Johnston’s letters were constructed very carefully, based on his study of historical writing techniques at the British Museum. His capital letters took their form from the best classical Roman inscriptions. “He had serious rules for his sans serif style,” says Farey, “particularly the height-to-weight ratio of 1:7 for the construction of line weight, and therefore horizontals and verticals were to be the same thickness. Johnston’s O’s and C’s and G’s and even his S’s were constructions of perfect circles. This was a bit of a problem as far as text sizes were concerned, or in reality sizes smaller than half an inch. It also precluded any other weight but medium ‘ any weight lighter or heavier than his 1:7 relationship.” Johnston was famously slow at any project he undertook, says Farey. “He did eventually, under protest, create a bolder weight, in capitals only ‘ which took twenty years to complete.”
Farey and his colleague Richard Dawson have based ITC Johnston on Edward Johnston’s original block letters, expanding them into a three-weight type family. Johnston himself never called his Underground lettering a typeface, according to Farey. It was an alphabet meant for signage and other display purposes, designed to be legible at a glance rather than readable in passages of text. Farey and Dawson’s adaptation retains the sparkling starkness of Johnston’s letters while combining comfortably into text.
Johnston’s block letter bears an obvious resemblance to
Farey and Dawson, working from their studio in London’s Clerkenwell, wanted to create a type family that was neither a museum piece nor a bastardization, and that would “provide an alternative of the same school” to the omnipresent Gill Sans. “These alphabets,” says Farey, referring to the Johnston letters, “have never been developed as contemporary styles.” He and Dawson not only devised three weights of ITC Johnston but gave it a full set of small capitals in each weight ‘ something that neither the original Johnston face nor the Gill faces have ‘ as well as old-style figures and several alternate characters.
In the early part of this century,David Farey and Richard Dawson teamed up again to develop a suite of italic designs that would serve as a proper complement to the roman weights. In the process, the original roman designs were also freshened up. The result, released in 2002, is a distinctive, exceptionally versatile and ultimately handsome typeface family.
Johnston’s London Underground Railway typeface was the first alphabet created for a specific corporate identity and the first sans serif design of the twentieth century. Erbar, Kabel, Futura and Gill all follow Johnston’s type. Johnston himself, however, never called his design a typeface. It was an alphabet primarily for signage and other display purposes – designed to be legible at a glance rather than readable in passages of text.
Farey and Dawson’s adaptation retains the sparkling starkness of Johnston’s letters while allowing it to settle in comfortably at text sizes. The ITC Johnston family is the culmination of the design abilities of three remarkable designers: Johnston, Farey and Dawson. Or as Dave Farey puts it, “Without Johnston’s dedication to letterforms and in particular his genesis of the twentieth-century sans serif, we would not have been able to create our interpretation.”
At last the Johnston family is available as a suite of OpenType® Pro fonts. Graphic communicators can now work with this versatile design while taking advantage of OpenType's capabilities. The new Johnston Pro fonts also offer an extended character set supporting most Central European and many Eastern European languages.