Pretty much the first thing I do every morning is take a quick look at my personalized Google News homepage and see if there’s anything happening that should dominate what I’m writing about that day. This morning, the first thing that jumped out at me was a piece at Canada’s National Post about Johnston Underground, the typeface devised by Edward Johnston during World War I for use by the London Underground:
Johnston’s Underground lettering is often considered the first modern sans. It may also be regarded as the first “people’s typeface,” the first to be designed for day-to-day use that was not associated with learning, political manifesto or class, but instead with the need to travel. This was type design making a major contribution to society and everyday life.
Johnston began working on his underground design in 1915, but the idea had been mooted two years before, when Gerard Meynell, head of the fine-printing house, Westminster Press, which had a contract to produce London Underground posters, introduced Johnston to Frank Pick, the Underground’s commercial manager. Pick, an influential figure in British design, had begun to think about a relatively new concept: branding. He had plans not only for the Tube, but for London as a whole.
Pick had an anti-Victorian sense of design and was looking for a font that would “belong unmistakably to the times in which we lived.” He considered using the classical Trajan-style lettering that Eric Gill had created for shopfronts for WH Smith, but judged them too flat; besides, there were already many WH Smith bookstalls on station platforms, and a duplication could be confusing. Pick declared that he wanted something “straightforward and manly,” with each letter in the alphabet “a strong and unmistakable symbol.”
I love this typeface so much that I used it a few years ago when I redesigned FlickFilosopher.com. You see it in the logo above, and below, on one side of my business card:
I love how open and friendly this typeface is, while also expressing confidence and authority.
Now, of course, I see the font all the time all over London, and it remains supremely pleasant to look at.
The National Post piece linked above is an excerpt from the new book Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]. Click through to the Post for links to four other hugely entertaining excerpts, including ones about the public upset when Ikea changed the font it uses in its catalogues and store displays, and one about Comic Sans, “the most annoying font in the world.”
What are your most loved and most hated fonts?
I love Johnston Underground most, probably, and my most hated font is one so basic and so ubiquitous that most people don’t even notice it: Times New Roman. I hate how bland and conserative it is. I like a serif font with a bit of spirit and personality, like Garamond — now there’s a lovely typeface.
(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)