Johnston Sans is a typeface that the whole of the UK and most of the world has come across at some point in their lives. It is of course, the typeface used for the London Underground signage system. Many believe the font used under the streets of the capital to be Humanist or Gill Sans but the Johnston typeface is an established part of the “way finder” graphics on the tube network.
The typeface was originally drawn for use on the Underground by Edward Johnston. It took Johnston around three years to design and develop and has since been tweaked many times but has always remained true to the clear, crisp and clean letter shapes of its initial form. In modern times, it has been fully digitised for use on computer systems and still to this day stay very true to its aesthetic roots.
When Johnston first drew the typeface, it was designed to be distinctly different to other fonts and typefaces so it stood out against other advertisements, posters, billboards and so on and so forth – which helped residents and visitors of London navigate their way around the Underground network. The impact and success of Johnston Sans was so great that it has since been utilised on the bus network, trams, boats, cycle paths and general way finding during the Olympic Games of London in 2012.
Back in 1913, would Edward Johnston have known when he first sat down to draw this typeface, just what an icon and symbol it would eventually become? Highly unlikely, but the typeface has subtly and subconsciously become an institution of London over the years since.
Next time you visit London, take a moment whilst on the tube to glance at the typeface wherever you may find it and think about the years of development, decades of adjustment to bring something that is as functional as it is balanced, clean and as beautiful a font as Johnstone Sans…