The Overground rebrand: Navigation meets information design

When London's iconic public transport system revealed the names and colours of the London Overground's six lines earlier this year, it sparked curiosity and dialogue among commuters and design enthusiasts alike. Eager to contribute to the conversation, we caught up with Mikkel Lemvig, Design Director; Jonas Schmitt, Senior Business Designer; Laura Sanz Gonzalez, Junior Service Designer; and Nimran Kang, Visual Design Intern, to gather their insights on the redesign. Here's what they had to say.


What would a world without signs look like? Signs have been a cornerstone of human communication for centuries, guiding, directing, and informing us about our surroundings. Each sign bridges a cognitive gap between the physical marker and the information it conveys, drawing upon your understanding of language, spatial awareness, and cultural symbols. But this gap can sometimes lead to confusion, because people's interpretations vary based on their experience. Wayfinding, an interdisciplinary approach to navigation, tackles these challenges head-on and brings order to complex spaces. Drawing from graphic design theories of ideation, typography, and iconography and supplemented by industrial design, wayfinding creates a seamless navigation experience.

The London tube map, designed by Harry Beck in 1933, is a prime example of wayfinding design. Since its inception, the tube map has undergone numerous revisions, including the integration of the London Overground, introduced in 2007 by Transport for London, with all six lines represented in orange. Over time, the simplicity of the Overground lines became a challenge for navigation, prompting the need for a rebrand. The aim was to honour the local heritage and infuse cultural meaning, with each line receiving a distinct colour and culturally significant name, with input from historians, customers, and transport experts.

“It is powerful to embed public elements of our society with cultural and historical meaning, especially the names of the lines that people will incorporate into their daily language. It is also the responsibility of design and brand storytelling to know which meaning to embed. I think they have done a good job choosing to remember certain groups of society or parts of the city.”
Laura Sanz Gonzalez, Junior Service Designer, Designit

Moving from the information-gathering phase, the next step involved crafting the graphic and industrial elements of the wayfinding system's physical components. So, opting for colours and names for each line wasn't solely about aesthetics; it significantly enhances wayfinding and simplifies navigation for everyone.

"The colour scheme seems good. The shift from a monochrome orange to differentiated colours makes them stand out as separate lines and easier to navigate. The new colours of the Overground are in tune with the already existing colours of the tube map, but use parallel lines instead of solid lines associated with the Underground lines, to distinguish them from one another. This makes the new lines a seamless and unobtrusive fit to the tube map. Which is good. As I see it, this is not a task to introduce something completely new, but rather adjusting the design to how it aught to be if you were to follow the logic of the map."
Mikkel Lemvig, Design Director, Designit

"Colour coding has always played a key role in helping create memorable distinctions across any format of visuals and data. The six new coloured lines will help provide clarity not just for regular commuters but also for tourists and people who are new to the Overground system."
Nimran Kang, Visual Design Intern, Designit

Despite concerns that the map is too busy, Transport for London remains optimistic that the new design will enhance commuters' travel experience. The six lines now reflect cultural significance; for example, The Lioness Line, running through Wembley Park, is named after the historic victory of the England women's football team at the 2022 Euro championship. The Mildmay Line, stretching from Richmond and Clapham Junction through Camden and Hackney, is named after an East London hospital originally built for cholera patients, which later became a pioneering HIV and Aids hospice in the 1980s.

"I think this is an absolute win. Not only is this solving an actual problem, but it also facilitates wayfinding, thus making public transport even more accessible for all. It will also give London and Londoners new cultural reference points and enrich place-based identity. I only wonder if the rollout was putting the emphasis on the wrong things, i.e. names over usability."
Jonas Schmidt, Senior Business Designer, Designit

A successful wayfinding system starts and finishes with information and relies on creating an effective design and capturing the right data. The new rebrand is geared toward simplifying the lives of the 200 million people who hop on the Overground each year in London. And as TfL continues to refine its brand, locals and tourists can look forward to smoother navigation throughout the city.

Keen to read more about our work in spatial communication and wayfinding? Here's what we did for BLOX Copenhagen.

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