The history of train timetables

I know I have an absurd enthusiasm for my industry, and I’m often mocked for it, so it was a gift to my friends when I said I was off to talk about the history of train timetables at the St Bride Foundation.

It was on a Thursday evening, nearly the end of the week, a long day at work, a journey across London on a wintry evening, a warm room and dimmed lights. And I’m sorry to say they all conspired against my staying awake to find out if it was interesting.

This is very unfair of me on those giving the lecture – Paul Dobraszczyk, Paul Stiff and Mike Esbester – three information design specialists from Reading University’s excellent Department of Typography & Graphic Communication. (Before veering to infographics I very nearly went down the information design route and this is the place to do it).

If I’m honest I’ll admit that most of the lecture remains hazy in my memory. But I do still have in my hand the catalogue which, along with the exhibition it accompanied, is thorough, well presented and very good, “Designing information before designers: Print for everyday life in the 19th century”.

All of the material they’ve gathered is part of an ongoing project that you can follow on their blog.

What resonates today from the idea of ‘designing information before designers’ is the value of design as provided by designers. As demonstrated by the 19th century folk who produced all this ‘design’, you don’t have to be a designer to design things. But today – benefitting from hindsight of centuries of printed material and gathering that knowledge together into a discipline called design – the subtle improvements that a designer can bring to the job are invaluable.

With the explosion of the internet and technology we’ve nearly gone full cycle with it being easier than ever for anyone to have a go at being a ‘designer’. But I still maintain that by employing someone who has been professionally trained – not least for the craft involved – you’ll get a better result every time.

And this acts as a caution to designers too: do your work well so we continue to be valued.