose Plantin Bold to replace the sanserif BEA and BOAC logos. Dating from the 1990s, Newell & Sorrell’s Mylius still adorns British Airways planes. On the sanserif side, KLM and Lufthansa retain thier 1960s logos: F. H. K. Henrion’s extended grotesque and Otl Aicher’s Helvetica respectively.

PS I notice that Continental Airlines checked out this post at 21.59 today.

Socrates in pictures

In this week’s TLS, Martha C. Nussbaum writes about the place of the arts in education, and bemoans the threat of education policy directed solely towards economic growth: ‘Citizens cannot relate well to the complex world around them by factual knowledge and logic alone. The third ability of the citizen, closely related to these two, is what we can call the narrative imagination.’

Nussbaum, from the remainer of the article, is clearly thinking of the ability of the arts to foster sympathy, ‘the ability to think what it might be like to be in the shoes of a person different from oneself, to be an intelligent reader of that person’s story’. The imaginative and abstract arts may be the key enablers of such ‘sympathy’, but narrative imagination, and the transformation of factual knowledge into action, can also be served by the humbler graphic arts. Otto Neurath’s vision of Isotype as an enabler of democracy through the clear presentation of data, and in a way that told a story rather than as an abstraction, surely provides us with an example of design being used for the Socratic ideal of an informed citizenship.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Where the bold things are

The coming of the railways in the 1820s gave rise to a new world of reading: the timetable (of a coach service, for example) had previously been presented in the form of a list, with departure times from a public place, often an inn.

This early railway timetable, from the exhibition based on the ‘Designing information for everyday life, 1815–1914’ project, shows a stage of development. Bold types are used: the volume of material to be read, and its potential complexity, requires the reader’s gaze to be directed and organized by strong colour contrasts. The text is beginning to detach itself from the linear, sentence-like prose of earlier timetables, but has not yet resolved itself into a fully tabular form. That would come very quickly: this example is dated 1840; by the mid-1840s the fully tabular timetable was established. In this example, bold is used to provide a hierarchy of headings, and assist navigation around the document, rather than highlight elements at text level within a part of the document.

The new railway traveller is faced with some technical language to understand: ‘down’ means trains travelling away from the main terminus of the line (usually taken to be London); ‘up’ is a train returning to the main terminus. Was this terminology used by coaches before railways? Tooley Street station is now part of London Bridge station.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Behind you!

I can almost hear the stage whisper: ‘Yes, we know “Knowledge Centre” is a silly name when we really mean library, and yes, it’s in the Green Building – you know, the one that’s green.’

Photographed at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Fritillaria meleagris

The appearance of the snake’s head fritillary is always magical in our garden – there is only a solitary example, it seems to appear from nowhere, and then disappear just as quickly. Its heavy head hides brilliant yellow stamens.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

As easy as falling downstairs

The well-rounded vehicle on the right is an Alexander Dennis Enviro400. Unfortunately the well-rounded exterior is not matched by a well-rounded interior – particularly with regard to the staircase. Why is it so easy to fall down a modern double-decker’s staircase, when it used to be so difficult in the days of rear-entrance buses?

If you look at the plan of a London Routemaster, you'll see that the staircase is at the rear, at that the interior wall is curved, matching the curve of the exterior. You descend, first facing towards the rear, but then radidly turning to face towards the nearside. You can place your weight against the outside handrail, following the curve as you make your descent, working with the inertia of the forward-moving bus to keep you canted towards the side or rear of the bus all the time.

On the sleek Enviro400 the staircase runs towards the back of the bus for most of its length (my photograph shows an Enviro500 in Hong Kong; for a UK vehicle see here). You start your descent facing the offside, that is you are working against the inertia of the moving vehicle. The panelling meets at a 90° angle, so there is no curve to lean against to transition from facing offside to facing towards the rear. Now you have a straight drop, facing to the rear in front of you, with the inertia of the bus propelling you down it. There is a correspondingly sharp angle to the panelling and stairs at the bottom.

In short, in my opinion, the Routemaster stairs assist you in descending, the Enviro400’s actively work against a safe descent.

The photograph of the Alexander Enrivo 400 is from Wikipedia; the floor plans of the Routemaster from 73 urban journey [a bus blog]; information about Stagecoach Oxfordshire’s buses is from their website; the Hong Kong bus photograph is from www.statemaster.com ecyclopedia entry on the Enviro500; the link to the Enviro 400 interior images is to Alan O. Watkin’s site; the photograph of the rear of the Routemaster is from Ian Smith’s Bus Stop.