TfL looks to bring the outside underground with new design strategy

Transport for London (TfL) is working on a new design strategy that will see it emulate the environment at street level inside its underground stations to create a better passenger experience, the company’s head of retail Stuart Anderson has revealed.

Speaking to The Drum following his keynote speech at the Retail Design Expo in London today (11 March), Anderson said that one of the first stations to receive the treatment will be Piccadilly Circus, with updates to the station to appear within the next “three to four months”.

Anderson said the new strategy was partly inspired by the Metro station at the Louvre in Paris, which is designed to reflect the iconic design of the museum, and insight from Crown Estates, the company that owns many of the luxury stores on Regent Street, which is served by Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus Tube stations.

“You know where you are when you arrive before you get to the surface and I think that’s a good example for us to work with,” Anderson said of the Louvre station. “We’ve got a similar sort of heritage and we need to work along those lines.”

During research for the strategy David Shaw, head of portfolio at Crown Estates, told TfL that the company “would like the Regent Street experience to start when you step off the train” – a notion that Anderson said “got him thinking”.

“Up until now the underground really stopped at the gate line but when you start thinking a passenger’s journey starts way before the gates and way after the gates and we have a duty to actually influence the public environment.

“Piccadilly Circus should be part of that Regent Street experience and integrated space is the key thing.”

The new design strategy comes as TfL is in the throes of reimagining its retail offering within Tube stations and overhauling the look and feel of the environments as a whole.

The first iteration of that came at Old Street station where TfL installed a curated pop-up space just under a year ago. Since then the retail destination has seen 120 brands, ranging from Jamie Oliver to independent coffee shops, pass through its space, with 99 per cent of the shops let from its conception.

A key facet of the retail push at TfL is design, something that Anderson admitted has been “neglected” at many stations historically.

“The one thing we often forget is clutter,” he said. “If you go through any station what we’ve neglected over the years is actually looking after our stations, looking after our environment and we’ve got layers and layers of transport clutter and our stations on the whole are pretty messy. So my job in terms of trying to create a secondary revenue in retail is to actually improve that situation.”

To improve that TfL is working with integrated design agency Tait, which created the pop-up experience at Old Street, to introduce a more uniformed look for stores and kiosks in stations.

The agency, which has created a retail design guide for all retail tenants to ensure the look and feel of the shop fronts is streamlined to remove that clutter, has also created the new retail offering at Canary Wharf and a new kiosk design which has just begun to roll out at Waterloo station.

Speaking to The Drum, creative director Robert Rosser said the idea of the design is to create a calmer experience for passengers.

“One of the things that we’re trying to do with the stations is to calm the visual noise and the clutter...so many retailers at the moment, especially on stations, try to use a lot of visual noise signage wise so we’re trying to restrict that and create a better environment and a better journey.”

The result is a slicker, paired back shop front design, which Anderson said will hopefully “slow customers down” and inspire them to shop in stations.

Another side to the retail strategy involves bringing in shops that fit in with the local community above ground. For example, TfL and Tait are working together to explore which shops or services are missing from a particular area surrounding a Tube station and looking at the possibility of introducing them underground.

“It’s all about locality and convenience and what’s convenient to a particular journey,” commented Rosser. “If there isn’t something in that area then [we will look at] how can we introduce that.

“[We are] trying to predict what sort of issues there are around people’s journeys”.

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