London Fire Brigade launches new typeface alongside design exhibition

The capital’s fire and rescue service has unveiled a type design inspired by its heritage, which features in an exhibition showcasing designs by various studios and artists

Image reads 'LFB London Fire Brigade' in yellow against a red background

Designed by the Foundry Types in partnership with Studio Sutherl&, the London Fire Brigade’s new typeface looks back to the service’s lengthy history for inspiration, drawing on architecture, signage, fire engines, and the lettering seen on Victorian water pumps.

The London Fire Brigade needed a typeface for certain touchpoints like its new shop and signage around its buildings, and had initially planned to use its existing typeface, Foundry Sans. However, it became apparent that Foundry Sans wouldn’t shine in those contexts, so Foundry Types and Studio Sutherl& set about creating a new design, culminating in the typeface Fire Brigade Sans, in a process that took around 18 months.

“The design has a flavour of 20th century geometric grotesque fonts, really. The style is very old,” says Foundry Types director and designer Stuart De Rozario. “They want to get away from the strong macho image – you know, ‘men fighting fire’ – because they do a lot of community work and charity work, so they want that caring aspect. We tried to incorporate that by having a bold, strong typeface, but having a softer side to it, and that’s evident in the curves of the type. It’s in your face, but there’s a soft side to it.”

A chunky design was used partly to create a “friendlier” feel, but also the extra mass was needed to allow the 45-degree angle of the shadow to work. Overall, the tone is confident but cheerful, which carries through to playful touches like a double-tier hash that references a firefighter’s ladder, or the punctuation and tittles on the lowercase ‘i’ and ‘j’ in the shape of the Brigade’s star insignia.

Image shows the uppercase alphabet in yellow, designed for the London Fire Brigade
Image courtesy the Foundry Types

The impression of the 3D headline typeface is created by layering two 2D fonts – which can be used independently – to produce a drop shadow effect. “To get that drop shadow and the regular fonts to work, to match up, was quite a technical thing,” explains De Rozario. Simply layering the two fonts meant that “the high point on the cap height was very, very up and down. It was like a heartbeat,” he says, particularly on letters with strong curves, but the team remedied this by “taking the curve of the shadow higher”.

Other issues arose with the shadows in certain digital applications, as though “the information was too hard for Illustrator to understand in a way”, De Rozario explains, “so we had to really manipulate that curve”. Fire Brigade Headline will sit alongside the service’s primary typeface, Fire Brigade Sans.

The design will be emblazoned across Shoreditch Fire Station – expect to see it “all over the wall and on the floor”, according to De Rozario – which is playing host to an exhibition called The Running Towards as part of London Design Festival. Part of the exhibition brings together posters featuring the new typeface, which have been designed by an array of studios – among them the Foundry Types, plus other agencies including Pentagram, Superunion and DNCO.

Those posters will be joined by a second part to the exhibition curated by KesselsKramer London, featuring pieces by 25 artists who have reinterpreted the triangular fire risk symbol. There is a broad mix of participating artists, including Noma Bar, Anthony Burrill, Sarah Boris, Ollie Macdonald Oulds, and Sportsbanger founder Jonny Banger, who have produced designs that are charming, moving and fully bonkers within the confines of that iconic triangle.

“Each artwork comes with a beautifully personal story by the illustrator, graphic artist, or designer,” according to KesselsKramer, “and ranges from Jimmy Turrell’s story of his father who used to be a firefighter at the Shoreditch Fire Station to Franz Lang’s beautifully illustrated cat story starring her grandma.”

The Running Towards is on display at Shoreditch Fire Station, London until September 24;