Mind the Hundred-Year Gap: Johnston100

London's iconic transit typeface gets a centenary update

Typography and Lettering Month might be over for another year here on the ADC Blog, but the typography world never sleeps. Case in point: some big news from our friends over at Monotype, who just unveiled a remastered and reimagined version of Transport for London‘s world famous typeface. Entitled Johnston100, those numbers on the end have a meaning: this year marks the 100th anniversary of the original.

First commissioned in 1913, the typeface was finally revealed three years later, designed by British artist and calligrapher Edward Johnston (who also created the equally iconic roundel). Johnston was tasked with realizing a typeface with “bold simplicity” that was rooted in tradition, yet still felt modern. The completed font, known for its diamond-shaped tittles, combined classical Roman proportions with humanist warmth.

Edward Johnston, 1872-1944

Edward Johnston, 1872-1944

Alas, something can only stay ‘modern’ for so long before time catches up with it, and by the 1970s Johnston’s typeface, which was only created in one weight, began to be edged out across the transit system by other typefaces better suited for the needs of the era. In 1979,  design agency Banks & Miles took on the first modernization of  ‘Johnston’, preparing it for the typesetting systems of the day. Eiichi Kono, the designer, appropriately named the updated typeface “New Johnston”, and added two new weights and accompanying italics for the full set, giving the family much greater versatility.


And now here we are in 2016, where at symbols and hashtags are used with much more frequency, and fonts and typefaces must appear on many more surfaces, both real and digital. And so Monotype Type Director Nadine Chahine and Senior Type Designer Malou Verlomme carried out extensive studies of archive drawings to return to the typeface’s roots, identifying elements that had been lost over years of evolution, such as the distinctive diagonal bowl of a lowercase letter g, and a wider uppercase U.

Johnston100 introduces two brand new weights to the typeface: Thin and Hairline. “It was very important that we added extra thin weights, because of today’s digital trends'” explains Chahine. “It’s a technical skill, and it’s also a testament to technology, in that it is able to render and print very delicate lines. We were able to capture the contemporary trend and the fashion of having something very light and very elegant, but because we are still using the original structures, we were able to maintain the soul of the typeface.”

Johnston100 will roll out across London starting next month, from Tube maps to signage to all sorts of printed material. Those of you who can’t wait that long, however, can score a limited edition poster of the new typeface from the London Transport Museum Shop.