The most difficult challenge when it comes to navigating through London has been their street signs. The street signs have been either, challenging or impossible to find. When I have found them, I noticed they were on the ground. When there is heavy foot traffic, these signs cannot be seen until you’re standing in front of them. Another street sign I have not seen are one way signs. When traveling in London, it is a headache trying to remember which direction traffic will be heading. To make it worse, there are a bunch of one way streets that have no signage at all. I have been looking both ways multiple times just to make sure I will not be hit by any of the cars. A solution to these problems would to be have a uniform system for presenting directional information. For instance, using a system similar to the United States, were the signs are always hanging off the ground, and easy to read. In a tourist city, good communication is important for good design.
The weather in England is something I have never felt before because it is hot, cold, and windy at the same time. It is 30 degrees colder back home and the grey skies of London made me feel like I was not on Earth anymore, and that is my metaphor for why study abroad is important. You need to get out of your comfort zone and be a global person, no matter where you are on Earth.
Everyone I know who has been to London told me that this is just the original Boston and that it didn’t feel as European as the rest of the continent. They are wrong. They drive on the other side of the road, the currency sizes and amounts make no sense in a practical, design sense, and the store hours have minds of their own. Yes, it is commercial here and diversity is prevalent like home, but London is far older than Boston and sometimes something as small as a word can open something you hadn’t thought about before.
After a long overnight flight, we landed at Heathrow; none of us seemed to have gotten any quality sleep on the plane, so we were exhausted. We collected all of our belongings that had actually landed with us and headed for the hotel. There we checked in to the rooms that were ready for us and rested for a while. After getting some much needed sleep we headed out. This was the first time I had experience driving on the opposite side of the road; I was expecting it but it still through me off. It has been quite strange trying to adjust to the different traffic solution.
For day two, everyone was refreshed after the changing timezones and plane ride. We all went on a hop-on hop-off bus tour around London. We got to see many interesting sites in London like St. Pauls’s Cathedral, even if we could not take any photos inside. We also saw the London Bridge from afar and Big Ben which was under construction at the time. The London architecture really stood out to me because there are so many buildings that do not fit the norm. In Boston, there are some buildings with interesting shapes, but London has a lot. There are buildings that are extremely tall but are hanging at strange angles which makes me question how it is still supporting. After the bus tour, we all went the to the Transportation Museum. Personally, automobiles were never of any interest to me, but it was very fun to see all the different trolleys and old fashioned trains. While we were there, an exhibit was being showed that housed amazing designed posters. The exhibit was called London Stories and the posters all displayed something different that happened in London. The story could have been very impactful, or it could have been a small story. One of my favorites was “Mind the Gap” which was about a bus driver who sped up and jumped a bridge that was opening up to let boats through. The poster displays this incident, but the story is so amazing that it caught my attention.
Day 2 of the trip I woke up at 8 and made it downstairs for breakfast, I had a 3-egg omelet. After that the day got off do a slow start, first it was extremely windy out, second, there was the London half mile going on which made our plan to use the bus tour harder than expected. Eventually, we made it onto the bus by Saint Paul cathedral and made it to the London Transportation Museum. I honestly thought that the Museum was going to be a waste of my time, I didn’t really care to learn about the history of the double-decker red buses but I was surprised to learn a lot of cool stuff. I found out that the Underground was built in 1863 and they used a dig and cover techne, first digging a deep trench then creating a half circle out of brick and cement then covering the trench. There also was an exhibition, “London Stories” an illustrated poster exhibition. One of the posters on display stood out and caught my eye, it was called “The Blitz and Ravens of the Tower of London” by Dawid Celek. The poster only used a very simple graphic with a hand full of colors, it was about the bombings that happened during WWII and depicts six silhouettes of ravens around Big Ben while a blimp drops bombs. The poster really stood out because of its dark blues and vibrant yellows/reds. Not only was the poster eye-catching the story about the six ravens interesting as well.
On Sunday, March 10th we went to the Transportation Museum and there happened to be a poster show of artists portraying a story that revolves around London, fiction or reality. It was very interesting to read all the stories of London and random legends that came with the posters. One poster was of a lone woman at a tube stop and when you read more into the poster you found out she was a ghost, and that there was a legend about a blonde ghost at the tube stop. Another poster was just a simple image of a couple sharing a moment on the London Eye and I thought that was an interesting way to see a story, such a small one but meaningful to that couple. My favorite poster was called, ‘Old Father Thames’ by Alex Hovey and it shows Old Father Thames and his daughters in London. I really liked this poster because it’s all one color in different shades. It looks like a very intricate pencil drawing and that really brought me closer to the piece. I also liked the historical and mythology side of it too. In the caption it says the poster is based off a poem called ‘The River’s Tale’ and the song ‘Old Father Thames’. In the song it says “Kingdoms my come, kingdoms may go Whatever the end may be Old Father Thames keeps rolling along Down to the mighty sea” which seems to match the poster because he is definitely rolling down the Thames. The poem is also about the hearty people of London and how many people have taken over and how they have always been around just like the Thames. I just really liked this poster because of the historical and whimsical design and the mythological aspect just made it that much more interesting. So far my time in London has been amazing and I look forward to exploring more museums and way finding systems in the future week.
Before the trip to London, I was not expecting to have a hard time with the reversed traffic. However, it was very confusing to deal with almost immediately. Sometimes it was hard to tell which way the one-way street was heading towards so I would check both sides anyway. Also, on a two-way street, I would always check the wrong way depending on what side I was on. It is ingrained in my head to check the ways of traffic that I am used to doing in America. After a few attempts, I got the hang of it and was consciously checking the correct ways. Besides the reversed traffic, day one was very tiring for me. I have never really flown on a plane before this so sitting there for hours made me exhausted. I could stay awake if I wanted to, but I could feel my muscles being extremely tired and worn out. Also, I did not expect some people’s accents to be really hard to interpret. Even though I have British cousins, there are some accents that are too much different and those are hard to understand.
Day one we landed at 7 in the morning in two groups, we meet up by the parking lot and got the bus to the Apex City of London hotel. We grouped up putting our suitcases away and headed to the pub which was a 5min walk down the street. I had already been to London so I knew of the street signs and how the driving sides where switched, but I had a hard time understanding which way the traffic was coming. Ireland also drives on the right side of the road and most of the cars sold in Europe have the steering wheel on the right side. I’ve been to Ireland and driven in Europe but even today 3 days into the trip I still am questioning myself on what way the traffic is coming. Fortunately, London is an international city so most of the roads have signs telling you what way the traffic is coming. I think that with time the driving style over here will click with me, but Because of the jet lag and me not knowing where to do that first day was a bit overwhelming.
Follow our students’ journey as they explore the world of design through the lens of London this spring break 2019. Students will build on lessons in wayfinding, typography and travel collateral by venturing to the National Gallery, V & A Museum, the Natural History Museum, the British Museum and the Design Museum, among others.
You can also read blogs from previous trips to London listed below or from other destinations across the globe UMass Lowell students travel to.
- 2017: Fall: Global Correspondent
- 2017: London By Design
- 2017: Summer: Global Correspondent
- 2016: Fall: Global Correspondent
- 2016: Creating Shakespeare, Then and Now
- 2014: Literary London