The London Underground has a very distinctive and unifying look with the names of the stations, directions, and the distinctive roundel. This is due to one man, and he was the calligrapher Edward Johnston. Johnston could be said to have been the father of modern calligraphy working in the first half of the last century. In 1913 the Underground’s publicity manager, Frank Pick, commissioned Johnston to design a company typeface; his brief was for ‘bold simplicity’ and the design was finished in 1916.
Johnston designed just one weight of type, and this was based on the very calligraphic proportions of 7 pen nib widths of Roman Capitals, with the proportions being the same and letters i and j having diamond dots. However, there is no weighting (thicks and thins) to the strokes in that they are monoline, and it was a san serif design. Johnston was very particular about his designs and apparently when one of his students offered to create a bold weight, Johnston blanked him for many years.
The London Underground roundel appeared in 1908 as a red disc and a blue bar. Edward Johnston took the roundel and developed it into the design that is used on stations today with the name horizontally across the centre.
It isn’t too surprising how a strong design such as this has lasted through the decades.