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Woodern Johnston upper case blocks: Photo: Roger Bamber

Font of the Month
No 3 This month: Johnston

It's London's typeface - or more precisely, it's London Transport's elegant bespoke type.

Adopted in 1913, Johnston was a pioneering use of type as a signifier of corporate identity. It has become part of London's psyche.

Read more below

Previously on Font of the Month
No 1: Helvetica
No 2: Helvetica

Font of the Month No 3: Johnston

Which came first: Johnston or Gill?  And does it really matter very much? 

Well, there’s no doubt that Johnston was the earlier font.  Indeed Eric Gill, a student of Johnston’s, was one of a number of assistants working for Edward Johnston worked for him on the project. 

Johnston was developed in 1913 by Edward Johnston, as a commission from the legendary designer Frank Pick of the Underground Group in London, for use in stations, trains and publicity, as part of his plan to develop the Underground’s corporate identity.  When the Underground became part of London Transport in 1933, Johnston was adopted as the corporate typeface for the network as a whole and saw a much wider range of applications across London, above- and below-ground.  Over decades it has become one of the distinct cultural characteristics of London – even though its use has been strictly limited to and controlled by London Transport and its successors.   

Johnston is a pleasure to be around.  It is remarkably rounded in the lower-case, and remarkably rectangular in the upper-case. This unusual contrast between upper and lower case is because the upper-case letters are based on the square capitals used in Roman script, while the lower-case is derived from a form of handwriting common in renaissance Italy.  Its effects in upper case are consequently very different from those in mixed upper and lower case – rather grander and authoritative, perhaps even slightly authoritarian when used badly. In lower case, the lettering gives a warmer and clearer sense. 




Johnston’s best features?

  • The unique angular upper half and flat top of the number ‘3’ – it is rather like a ‘3’ and a ‘7’ merged at half-height.  It fills out the top corners of the rectangle, which would otherwise be empty.

  • The diamond-shaped dot on the lower-case ‘i’ – a Johnston trademark.

  • The curves of the lower-case ‘g’ – which is formed from two closed loops.

  • In some forms, the characterful sloping tops to letters and numbers – such as the number ‘1’ – hinting at a missing sloping serif.


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