In this article I will be analysing the work of master calligrapher Edward Johnston and his designs of typeface.  I will be looking at the influence that he has had on the style of typography and the direction of where he has taken it.

‘ The father’ of modern calligraphy Edward Johnston was a highly influential British craftsman, around the twentieth century. His skills brought him to develop one of his most famous designs, the sans – serif Johnston typeface. These skills included lettering, printing and typography. Using his artistic genius he developed a new way of communicating through variable letter forms and typefaces. His work I find gives a strong example of self exploration, based on the skills that he had acquired through his years of learning the basic principles of craftsmanship and typography.


By my recollection of the background work on Edward Johnston, his work became a revelation of how to accurately communicate with such a wide range of people, which eventually became a continuing typeface that was used throughout the underground tube lines. What I find interesting about his work, is how he didn’t drastically change the out look of the London underground by using any irregular elements in his style. Instead he simplified his typeface and portrayed it in a well presented strucutre.

This San-serif typeface, which became the iconic typeface used throughout the London underground system for 50 years, until it was re-designed in the 1980’s (Gill, 2010).

“Edward Johnston Printing blocks, seen in London’s Transport Museum”

“A sans serif font is a clean modern type of font that has letters without serifs. Normal handwritten print is also considered sans serif.”

My definition of the sans serif concept is that it shows a diverse aspect of how to simplify text from a specific form of type, by extracting certain elements and cutting out bits and pieces to give it more of a clear representation of lettering. In a manner that focuses on clear communication, minimizing the edges of the letter forms. Demonstrating that less is more.

I have wrote a description of the influence that his work has had on the world of typeface and the discoveries that he has made, in relation to his work.

“His years of strong work continue to influence the spark of imagination even in today’s hi-tech generation, which can also be recognized to his re-discovery of the power of tools, materials and creative methods. The making of the sans-serif alphabet that he designed for the London Underground Railways changed the look of typography in the twentieth century.”

“The typeface (sans – serif) was commissioned by the Commercial Manager of the London Electric Railway Company Frank Pick in 1913, which was also known as ‘The Underground Group’, being part of his plan to boost the company’s corporate image, and introduced in 1916. In 1933, The Underground Group was absorbed by the London Passenger Transport Board and the typeface was adopted as part of the London Transport brand (Gill, 2010).”

“Photograph from the London Transport Museum”

“Original drawing for the London Underground roundel symbol. Designer: Edward Johnston”

The typeface was also included in the London Tube map designs, as well as the name plates and general station signs. It is says that features of the font are the perfect circle of the letter ‘O’ and the use of a diamond-shaped dot above very small letters like ‘i’ and ‘j’ and for the full stop, commas, apostrophes etc.

“Improved design of London Underground Logo”

The Image above depicts the modernised version of Johnston’s London underground design in the twentieth century.


“Modern Design of London underground logo”

“In 1918 this was considered to be amongst the earliest and most stable sign of London Transport design is the blue bar and red circle of today’s underground symbol, whereas from before the first version of the logo design, which was introduced in 1908 with a solid red circle at the centre. It was in that moment in time Frank Pick commissioned the typographer Edward Johnston to change the roundel so that it was suitable for usage both as a company logotype and station signs.

Edward Johnston’s influence has been appreciated world-wide. Early from 1910 his pupil Anna Simons translated Writing and Illuminating, and Lettering into German, from there great interest was sparked off in that country. So much that Sir William Rothenstein remarked on a visit to art schools on the continent, ‘in Germany the name Edward Johnston was very well known and honoured above that of any artist’ (Colgan, 2010).”

“Nobody had such a lasting effect on the revival of contemporary writing as Edward Johnston. He paved the way for all lettering artists of the twentieth century and ultimately they owe their success to him (Colgan, 2010).”

In conclusion Edward Johnston was one of the most respected artists of the twentieth century. Who found the means for people to communicate in a clear and modernised way, which standardised the transport for London Underground.


Eric Gill. (2010). Wikipedia.



Image3. Ken Garland. (2006). Design Museum.


Gareth Colgan. (2010). The Edward Johnston Foundation (EJF).

Image5. Jonothan Glancey. (2010). Guardian.