The DIN 1451™ – or DIN Schriften Mittelschrift™ – font family is based on a type used as part of the Prussian railway branding around the beginning of the twentieth century. While no clear documentation exists pertaining to the creation of the first face, this realist sans-serif font has become very popular among modern designers, most notably as the FF DIN™ and DIN Next™ digital formats.
The modern DIN 1451 font, commonly known as DIN Schriften Mittelschrift (or DIN Schriften Engschrift when there is not enough room for the Mittelschrift) has a very long and rather public history. DIN stands for Deutsche Industrie-Norm (German Industrial Standard).
Original designs of the typeface are based on the Prussian master drawings for a railway alphabet (originally conceived in 1905) which would go on to be used as the type for the Deutsche Reichsbahn (The German Imperial Railway). Initially used on the freight cars as a means of standardization, the face was extended to railways stations across Germany in the nineteen-twenties. When the Reichsbahn was renamed after World War II, the new incarnation – the Bundesbahn – kept the font. In the present time, it is also used on road and railway signs in a number of other countries.
The font is a constructivist style, having originally been drawn on a grid; in fact, this grid styling is what prompted its use on the Reichsbahn in the first place, according to a 1936 document.
Walter Portsmann conceived the first DIN sizes for use on paper; Albert-Jan Pool, a Hamburg based designer from Netherlands then digitalized the font in 1995. DIN 1451 celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005.
As well as being the primary typeface in use on German road signs and railways signs even today, DIN 1451 has been assimilated into the graphic design communities all over the world. Its regularity and presence have given it an “honest” reputation, rendering it commonly used in situations requiring a straightforward, simple and – surprisingly – elegant typeface.
The DIN typeface in its various modern forms can be found in many places, including the JetBlue Airways logo, on-screen Channel 4 Branding, the Habitat company corporate brand (which utilizes a modified Habitat DIN), the Birmingham City University documentation and the Sapient corporation logo.
As well as being on screen whenever a German traffic story is being run, DIN 1451 can be seen frequently on various television programs. The Showtime series Dexter uses the font in its opening titles, as does Nine News, the Belgian VRT News Service and Monsoon Wedding, a 2001 motion picture.
Additionally, DIN 1451 has found a home in many arts centered establishments, including the Czech National Theater, the New York City Ballet, the New West End Company and the Deutsche Kinematic. DIN 1451 can also be found on license plates across many countries in Europe.
The original Prussian railway text has continued to inspire far beyond DIN Schriften Mittelschrift and DIN Schriften Engschrift. In recent years, there have been several new font styles published, based on the original letterforms. PF DIN Text® by Panos Vassiliou (Parachute, 2002-2005) is one such font, partly designed to render well online.
The other interesting update to the DIN family recently has been the softer FF Din Round™ font, created in 2010 by Albert-Jan Pool to complement its more angular relatives. This is once again an OpenType font containing lining and Oldstyle figures. This newest “DIN baby” is an excellent face in situations where less formal type is required.