How can we use design to support the new ‘normal’?

By Sau-Fun Mo, Head of Design and Presentation

Around the world, we are seeing countries and cities slowly easing restrictions that were put in place to control and minimise the spread of a highly dangerous virus. We have yet to understand the full scale of the impact that this killer virus will have on our economy, our children’s education, employment and sadly, the loss of loved ones.

After several weeks of lockdown in the safety of our own homes, children, adults, employees and customers alike are cautiously stepping back into the real world. In order to try and get back to some kind of normality, we will need to adjust our behaviours, interactions with others, and ways of moving through public spaces by foot, cycle or public transport.

But how do we resume ‘normal’ life and what does it look like?

Retail shops, offices, schools and visitor attractions are gradually beginning or planning to reopen, with the uncertainty of what may be around the corner. However, one thing’s for sure, it’s certainly not going to be like it was before.

New signage and wayfinding systems are going to be an essential part of everyone’s journey, be it for business, school, leisure or essentials. Communication, instruction and interaction are crucial to helping people navigate through this new existence where there is still an uncomfortable amount of fear of contracting the virus. A well designed signage system will help to provide confidence and encourage people to venture out into this new world and resume some kind of new normality.

We are working hard on planning the re-opening of the Museum and thinking about what measures we will need to put in place to ensure that staff and visitors are safe. Questions such as ‘how anxious will visitors feel?’ are yet to be tested and resolved. But whatever the solutions, our aim is to ensure that the visitor experience will not be diluted.

Key objectives that we are taking into account for our new signage and wayfinding system include:

  • Adopt consistent messaging that is in keeping with the wider society to ensure that content is familiar and easily understood
  • Avoid harsh messages and communicate in a way that is friendly and calm by using design and tone of voice to provide assurance and clear guidance
  • Allow for trial and testing of signage to ensure messages are clear which must be adaptable and flexible for changes as required
  • Create a safe route around exhibits to avoid bottle necks and to minimise queuing
  • Make the signage more engaging by adding symbols or illustrations from our own collection as visual aids to enhance spatial awareness
  • Use colours or other visuals that are uplifting, align with the Museum’s personality and will stand out well within the space
  • Consider the material, location and scale of these new signs so that they complement the environment
  • Create a kit of parts toolkit that is eye-catching and impactful, and can be applied consistently across all of our locations – the Museum, the Depot at Acton, the Shop and eventually the Canteen
  • Ensure that all signage meets the ‘We’re Good to Go’ kitemark accreditation standards in order to provide assurance to visitors
  • Develop friendly, informative messages for our website, social media, and other digital communications, to let visitors know in advance what to expect when they return

There is still lots to be done and questions to be answered, but we continue to work hard on getting the Museum back on track. Our absolute priority is to ensure that our staff and visitors will feel safe and at ease in this time of uncertainty. We know that a vital part of this is to make sure the signage and hazard tape may be reassuringly be our visitors’ first impression, but that their lasting impression is of the warm welcome and unique personality normally associated with London Transport Museum.

Return to Covent Garden – Part 2

by Sam Mullins OBE, Museum Director

My second return to Covent Garden, and the sleeping London Transport Museum, was made on Friday 5 June. It was so good to work – at a distance – with a handful of colleagues who I had only seen on Zoom since mid-March, to have a real conversation and bounce some creative ideas around. We began blocking out a physically distanced linear route around the Museum for when we are able to open, noting pinch points, interactives and access to vehicles. We are confident that this is feasible; the challenge will be to provide an experience for our staff and early adopters which is visibly safe but retaining the lively personality and welcome we are known for.

Sam Mullins standing with his arms out-wide in Covent Garden Piazza in front of London Transport Museum


The sunny Piazza itself was just as quiet as three weeks before; a few lonely sightseers, the occasional urban explorer and the smell of paint and varnish as two solitary painters began sprucing up and installing signage in anticipation of the return of non-essential retail on Monday 15 June. The openings on the Piazza will be limited for the time being. We are making preparations to open our shop, but only when there are customers to serve and for the moment the West End is a ghost town. A visit to Pret a Manger on the Strand, the only premises trading in the area, was remarkably a novelty after 11 weeks, the coffee and croissant being passed through a mousehole in the large Perspex screen across the counter.

We returned home on our bikes, rejuvenated and buoyed up by the approaching horizon of re-opening, even if not until August or later. Suffering a heavy shower on the cycle home did not dampen the spirits at our Friday evening social online. So, we continue to plan, to watch museums open in Europe and learn from their experiences, change the plans again and again, and set a timetable for decisions on re-opening. Those plans will likely include timed tickets, later opening hours and probably days for families and evenings for adults alone.  I feel like the Director of a play where the scenery is being built for a production not yet written, the leading roles as yet un-cast and the opening night uncertain and to a reduced audience!

Inspiring curiosity at London Transport Museum

by Fenella Goodhart, Head of Learning

We headed into lockdown committed to keeping the Museum alive in your hearts, minds and across your digital devices.  The Learning, Curatorial, Digital and Hidden London teams have been producing exciting new content for you to access from home. Our new Activities at Home page has quizzes, games and resources for families with children of all ages.  Some are specifically aligned to the primary curriculum, blending history, science and making whilst also supporting core reading and comprehension skills.  We have even recreated our popular under-5’s singing and stories sessions.

Banner with cutout images of vehicles with writing over the top that says 'Make you own London Transport Museum'

Many schools across the UK re-opened on Monday 1 June and we wish all staff, parents and carers and children well with this new phase.  Whilst it must be exciting to be back in the classroom, there must also be lots of challenges and lots to get used to.  We are thinking about ways in which we can support schools across London locally and digitally now and into the new academic year.  If you have a child at school or you are a teacher and you have an idea for how the Museum can support your school, please get in touch

Two female pupils working together during an Inspire Engineering session

Finger’s crossed, it won’t be too long before we are able to open the Museum and possibly even the Acton Depot again.  Thinking about how to ensure your visit is safe, clean and socially distanced helps us to understand how to reimagine the visitor experience so that it continues to be fun, interesting and enriching.  We are exploring making use of our outdoor spaces, how digital apps and trails might add interactivity to a visit, pre-packed making kits and small scale live experiences amongst many other things.

Three young girls watching a member in our Learning team wearing a train conductors hat during a Singing and Stories session

In spite of this being a challenging time for the Museum, we are also really proud to have continued to deliver some of our more specialised programmes too.  Our young people’s skills programme supports young Londoners aged 16-25 who are in low or no employment/under employed and are seeking meaningful careers in the cultural and transport sectors.  Since the end of March, we have delivered 373 hours of digital learning through interactive employability workshops; we have engaged our young freelancers in work across the Museum and we have delivered some soundscape workshops with young people in Thamesmead.  We know that as we emerge from this crisis life will be challenging and we are committed to playing our part in shaping a positive future for everyone.

Five male pupils and a teacher talking inside a heritage train at London Transport Museum

Changing times in the world of museum retail

by Laura Mullins, Head of Retail

Although our physical shop doors in Covent Garden have been closed, our online shop has been very much open and trading well thanks to your support. Fortunately our online shop is fulfilled by an external fulfilment company who have done an amazing job getting orders to our customers as quickly as possible. Our online partner also fulfils for the online shops of several other charities so they quickly adapted to providing socially distanced, safe working measures for all their staff, with any office based staff working from home.

Monkey, giraffe, turtle and lion soft toys sitting in and next to a wooden red London bus and baby clothing

March was a particularly busy time for the Retail team as it’s when we’re signing-off our Christmas ranges. So, after the team quickly adjusted to working from home, and getting used to video conferencing(!), we turned our attention to Christmas and adding the final touches to this year’s Christmas knitwear and fairtrade bauble designs. I think this year’s design is our best yet so sign up to our enewsletter to be the first to see it when it launches later in the year.

Small proportion of Christmas jumper design showing green Christmas tress on a navy background with white roundels underneath

We’ve seen some interesting trends in online sales since the start of lockdown, including lots of home improvement purchases such as our iconic prints, posters and exclusive moquette furniture. We’ve also sold lots of game and puzzles to keep the family busy. One thing we’ve noticed which is very heart-warming is the sending of gifts to people, so it’s nice to think we’re helping to put a smile on someone’s face during this difficult time.

A moquette sofa and Routemaster fabric, with two District line cushions and a throw on top

In recent weeks, our focus has now shifted to re-opening the shop in Covent Garden. We’re looking at how best to promote a socially distanced and pleasant shopping environment which may mean the removal of some shop floor fixtures and managing the numbers of people entering and exiting the shop. We’ll be following Government guidelines, increasing our cleaning and installing screens around our till points to keep our staff and customers safe. The team especially our Shop Manager, Simon, is desperate to get back on the shop floor to welcome you all again soon.

Small children's gifts in the shop arranged by colour in yellow, green , blue, purple, pink and red

Thank you for your continued support.  Every purchase helps us to re-open our doors so please do keep visiting our online shop.