One hundred years ago, Londoners woke up to find their familiar underground station signs were being bastardized with some modern interloper.

Edward Johnston had designed a new font for the London Underground, and it was radical. The font chosen was a sans-serif typeface, at a time when everyone — absolutely everyone — used fonts with little finishes at the end of every letter.

serif-san-serif

To have the London Underground switch from the authoritative font that surrounded people everywhere, to something a bit odd was a brave move, and one which cemented the railway’s reputation for modernity, as well as giving it a brand identity which stood out far more then than it does today.

Described by the editor of London Reconnections, as the Comic Sans of its time, it is difficult now to appreciate just how revolutionary a change the font was when it first appeared on the streets of London.

Imagine if today, London Underground were today to switch to Comic Sans, and you start to appreciate not only how London Underground would stand out on the streets in design terms, but how shocking such a design would be to Londoners.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the font that revolutionised London, the Transport Museum is holding a series of talks about the man, the font and the inspiration.

All talks cost £10 (£8 concessions), or £15 for two talks.

They all start at 7pm, at the Transport Museum in Covent Garden.

Tickets go on sale shortly, here.

The Man Who Branded London: Edward Johnston’s Underground Typeface

Date: Tuesday 23 February 2016

Journalist and author Simon Garfield explores the importance of the Johnston typeface and talks about the life and work of the creator, Edward Johnston.

Go West Young Man, the untold story of Edward Johnston

Date: Wednesday 23 March 2016

Johnston’s grandson, television director Andrew Johnston, tells how a trip to the Wild West of North America in 1898 helped his grandfather make the journey from failed medical student to founder of the 20th Century revival of calligraphy.

London’s First Fonts

Date: Tuesday 10 May 2016

Join graphic designers and Central Saint Martin’s academics Catherine Dixon and Phil Bains, and explore the importance of lettering from a designer’s point of view. Discover what the London Underground looked like before the introduction of Johnston’s typeface and the impact his font design had on the look and feel of London travel.

New Johnston: New font – Eiichi Kono in conversation

Date: Tuesday 7 June 2016

In 1979, Japanese graphic designer Eiichi Kono was given the job of updating the iconic Johnston font – a typeface that had inspired him to become a designer. Join Eiichi in conversation along with journalist Simon Garfield, author of Just my type, and Professor Ewan Clayton, author of The Golden Thread, to find out more about how he went about adapting London’s famous alphabet for the digital age.

Incidentally, British Rail came up with their own font in 1965, and while since discontinued, it was widely used in NHS hospitals until the 1990s, and unless the building is new, is likely to still dominate your local hospital.

Next time you are in a hospital, you are probably being guided around the labyrinthine layout, by railway signs.

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