One of the most absorbing and stimulating blogs around is The Beauty of Transport, written by freelance transport writer Daniel Wright.
In it, he highlights the role of design and architecture in the world of transport, and the relationship between transport and culture.
His articles typically feature detailed descriptions of big transport projects of architectural significance, or analysis of particular examples of art and design - or the artists themselves - and their influence on the world of transport.
It's the best kind of blog, where you head there planning to have a quick look at whatever's new this week and then find yourself clicking on another title that looks interesting, and another, and another, and hours later realise you've been completely absorbed and totally failed to do whatever it was you were planning to do before you decided to just spend a couple of minutes in front of the computer.
That's one of the reasons why I'm a little late bringing you this post. I've been meaning to do it for a while, but each time I sit down to write it I end up reading more of his older articles and then find I've run out of time.
But two months ago Daniel wrote one article in particular that I want to highlight. It explains in as clear a fashion as I've ever seen, why good design and branding are important in creating successful, attractive transport systems, and why those of us involved in providing transport should aspire to high standards of design in all that we do, and not settle for bland, mundane, unappealing design that will simply turn off potential users.
You can find the article here.
Daniel highlights a particular point about which I feel really passionate, which is the frustration of being made to feel guilty about wanting to embrace good quality design, as though this is something to be ashamed of.
Cynics tell us that people don't care what colour their bus is, as long as it runs on time, and that time, effort and - yes - money, spent on good design and branding is just a waste. Or even worse, they claim that time and energy spent on such matters is actually to the detriment of running the buses on time. In other words, you either have good design or you have punctual buses.
The point that Daniel makes far more eloquently than I can, but which I passionately endorse, is that you have to have both.
In order to create a successful transport system that is attractive to potential users, of course it has to be reliable and punctual, but it also has to be visually appealing, easy to navigate and the kind of environment in which people feel comfortable and safe and positively happy to spend what can amount to several hours of their day.
Delivering the basic service in accordance with the timetable is exactly that - the basic requirement that people should almost be able to take for granted. It's not something to boast about or be proud of - it's the basic thing that we know we have to deliver when we get our Operator's Licence or win a train franchise or whatever. That's not to say that we always achieve it - and I don't know a single operator who thinks they offer the perfect service and doesn't strive to do better - simply that when we do achieve it, we have only fulfilled the user's most basic expectations and hardly deserve a round of applause.
Instead, good quality design and branding must go hand in hand with the task of delivering the basic service. Not only can good design actually make it easier for us to deliver the service in the first place, it is the thing that transforms the experience of using the service from being a functional, mundane chore into something that our customers positively enjoy, want to come back for more and are happy to recommend to their friends - the ingredients that we need to grow patronage and build successful businesses.
Far from being mutually exclusive as some might wish to believe, the basics of reliable operation and the need for good design are as closely related as can be, and to have one without the other is to guarantee failure. If you run a good service but it's not attractive to use, comfortable or safe, people will pretty quickly look for alternatives. If you run a poor service but try to gloss over it with superficial design attributes, customers will see straight through it and vote with their feet.
So when someone tells you that good design and branding either don't matter or, even worse, represent time and money wasted that could be better spent getting the buses to run on time, they are missing the point. Of course we have to run the buses on time, but we also have to design the service, the vehicle and the branding well. It's not either/or, it has to be both. And there's no better starting point to help educate people as to why that's important, than Daniel's superb article.