Monotype Refreshes the London Underground Typeface

While the identities of the major cities of the world are often closely associated with their physical situation or exceptional architectural structures, less common is an association based on the graphic arts. In the case of London, residents and visitors can't escape the Johnston typeface employed by the city's transport system. The face was created by British artist and calligrapher Edward Johnston in 1916, with Transport for London (TfL) apparently calling for a bold, simple treatment with a 20th-century vibe. The result was a single hand-drawn weight, with its proportions based on the diamond-shaped strokes of a pen — in respect, rather a 19th century approach.

To coincide with the 100th anniversary of its creation, TfL recently decided to give the face an overhaul to help it function better within both contemporary analog and digital environments. Such a requirement sometimes results in a bland echo of the original but happily in this case the reverse is true. Over the years the Johnston face had survived virtually intact, although some of its quirkiness had rubbed off. According to TfL Head of Design Jon Hunter, “We didn't want to redesign it, but we did know that certain things, for various reasons, had changed. Some of the lower case letters, for example had lost their uniqueness.”

Monotype was tasked with remastering the face and via archive drawings identified elements to be re-incorporated into the new version, now called Johnston100, such as the distinctive diagonal bowl of a lowercase letter g, shown below) and a wider uppercase U. Other changes include an overall wider width; the addition of modern characters, such as a hashtag and @ symbol; and an expanded character set for use with additional languages.

Transport users will begin seeing the new typeface in use in July of this year, through printed material such as maps and posters, followed by use within the trains and in station signage. Johnston100 is not for sale but a poster of its characters, shown above, can be purchased on the London Transport Museum site.

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