Internationally renowned design historian Mark Ovenden is an author, presenter, broadcaster and lecturer whose best-selling books have been translated into five languages.
His recent one-hour documentary for BBC4 was watched by 400,000 and sales of his books are approaching a quarter of a million.
Mark brings joyful insight and accessibility to what might on the surface appear dry or technical subjects.
The New York Times called his work “pure catnip”, The Daily Telegraph and Guardian both chose Two Types: The Faces of Britain, presented by Ovenden, as their Pick of the Day (31st July 2017): and the Guardian called it “fascinating”.
His infectious enthusiasm in print, on TV, radio or delivering talks, enthrals audiences.
He is an expert on public transport maps, lettering and design: a self-confessed “geek” he has toured the world delivering talks, visiting transit systems, studying corporate identity, typography and way-finding.
He has written many books on transport, signage and typefaces and most recently the enduring legacy of Johnston & Gill Sans.
Mark is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society with a large following on social media and lives in London
Mark Ovenden formally worked as a radio presenter and producer for the BBC and commercial broadcasters in London and Manchester before returning to his love of cartography and studying world transport systems. He was born and brought up London and spent many years living in various cities in France, the USA, and UK.
As a kid he was always interested in the media and in trains. He built miniature TV studios out of Lego & sticky-backed plastic. He set up a closed circuit radio station which got piped around the family home. He collected old maps and often went out exploring abandoned train lines. While still at school Mark presented a weekly show on the local hospital radio station, collected records and attempted to DJ (“badly” he admits) at local events. A genuine ‘geek’ in the making! Following early interests, Mark’s school project was on the London Underground: he painted a revision of the classic Beck inspired Tube diagram. Mark’s version kept the diagrammatic style but retained the geographic position of the lines: the resulting mess convinced him why Beck was right to expand the central area but helped gain Mark a place at Art College in Southampton. It was there he conceived of an idea to start a ‘what’s on’ listings magazine for the area. Due South published from November 1982 but Mark stepped down after just a couple of years as editor to pursue political interests. He become a youth activist during the 1984/5 Miners Strike.
To develop his interests and a desire to move to a livelier city, he took a job with the progressive Manchester City Council as an Equality Officer in 1990, delivering training on tackling homophobia in the workplace.
Meanwhile Mark developed ideas for a national radio show and scored a coup by getting BBC Radio 1 to commission their first ever series aimed at young lesbians and gay men: loud’n’proud in 1993. Mark became a freelance journalist and newsreader for Manchester’s dance radio station Kiss102 from 1994. He took time out in London to work on BBC2‘s first series for lesbians and gays, Gaytime TV and back at Kiss102, Mark fronted the daily entertainment show The Word , became newsreader ‘Peter Parker’ for London’s Kiss100 breakfast show and was promoted to Programme Manager until 1997 when he became full time producer at BBC Radio 1 on the Annie Nightingale Show. In mid 1998 he joined MTV as a freelance music programmer then became a producer and presenter at Atlantic252.
In early 2000, Mark moved to Ministry Of Sound, helping set up their DAB Digital Radio station, and as Head of Radio there, Mark applied for and won the licence to run a one month long FM version of the station.
Mark moved into consultancy after this and in 2002 he joined a fledgling TV channel as Channel Manager but by this stage had already become wrapped up in the idea of compiling a book that contained the official map of every urban transit system in the world. Metro Maps of The World was published in November 2003 and sold out in a matter of weeks. In September 2005 Mark moved to France to focus on his next book about the Paris Metro. Meantime his original publication was picked up by a Dutch Publisher (Metrokaarten van der wereld, 2006) and also by Penguin in the USA. The American version, Transit Maps of The World, was published October 2007. Media coverage was phenomenal and led to unexpectedly high sales, and a Top 100 ranking in the Amazon sales charts where it is still often the number one best-selling book in it’s category (Mass Transit)! Mark is “hugely proud” that his work has become the best-selling book about transport design. The book on the design of the Metro published in October 2008 as Paris Metro Style in map and station design. Penguin US commissioned an American version of it so Mark re-worked the concept, improved the content and it was published on October 24 2009 by Penguin as Paris Underground, The Maps, Stations, and Design of the Metro.
Mark’s follow-up to the popular transit maps book was Railway Maps of the World published in America in hardcover by Viking, May 2011, and in the UK by Penguin’s Particular Books imprint, September 2011.
Mark’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Tube was published at the end of 2012: London Underground By Design, published by Penguin UK, was the best-selling (achieved Number 78 in the Amazon Top 100) and best rated (4.5 stars from 65 reviews) book of all those released for the commemoration. In 2015 an entirely new and revised edition of Transit Maps of the World was released simultaneously in the US and UK. Mark claims that “it doesn’t include a single duplicate map from previous editions”. Next came a French language edition of the Paris Metro book (L’histoire du métro parisien racontée par ses plans : Plans, stations et design du Métro) also in 2015 and was translated into both Spanish and Japanese in 2016.
A brand new title to commemorate the Centenary of the London Underground font, ‘Johnston’, published during TfL’s “Transported by Design” year of events (2016-17) came next. Johnston and Gill: Very British Types received critical acclaim and was the inspiration for the BBC4 documentary, 2 Types: The Faces of Britain (July 2017). Metrolink: The First 25 Years was published in September 2017 and more books, TV programmes and speaking tours are in the pipeline.
Mark now resides in his hometown of London where he also gives lectures on transport design and is a freelance journalist/broadcaster.