Apologies for the clunky nature of this post but I am paraphrasing the excellent BBC documentary of a couple of weeks ago before it disappears from iplayer. The presenter was the fantastically engaging Mark Ovenden
Edward Johnston and Eric Gill revolutionised how we look at publicity and signage in the 1910s and 20s period.
The first thing for the uninitiated (including me) is that the ‘sans’ in a typeface means ‘sans serif’ a little flourish at the bottom of a letter Sans is straight up and down, if you look closely at the p in this typeface for example it has a little flare at the bottom
A type face is not a font : discuss
The first ‘sans’ typeface that we recognise today was commissioned by Frank Pick (him again). Frank decided to change the lettering to make it really distinctive and make it straightforward, clear and ‘manly’
The lettering went alongside a clearer message to the public of what the underground had to offer.
Arts and crafts was the dominant style of the time, most type was in serifs with decorative kicks.
London was alive with progressive artists at the start of C20th, one man was a calligraphy specialist and lecturer at London Central School of Art : Edward Johnston. Pick was fascinated by Johnston’s work in calligraphy. He was not an obvious choice but it worked.
Its a simple typeface but has a few quirks for example the diamond for a dot. From 1916, the Johnston sans face was rolled out across the Underground network, it is based on a Roman square proportion lettering principle.
Printers with access to the blocks were forbidden to be used by anyone else.
The Johnston typeface was later used in a smaller format on all bus signage around London.
Keeping things standard was an issue. In 1938 the standard signs manual was created, the beginning of corporate identity as we know it today.
Johnston’s creation defined London Transport, Johnston also developed the bulls eye design by hollowing out the red roundel and creating the recognisable logo we see today
An architect and stone cutter, Eric Gill was a student of Johnston, he was inspired and made a sign for a Bristol bookshop in a serif face.
Gill was a complex character working in various artistic media including sculpture, his early works have gained a lot of attention for mixing religious and sexual themes.
The game changer for Gill was the rise in commercial typefaces that could be licenced to users which spread through the punched casting printing technique. Monotype was a company specialising in this technology. They were on the look out for something new and exciting. Monotype spotted the bookshop sign and the rest is history.
Gill transposed the letters that he had used for the bookshop. The typeface spread like wildfire and taken up by a big customer : LNER the second largest train company was re branding. Cecil Dandridge : Publicity Manager commissioned the Gill sans typeface. Soon it was on every item in the network.