Writing & Illuminating & Lettering… A book by Edward Johnston



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Design Pit creative director Gareth recently visited London agency Mother for D&B Publishing’s first book launch. Writing & Illuminating & Lettering is a rewritten and reissued version of Edward Johnston’s first book of the same title. The reissue of the book is in celebration of Johnston’s typeface, Johnston Sans, 100th year anniversary.




Gareth is joined in writing this Blog by guest writer Paul Felton. Paul is a highly decorated graphic designer based in Birmingham with over 50 international design awards to his name and was commissioned to design the new edition of Writing & Illuminating & Lettering. He has kindly given his time to write for us in this Blog, sharing his experiences in designing the book and why it is so important that Johnston is recognised for his work.



Above, Paul and Gareth. Paul would like to apologise for not liking having his photo taken so drew us a picture instead


Why all the hu-ha about a typeface?

GR: Well, this particular typeface is a very very special typeface indeed. So special that it has in fact been seen by most, if not everyone in the UK. In fact, it is seen or has been seen by pretty much everybody in the civilised world – without them noticing or realising that they were or are in the presence of a wonder of the design world.

The typeface is exclusively used on the London Underground tube system. The famous transport landmark is one of the key defining features of England’s capital city, something that has been seen by residents, visitors and tourists who move around the city every day. The font has directed people from place to place on maps, internal and external signage, leaflets, posters and pocket guidebooks.

Johnston Sans was designed to legible from distance. It is barely changed its form since the very beginnings of it’s existence – which goes to show how effective design stands the test of time. The new book was designed by Birmingham based designer Paul Felton, who occasionally freelances as a Consultant Senior Creative with Design Pit and has kindly explained some background to his work in redesigning the book.


PF: The journey began over 12 months ago when discussing possible titles with friend and collaborator David Dunn from D&B Books. A re-edition of Writing & Illuminating & Lettering by Edward Johnston was on the list and I jumped on it. I’ve long admired Johnston and his iconic typeface for the London Underground, I spent most of my twenties relying on it to navigate my way round the capital. Strangely for a man who created two of the countries most recognisable pieces of design his name is not overly well known. Some people realise who he is when you tie him to Johnston Sans, very few realise he was actually a calligrapher by trade and a pioneer in revitalising and teaching the craft. Johnston Sans turned 100 this year and it seemed fitting to re-release his seminal text to coincide with the anniversary.

After a fairly lengthy period of research the design began around April 2015 with the book released 12 months later. This is not the first re-edition of the book, Johnston did over 10 himself, following a handful of facsimiles since then, but this is the first major re-design as far as we know, in 110 years.

The design was an exercise in balance — one of the main things we wanted to achieve with the book was to re-invigorate it for a modern audience and inspire a new generating of scribes, however to completely modernise and change it with little compassion for the original text would have been sacrilege. We modernised where it needed it, but always through a traditional lens. The main task of the layout was re-ordering the information so it was much easier to digest and reference relevant diagrams and illustrations. Due to printing constraints at the time the original was produced you’d often get an illustrated example a few pages away from the text it referred to, so all that needed ironing out. We also changed the size of the book itself. It’s intended use is as a manual for calligraphy, one to be constantly referenced, so I felt a larger size and soft cover would allow it to be used more easily as a manual, the pages open wider and have more space surrounding the content to make it a bit easier to work alongside.

The structural layout was tweaked, although we based all the grids and margins on the guidance set out by Edward Johnston in the book. I was really pleased with the interior layout once I applied the grids detailed in the book. The layout felt to me a lot like Johnston Sans in some respects – very simple and clean but with some characterful quirks. It’s not a layout I would have chosen if I was starting from scratch, but I really like that, it took me in a different direction to what I would normally feel comfortable with.

One of the other major updates was the addition of a foreword that I wrote as a way to join the two key areas of Johnston’s work together — his work for London Underground and his calligraphy and lettering work.

All this comes together in a 460 page compendium on calligraphy, lettering and illuminating and one that is still as relevant today as it was in 1906. There aren’t many lettering courses around these days and many contemporary lettering artist are self taught, many actually relied on old editions of Writing & Illuminating & Lettering to hone their skill. Hopefully this new edition is more accessible and can help open up wonderful the world of lettering to an even wider audience.




Writing & Illuminating & Lettering is available from www.dandbbooks.co.uk at £25. Pick up a copy today and discover more about a pioneering British designer who developed a timeless and classic design masterpiece.