Edward Johnston – The Typographer

The series of type designers known as “Johnston sans” remains one of the key elements in what has become one of Britain’s most extensive corporate identity projects, encompassing everything from station signs to route maps, timetables and posters.

Edward Johnston was born in 1872 and originally intended to study medicine in Edinburgh. Instead, he dropped out and headed to London where he became one of the most foremost typographers of the early 20th Century. He was commissioned by Frank Pick in 1916 and designed the Transport for London’s sans-serif typeface, which is used throughout the Transport for London (Tfl) system (current manager of the London Underground).

It was so successful that it remained virtually unchanged up until 1979 when it was slightly reworked for the modern age.  The success of the typeface stemmed from its flexibility and legibility. The redesign included minor adjustments to a bolder font and the inclusion of Bold, Medium and Light weights as well as lower case lettering. Tfl hold the intellectual rights to the modern version, New Johnston.

He is also responsible for creating the Underground’s famous roundel or ‘bull’s-eye’. This roundel was adopted by the London Underground in 1919 and has been used even since. The proportions and colours have remained largely unaltered since 1925. Johnston designed the roundel by taking the symbol of the London General Omnibus Company, a red circle with a blue bar, and add the word ‘Underground’ to it in his newly designed typeface.


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