30th June 2016

Mind the gap

First introduced over a century ago, Johnston Sans has been the font for London transport ever since and has remained mostly unchanged. First commissioned in 1913 by Frank Pick as part of London Underground’s corporate identity, it has become one of the most talked about and celebrated fonts since it was first used in 1916. And I can think of few occasions where a corporation has commission a unique typeface as part of their identity rather than using or adapting an existing font family.
The reason for the albeit subtle changes to the original font is to make it fit for purpose in the 21st century. And that purpose is the ever-growing digital space – particularly social, mobile and apps.
Now renamed Johnston100, at first glance it’s hard to see what has changed, even to an avid typography fan like myself. But look closely and the changes are there. The lowercase ‘g’ is perhaps the most striking individual character change with its new distinctive reshaped bowl. But the introduction of thinner weight options for mobile use – the original font was available as a single weight only – and the additional symbols @ and # are perhaps the most telling of the changes. It’s what they call ‘digitally friendly’.
But what I find really encouraging is that the font designers chose to look backwards, at early TfL posters, in order to move the font forward – into the digital age, keeping a century old typeface contemporary and relevant. So in July 2016, exactly one century after its first use, let’s hope the new typeface will be ready for the next communications revolution – whatever and whenever that might be.