Eiichi Kono on New Johnston
Whilst researching a feature for the current London Underground 150 special issue of CR, we spoke to Eiichi Kono who, in 1979, fresh from completing an MA at the Royal College of Art, was taken on by design agency Banks & Miles to work on updating Edward Johnston's eponymous typeface for Transport for London...
Above, a hand-inked design drawing by Edward Johnston, c. 1916
"As Edward Johnston's design was fundamentally a regular display face, [back in 1979] Transport for London had been struggling with the steadily increasing demands of technological advances and proliferation of printed matter," Kono told CR when we asked him to comment on Johnston's enduring appeal and his work on creating New Johnston. "Inevitably, TfL was using alternative faces such as Gill Sans and News Gothic to plug the gaps," he continues.
"The initial brief was simply [for] a conversion for phototypesetting, but I felt this was the right moment for a radical rethink, and proposed an extension of the font to bring it up to full functionality with three weights," Kono reveals.
Above, an alphabet print c.1917 - note Johnston's original punctuation and also the numerals 1 and 4 - all of which Kono redesigned
While Kono expanded the typeface and redrew the characters, he worked hard not to damage or compromise the typeface's humanist traits. One of his additions to the face was to add diamond-shape punctuation which picked up on Johnston's original diamond-shaped tittles (dots over the lowercase 'i' and 'j' letters).
"Edward Johnston... had a deep understanding of the proportion of the roman capital and the making of cursive letterforms," says Kono, "and this is clearly evident in the integrity of his typeface. I completely respected and worked with this, and naturally the distinctive 'diamond dot' was part of it."
Above, some of Kono's lowercase drawings, c1980
"I designed the 'new standard' Medium, as well as lowercase bold, and italic and condensed, and increased the overall x-height by 6% throughout all the weights, for increased legibility. In those days, first decisions had to be right, as our tools were basic draughting tools and cameras, and the whole job took me about 18 months."
Above, these New Johnston samplers appear on the TfL website. Note the diamond shape punctuation, introduced by Kono
Now Kono tells us that he feels proud he was "in the right place at the right time to regenerate Johnston", but admits he feels "that lots of improvement can be made and should be made still, as production processes and additions [to New Johnston] have happened willy nilly. I do have niggles about poor spacing, layout and letterforms affected by format changes and additions," he adds
On the typeface's enduring success, he says "I think its legibility and utility is one of the reasons it has survived but of course it does have the charm that comes from its origin as a handmade rather than geometric lettering."
Read more about Edward Johnston's eponymous design classic and the secrets of its enduring appeal in the new special March issue of CR which celebrates 150 years of the London Underground. More info below:
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The March issue of CR magazine celebrates 150 years of the London Underground. In it we introduce a new book by Mark Ovenden, which is the first study of all aspects of the tube's design evolution; we ask Harry Beck authority, Ken Garland, what he makes of a new tube map concept by Mark Noad; we investigate the enduring appeal of Edward Johnston's eponymous typeface; Michael Evamy reports on the design story of world-famous roundel; we look at the London Transport Museum's new exhibition of 150 key posters from its archive; we explore the rich history of platform art, and also the Underground's communications and advertising, past and present. Plus, we talk to London Transport Museum's head of trading about TfL's approach to brand licensing and merchandising. In Crit, Rick Poynor reviews Branding Terror, a book about terrorist logos, while Paul Belford looks at how a 1980 ad managed to do away with everything bar a product demo. Finally, Daniel Benneworth-Grey reflects on the merits on working home alone. Buy your copy here.
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congratulations to kono, he did a great job at a critical moment. without his work johnston might have become a historical curiosity for limited use only, rather than the ubiquitous and elegant thing we have today.
executed to perfection!
Nice work! There is a book about Johnston's face by Justin Howes that is full of information about the original face, and this article is the perfect complement to it.
The diamond tittles are a delight, and shared in the larger sizes with Granby, a sans typeface issued by Stephenson Blake in 1928, the same year as Gill Sans was made available, Gill being one of Johnson's pupils/assistants. Circles within circles!
The changes made by Kono were flawed. Firstly the redesign of such an important face needed to be undertaken by a far more experienced artist with a matching calligraphic background. Secondly the face need not have been subscribed as part of a new family of Johnston. The loss of the underlying eccentricities of the original have turned this font into exactly what it is: a shallow graphic design rework.
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