The Johnston Typeface at 100

How do you celebrate 100 years of Transport for London’s Johnston typeface, an iconic typeface used across London’s bus, rail and Underground systems? With a typeface, of course. The Johnston100 typeface has all the qualities of the original, remastered for the digital age.

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In 1916 Edward Johnston created the original London Underground typeface. The system’s sans serif typeface is an iconic part of London’s visual culture.

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Scan of an original Johnston typeface from the "London's Handwriting" archival book by Banks & Miles.

Scan of an original Johnston typeface from the “London’s Handwriting” archival book by Banks & Miles.

Frank Pick, London Transport’s former managing director, was instrumental in defining their visual identity in the early 20th century. He commissioned Johnston to design the original typeface in 1913, with it being completed in 1916. Johnston’s original designs served as the basis for Johnston100.

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Monotype had the honor of creating Johnston100 to mark 100 years of the typeface, and in addition to rolling it out across Transport for London’s systems, you’ll find it on special edition centennial posters designed by Monotype as well as Pentagram, SEA and Alan Kitching. You can purchase limited edition prints of the poster series from the London Transport Museum Shop.

The Spirit of the Original

During the research and design phases, Monotype type director Nadine Chahine and senior type designer Malou Verlomme researched the original typeface, even making a visit to the London Transport Museum Depot to consult source materials.

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Nadine Chahine (left), Monotype type director, and Malou Verlomme (right), Monotype senior type designer, visited the London Transport Museum Depot to research Johnston's original work.

Nadine Chahine (left), Monotype type director, and Malou Verlomme (right), Monotype senior type designer, visited the London Transport Museum Depot to research Johnston’s original work.

The design process lasted from January 2016 through March 2016. Verlomme said, “Our main goal was to go back to the spirit of the original design intentions. So we really focused more on the original drawings, wood type and posters than other digital versions.” Johnston100 is another chapter in Johnston’s legacy, “a new step in this ever-evolving typeface,” said Verlomme.

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Johnston100 has five weights including two brand new weights, hairline and thin. It also includes revisions to some of its iconic letters, such as the ‘g.’ Johnston100’s accented characters and diacritics enable it to be used in a wide variety of languages.

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Johnston100 is loyal to Edward Johnston’s original drawings, which is important given how the typeface has evolved over the years. Verlomme emphasized how Johnston “has gone through many iterations and technology transfers” and he sees Johnston100 “keeping the typeface alive, and in tune with contemporary uses.”

The Legacy Lives On

Chahine calls Johnston100 a refresh since it stays true to the source material. “The typeface had lost some of its original features and we tried to bring those back, in a way, refreshing the design as in bringing it back to its original intended form.” Like the original, Johnston100 has diamond tittles, sometimes called dots, on top of the ‘i’ and ‘j.’ But although Johnston’s original used square punctuation stops (.;:?!), Johnston100 uses the diamond making for a more unified appearance.

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Like Johnston’s original, Johnston100 will not have an italic. But it has different proportions compared to its namesake. Johnston100 is wider making for a more “relaxed feel” according to Verlomme. When asked if Johnston100 is meant for print, digital, mobile, display, or text uses, Chahine said that it’s intended for all of these.

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A Typeface for Yesterday, Today, and Years to Come

Chahine finds Johnston’s original work as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. “Johnston is a timeless design, otherwise it wouldn’t have survived for 100 years. The work that we did helped to bring consistency back to the family of weights in use, and the additional light weights help to give it a more nuanced typographic voice that is very much belonging to this century and its design trends. The high quality design and the watchful eye of Transport for London will ensure that this typeface lives on for many more decades to come.”

Johnston100 will begin appearing across Transport for London (TfL) later this year and will be used on TfL’s new Crossrail Elizabeth line that’s scheduled to open in 2018. Learn more about Johnston100 at Monotype’s website and on Vimeo.

Imagery courtesy of Monotype.


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