The Johnston Typeface

Did you know we have our own typeface? Even if you didn't 'know', you'll recognise it. It's one of the icons of London design....

Photograph of Edward Johnston (1920-06-15)TfL Corporate Archives

Edward Johnston

Born in 1872 in Uruguay, Johnston's pursuit of the truth and perfection in all things led him to form an unbreakable belief about the making of letter shapes

Johnston Typeface Artwork at Farringdon Station (2019-06-24) by Transport for LondonTfL Corporate Archives

The Johnston Typeface

Johnston's most famous letterform is one that's had a huge impact on type design and remains, since its emergence in 1916, the exclusive property of TfL. It's the ‘Underground Railway Block-Letter’, more commonly known as the Johnston typeface

In 1913, Johnston was commissioned to develop a set of block letters to be used as standard by the company. The 1st finalised set of upper case letters, Johnston Sans, were delivered in June 1916. A set of lower case letters and numerals were delivered in July 1916. Johnston was a calligrapher, not a type-cutter, so he drew the entire alphabet from hand.

Johnston Typeface Blocks, 1917-01-01, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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Johnston Typeface Blocks, 1917-01-01, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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Johnston Typeface Blocks, 1917-01-01, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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 In June 1917 one of the Underground’s printers ran off a complete set of the typeface and from that point posters, notices and ephemera began to appear in the new face. The effect was to give a much more unified and professional look to material

Once the typeface letters had been delivered, attention had turned to utilising the lettering in a ‘logo’ format, based on the bar and disc logo that had already evolved.

Drawing showing the standard layout of the 'Registered Design' version of the Johnston Underground bullseye (roundel) (1925) by Edward Johnston and London Electric RailwayLondon Transport Museum

The foundation for every roundel that we see today

In March 1917, Johnston finished preparing a drawing which included a black outline around the red roundel ring, a black keyline around the centre bar, the Underground word written in the centre bar in the Johnston typeface, and a reduced ring width

In 1979, typographic design consultants were commissioned to review the visual identity of the company.  They reported that the Johnston typeface had too limited a range of fonts and character sizes, that the characters were set too widely, and that the largely hand-set nature of it required costly and disappearing skills.

But the value of the typeface and its place in the public’s consciousness was recognised, with the report emphasising how the lettering acted as a central thread for the whole organisation.

The Johnston Typefaces (1991-06-15)TfL Corporate Archives

New Johnston

Amending and updating the typeface became the approach, and New Johnston was developed between 1979 and 1983 by Eiichi Kono

In 2016, Monotype Type was commissioned to review the typeface again. The result - Johnston100 - contains subtle changes to make it fit for purpose in the 21st century. This includes symbols, such as # and @, which are now widely used in the digital communications age.

The Johnston typeface continues to be a design icon of London, as evidenced by the brands TfL collaborates with to celebrate its history and its present.

Royal Mint Coins Produced for 150th Anniversary of Underground, Royal Mint, 2013-01-24, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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Royal Mail Stamps Produced for 150th Anniversary of Underground, Royal Mail, 2013-01-09, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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Both Royal Mail and the Royal Mint issued celebratory stamps and coins, respectively, to celebrate London Underground's 150th anniversary. Core to the design was the inclusion of Johnston typeface

Limited Edition Scrabble using Johnston Typeface, Transport for London, 2016-11-22, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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Limited Edition Scrabble using Johnston Typeface, Transport for London, 2016-11-22, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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In 2016, a limited edition Scrabble set was launched. The set included pieces featuring the Johnston font and came in a wooden box transcribed in the same distinctive lettering

Launch of Special Edition Fender Stratocaster guitar at St. John's Wood Station, John Philips, 2015-11-30, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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Launch of Special Edition Fender Stratocaster guitar at St. John's Wood Station, John Philips, 2015-11-30, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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Launch of Special Edition Fender Stratocaster guitar at St. John's Wood Station, John Philips, 2015-11-30, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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In 2015, Fender unveiled unique guitars based on the Beck tube map and featuring the Johnston font. The special edition featured an engraved neck plate, TfL logo on the back of the headstock, three single coil pickups and a maple neck alongside the Tube map design

Special Ediiton Nike Blue Trainers featuring Johnston Typeface, 2016-11-22, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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Special Ediiton Nike Trainers Box featuring Johnston Typeface, 2016-11-22, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
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In 2016,  a partnership with Nike revived the cult classic Air Zoom Spiridon trainer. The new edition was designed using the Johnston typeface and came in boxes displaying the famous lettering

Credits: Story

Story compiled by TfL using information in records at the Transport for London Corporate Archives. The Corporate Archives seeks to preserve and make accessible records, not to interpret them. A wider range of material is available for physical consultation.

Permission is granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only.

This story has been enhanced using images from the collections of the London Transport Museum. All enquiries regarding those images should be made directly to that institution.    

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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