The Agenda™ design is a humanist sans-serif font with sharp corners and perfectly circular curves. It is a deceptively simple looking typeface, with narrow stroke widths and no emphasis, false serifs or curling shapes. It was created by Greg Thompson for the Font Bureau and was based on a 1916 typeface Edward Johnston designed for the London Underground.
The Johnston typeface, named after its designer, Edward Johnston, had been commissioned for the public signage and messaging in the London Underground transportation system. It included a lower-case set as part of the original commission, making it fairly unique in its day. Previous to that, most display typefaces only contained upper case characters.
Edward Johnston’s background as a master calligrapher showed through in his font design. In calligraphy, there is a technique called the “foundational hand” which directs the calligrapher to use completely vertical strokes when forming uprights in letters. In addition, accompanying rounded portions of letters such as “d” or the upper portion of a “p”, are intended to be completely circular. The combination creates a distinctive hand lettering style.
London Transport (which includes all metropolitan public bus and rail services) adopted this highly recognizable branding. The London underground logo, also designed by Johnston, was (and still is) a perfect circle bisected by a horizontal line. Notably, the circle of the logo matches the font very well and the utilitarian look of the sans-serif face he created made reading underground signs at a distance easier. The font was updated in the 1980’s when the London Underground revamped their look.
Working as a physical typesetter before he was a renowned designer, Greg Thompson learned type design from the ground up. In the 1990’s, he looked to Johnston’s typeface for inspiration in creating the Agenda typeface family, which retains most of the original uppercase features present in the original version. Thompson is famous for many design masterpieces in the world of typography and advertising and has produced a huge variety of weights within the Agenda typeface family, making it one of the most versatile sans serif faces available.
In keeping with the Johnston style, the Agenda design’s characters feature sharpened tops of uppercase letters such as “N” and M”, which appear pointed and include no horizontal flattening of the upper or lower acute angles common to most standard typefaces. The lowercase set retains few direct features of the uppercase, but the rounded shapes carry the design through and other barely detectable nuances make the two sets very compatible. Specific features of the typeface include quirky oblique square (diamond-shaped) dots over the “I” and “j” which give them a pointed appearance that matches the tops of the N and M capitals mentioned earlier.
Overall, the Agenda design is a very fresh take on the original Johnston design and has found uses in all areas of graphic design and advertising.
The Agenda design has found its way into the mainstream of publishing partly due to the design quality, but also to the huge variety (54) typefaces currently available. It has been used in a multitude of print applications since the first version came out in the early 1990’s.
The wider Agenda sizes are particularly suitable for strong headlines, while the regular weight’s high readability from a distance make it a popular poster font.
Many newspapers, including the Daytona Beach News Journal, the Birmingham News from the UK and The News Tribune from Tacoma, Washington, use the Agenda design regularly in their publishing.