100 Years Of Johnston Sans For TfL

"...One hundred years on from its introduction and commuters are still reliant on Edward Johnston's enduring work..."

We have probably all been to London at some point, and as such probably have all been on the Underground system that the city so depends upon. As the world’s first underground railway (formerly known as the Metropolitan Railway), the network opened in 1863 and originally composed of just the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. The first electrified line came in 1890 and that was the Northern line (formerly the City & South London Railway), and since such a technological shift the entire tube network has expanded to 11 lines and carried an estimated 1.305 billion passengers in 2014, making it sit just outside the top 10 busiest metro networks in the world.

Whilst the London Underground might not be in the top five, nor arguably the cleanest or most consistently reliable, there is no hiding the fact that it was the definitely the original. Half a century on from its birth, 1916 saw a branding exercise that made the Undergound system such an iconic feature of London. Already relied upon by millions every day, being the blood and arteries of England’s capital, such a feature has helped sky-rocket local tourism, as much as give the system a consistent aesthetic that aids make everything run that much more smoothly.

The reassuringly familiar typeface – Johnston Sans – used across London’s transport network turns 100 this year, and as such marks one of the world’s longest-lasting, never-changing corporate identities. Under the direction of Frank Pick, the inventor of such branding was the renown calligrapher Edward Johnston and his work has become synonymous with the unification of the entire Underground network. Until 1916, every station and train line had all used different signs and typography, leading to non-standardisation and therefore confusion. Just imagine how much more chaotic it would be as you wander 50m below ground level not knowing where you are going, all because the one sign you are looking out for is expressed differently to the last station’s version; it would be a nightmare at best for the non-regular commuters. One hundred years on from its introduction and commuters still rely on Edward Johnston’s enduring work.

To mark its centenary, Transport for London (TfL) is celebrating the font’s quintessential association with the Underground by collaborating with eleven UK-based graphic and design agencies, and each were set with the brief of creating a poster dedicated to the typeface. Designers amongst the team’s roster include Alan Kitching (legendary typographer), Thomas.Matthews (communication designers), Magpie (award-winning agency), Pentagram (multidisciplinary studio), The Beautiful Meme (brand interpreters) and six more. The posters will be on exhibition at the Clerkenwell Design Week of 24-26th May and at the show ‘The Language of London’ which is being held at Hoxton’s KK Outlet from 16–28th May.

Celebrate this milestone in British design history and discover more at TFL.gov.uk

Edward Johnston's Work

By creating a custom font that featured no serifs (the decorative flicks), Johnston created a highly-legible, simple and reassuring font that could be understood by all the public. With just bold and regular font alternatives created, the font has been used without fail for 100 years, and has become an icon for foreign Tourists.

(Photography Credit : TFL.gov.uk)

9 Design
9.5 Originality
8.5 Design Depth
10 Influence

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