Category: Nick Garrett Traditional Sign writer (page 10 of 56)

99 years of the Johnston typeface

99 years of the Johnston typeface

S Smith sign

Next year marks the centenary of the introduction of the Johnston typeface, designed by Edward Johnston as the corporate font for transport in London and still in use today.

The Johnston typeface

The Johnston typeface was first introduced in 1916 and used on the London Underground. Today it is used on signage, London Underground printed material and of course the equally iconic Tube map, designed by Harry Beck. Simon Garfield, author of Just My Type, describes Johnston as “one of the most iconic, enduring and best-loved fonts in the world”.

London Blocks Explained L002 250 dpi cJPEG

Edward Johnston was commissioned to develop the typeface by London transport administrator Frank Pick – who would later commission Beck to design the Tube Map.

Bath Signwriting NGS Pubs cafes signwritten beers ales

Source: Alexander Baxevanis

Woodblocks of Johnston type

According to Garfield, Pick briefed Johnston to create a typeface that would “belong unmistakeably to the times in which we lived”. It would be “straightforward and manly” with each letter in the alphabet “a strong and unmistakeable symbol”. Johnston himself says he approached the task with “the austerity of an engineer”.

Author David Lawrence – whose book A Logo for London covers both Johnston’s typeface designs and his later designs for the London Underground roundel – says Johnston “ruthlessly discarded the florid typography and gilded heraldry that Victorian engineering had taken up to assert its heritage”.

Development of the TfL roundel, also designed by Edward Johnston

Johnston initially worked on the typeface with his student Eric Gill – who would later create the Johnston-influenced Gill Sans. According again to Garfield, the initial letters Johnston produced were the capitals B, D, E, N, O and U.

The lower-case “l” with its distinctive upturned boot and the lower-case “I” with its diamond-shaped dot, would come later.

Source: John Keogh

London Underground sign – showing the diamond-dot “i”

Johnston died in 1944 and according to Garfield had expressed regret that his work had been more honoured abroad than at home. He is quoted as saying “This particular design… seems to have made a great impression in parts of Central Europe – where I understand it has given me a reputation which my own country is too practical to recognise.”

Today, the Johnston font is registered to Transport for London and found across the transport network. It has also appeared in wayfinding for the London 2012 Olympics and in overlays on BBC TV show Sherlock.

St John's Wood

Signs showing Johnston typeface at the London Transport Museum

Ahead of the centenary of the typeface’s introduction, London Transport Museum is hosting a series of guided tours, which will tell the story of what the museum refers to as “designs so strong and adaptable that they now represent the idea of London itself”.

For more information on the London Transport Museum Johnston tours, visit

30 numeral

A New age of graphic ID – dragging over the whisper

On the back of painting reams of letters over the past 3 years something new has to happen. It does.



It is not enough to simply claim to go further and add this and that as a jump up on the next competitor. That is not innovation – it is simply a jostling for a slither of note over the nearest competitor.

It is not about emulating what has gone by with new fad ridiculous over ornamentation.

For some it works.

For most it is an unoriginal pathway.

Originate please!





Innovation is at large in the few.

Truly emerging innovation is a felt glimmer being dragged across the horizon…



So what is the next true wave of inspiration likely to look like?

It has to first allow itself the divine right to exist as something entirely new.

This could be new by approach, feel, sensibility.



My own sense is that this is entirely linked to ones ability to find a sensuous magic in whatever is on the table for product development or ID.

The new approach owes much to empathy and pure product design.  It is mechanical yet open to any conceivable concept that exists.


It is not retro



I believe in …….


yes is the answer to everything in the universe.


It is like an alien sentient being or a slice of bread.







no not this

neither these

but it lies in there








Beyond this age of clamoring diversification the opportunity to reap great design whist slipping in and out of view

It is subtle










It has to strive to prove Zen to be nothing more than contrived shit – because it comes from the streets of London, Delhi and Venice and somewhere between. It comes from somewhere intensely real.






It doesn’t quite exist yet but it’s always been there.






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