Our weekly look at a favorite new typeface. Share yours with us on Twitter and Instagram @AIGAdesign with #TypeTuesday.
Designer: Malou Verlomme
Release Date: June 2016
Back story: Johnston, the iconic typeface drawn by Edward Johnston in 1916, retains a unique place in design history as inseparable from London Transport’s comprehensive and world-famous design language. Johnston has been used beautifully and consistently over the past century, everywhere from station wayfinding to bus destination signs to publications. Over time, design tweaks to accommodate new technology gave the typeface a slightly more utilitarian look and feel, losing some of its initial charm and personality.
Under the direction of Monotype type director Nadine Chahine, designer Malou Verlomme set out to restore some of the quirkiness of the original alphabet, like the distinctive lowercase g and uppercase S. With unrestricted access to London Transport’s extensive archives, Verlomme was able to review every iteration of the typeface’s evolution.
“The gravity of this 100-year-old typeface just pulls you in,” says Chahine.
“We drew inspiration from the joy reflected in archival Transit posters from 90 years ago: the wonder of taking the tube, of leaving your small village just by climbing down a flight of stairs and then re-emerging somewhere entirely different in London. Magical. We made tiny corrections; the shapes did not change significantly or get dramatically re-organized. Johnston’s typeface captured this joy, and we decided to make certain characters wider and more open to match his drawings, and to give the letterforms room that would reflect this new expansiveness of life.”
Why’s it called Johnston100? We’re stating the obvious here, but the 100 was added to distinguish this centennial reissue from Johnston’s original typeface.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? “We broke some rules,” Chahine says. “Current typeface design makes a lot of optical corrections to ensure a consistent visual weight, but this was not so in the original Johnston from 100 years ago. Usually, there tends to be far more variation in the thickness of the joins when they blend into the verticals. Johnston was more geometric at first, not so optically corrected, and we sought to restore some of that original soul.” Besides adding characters necessary for the digital age (hello # and @), two new weights were added, a Hairline and a Thin. Verlomme kept the skeleton and essence of the original letterforms intact in his reinterpretations to create something both contemporary and fashionable.
What should I use it for? That’s a tough one, as this typeface basically says one thing and says it very, very well. For display, it’s almost impossible to separate it from its London Transport context, which would seep into other uses in distracting and unwelcome ways. However, the lighter weights are very pretty as running text, where a clever designer might be able to get away with it.
Bonus round: For an excellent read on the history of Edward Johnston, his typeface, and the overall design systems of London Transport (with tons of great images), check out Mark Ovenden’s London Underground by Design.