If you’re putting indiscriminate, shouty messages over the windows of buses and trains, our Twitter campaign will call you out


Advertise here: Please don’t


Social media can be a powerful weapon when it comes to campaigning, depending on who you follow and who follows you. With fantastic support, from and belief by, a good number of industry colleagues and many others, I have been spearheading a twitter campaign – #SaveOurWindows – to name, shame and get very cross with companies who think it’s not just acceptable, but desirable to cover windows (sometimes completely) with vinyl. These range from stand-alone, simple cheap sales messages positioned at eye level, making it uncomfortable or impossible to look out of the window (all you see is a back-to-front wording making it even more annoying or a damn great white square just where you assumed something like the Grand Canyon, the Devon Riviera or Sainsbury’s should be), to extending a promotional campaign on a bodyside to sweep right over the windows.

Let’s get a few facts out of the way, first. Windows have two prime functions – to let light in and allow a view out. If they open, then they double up as ventilation. These should never be compromised or ignored. Why have windows otherwise? Often called the first art, architecture has made windows an attractive part of any populated building (and let’s assume a bus or train is broadly built on architectural conceits). Look at any bus or train – bus in particular – windows are architecturally speaking a major part of their design; integral to it in fact.

The next fact concerns an adhesive vinyl material that, if all a window is for is to allow light in and never to be looked out of (a rarity), has a potential use – but not if a window’s function is to allow someone on the bus or train to be able to admire the passing scene. One brand of it is called Contravision, and this term has crept into the lexicon as erroneously being used for any similar material. It’s promoted as allowing passengers still to be able to look out of a window, but that depends on what you mean by looking out; certainly not looking out clearly. This is because the window is covered with a regular patterned mesh (the vinyl is usually black on the side facing inwards and perforated with tiny holes), the reality is that up to 50% of the glass surface is obscured, cutting the amount of light it lets in and severely compromising the quality of the view out.

On a moving vehicle any view out through a window covered in this type of material becomes fuzzy, blurred and noticeably dulled, with something of a mild stroboscopic effect, which can be very uncomfortable and disorientating. And often, when making a quick glance up at such a window, the eye naturally focuses on the dots and you have to manually force yourself to see beyond the mesh. Reading any signs outside is very difficult. Customer-friendly it very much ain’t. If you have any eyesight issues, it’s even more appalling.

And here’s another annoyance. When it rains, tiny droplets of water can lodge in the ‘holes’ on the material, causing a small degree of light refraction, so it becomes more akin to looking through frosted glass.

Too many marketing managers are seduced by the sales patter and blurb about these materials, without bothering to check it out first hand and experiencing it as would a bona fide, fare-paying customer.

Myself and a fair number of industry friends are of the opinion that rather too many marketing managers are seduced by the sales patter and blurb about these materials, without bothering to check it out first hand and experiencing it as would a bona fide, fare-paying customer, which is most unprofessional. Either that or they simply don’t consider looking out of a window of much importance or appeal to the plebs they believe they carry. We can’t believe for one minute they think compromising the view out of a bus or train window is a good thing, can they? Surely not, after all, one of the joys of bus or train travel and a good marketing hook, particularly in a scenic part of the land, is the splendid views that you can’t get in a car.

There were (maybe still are) double deckers in Newcastle with the whole front window covered in this type of vinyl. I mean, the front window? And several at the back upstairs, too. Come on, please! It looks gross and so wrong, and there are subliminal messages here. It says that the company is more concerned about the selling than looking after you once they’ve sold to you. I’m surprised some bright spark hasn’t come up with the idea of covering windows with a message promoting the great views from this bus. Please tell me they haven’t, have they?

How can anyone think this is a good thing? It’s insulting. The overriding message is really, “this bus looks a mess and we just don’t give a flying fig”.

There are other buses recently spotted where the bottom third of the front window is covered with a none-too-attractive hard sales message on completely opaque vinyl and the top third with another one. What is it about window glass that makes marketing departments want to cover it all the time? It’s becoming an epidemic in the Midlands, with some buses absolutely plastered with messages, all enormous and at eye height completely blocking the views for the vast majority of passengers. How can anyone think this is a good thing? It’s insulting. The overriding message is really, “this bus looks a mess and we just don’t give a flying fig”. Elsewhere, there was a bus dressed up in a ‘poppy’ promotion, with large solid poppies over nearly every window on the bus. The fact that it was for a charity doesn’t make it any better.

I have heard, in a pathetic attempt to defend this obscene abuse of the right to a good view, the comment, “Well, nobody’s complained.” Complaining isn’t just a “Dear Sir..” letter. People complain silently with their feet, or more likely bums, by doing everything they can to avoid making another journey on a vehicle that has this nasty feature. They also moan about it to other people and spread the message that way. That’s human nature.

Back to the campaign. I’d like to think it was because of it, but luckily I believe some fare-paying passengers may have complained directly, too. Whatever it was, RESULT! Northern Rail have announced they’ll remove the window wraps on the trains used on the Settle and Carlisle line. Yippee. We are saving our windows. I know some other bus companies and TOCs have declared reasonably publicly they will not cover windows. It’s like Ralph Nader and his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, or the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism. It will gather momentum. The days of the philistines are numbered. One of my industry friends sent me an example where Austrian Railways (ÖBB) are now taking the offensive (though stylish) Railjet branding off the windows and on to the bodyside. Yes, yes yes!

A small incursion into a part of a window that is not in a direct line of vision, like a small notice at the bottom of a bit of glass where there are no seats, or in a corner that doesn’t impede vision out, or if a dynamic livery feature ‘needs’ to just break on to the glass to look right, may be acceptable, if designed-in properly by someone who knows how to design well and knows what windows are all about (I can think of one straight away). But indiscriminate, shouty messages because, “there’s a space there we haven’t used yet,” must be stopped and, through peer pressure and the power of social media, we will drum it into the culprits until they learn what windows are meant for; and the power of clear glass to encourage more people to make more journeys by public transport.


About the author: Ray Stenning is the award-winning Design Director of Best Impressions, which provides creative services to the passenger transport sector.


This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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