Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Transport New: I shouldn't care this much about typefaces but what the hey

This is the new typeface used by the slick Gov.uk website. It's called "New Transport" and is the new official font for road signage in the UK. The design is clean and simple and it doesn't feel like it is of the moment, like say Helvetica or Gotham, which is a good thing as it will be with us for a while. See below for some background information on the typeface from myfonts.com. My favourite line is how the new 'version involved walking a tightrope between impertinently eliminating awkwardness and maintaining idiosyncrasy.' Just Wonderful. This is the kind of attention to detail when it comes to our our public spaces.

Transport New is a redrawing of the typeface designed for British road signs. In addition to the familiar Heavy and Medium weights, Transport New extrapolates and adds a previously unreleased Light weight font originally planned for back-lit signage but never actually applied. Version 3.0 of Transport New features significant improvements including numerous outline and spacing refinements, and a full complement of Latin Extended-A characters. Also, to align Transport New with the 2015 release of Motorway, the other typeface used for UK road signage, Italic fonts for all three weights have been added. 

Originally designed by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert beginning in 1957 and first published on the Preston bypass in 1958, the original Transport font has subtle eccentricities which add to its distinctiveness, and drawing the New version involved walking a tightrope between impertinently eliminating awkwardness and maintaining idiosyncrasy. The Grotesk roots of the glyphs were investigated and cheekily fine-tuned – uncomfortably close terminals of characters such as 5, 6, C, G, and e were shortened, the S and s were given a more upright aspect and their protruding lower terminals tucked in, overly wide glyphs like the number 4 were narrowed, and some claustrophobic counters were slightly opened up. The question mark was redesigned and parentheses given some stroke contrast. The x height was edged fractionally even taller.

It's Margaret Calvert (pictured above) and Kinneir (passed away), who we can thank for the clean aesthetic of the typography and signage that we see around us everyday in this country. Wikipedia notes, 'In 1957, Kinneir was appointed head of signs for Britain's roads. He then hired Calvert to redesign the road sign system and she came up with simple, easy-to-understand pictograms, including the signs for 'men at work' (a man digging), 'farm animals' (based on a cow named Patience that lived on a farm near to where she grew up), and 'schoolchildren nearby' (a girl leading a boy by the hand), based on pre-existing European road signs.'

Here's a nice little video on their work.

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