The London Underground is updating its font

Image: Monotype.

The London Underground’s visual identity – its roundels, its colours, its much-loved map – has an almost legendary quality.

As such, the design world was sent all a-quiver when it learned that TfL was planning to redesign Johnson, its iconic font, “for the digital age”. What if it wasn't so classy? What if the lovely square-shaped dot on the i was lost?? What if- 


What you see above is Johnson100, the first update to the Johnson font made since the 1970s. And, as you might have notived, it looks, to the naked, non-design eye, essentially identical to the font Londoners see every day. 

According to Monotype, the type company behind the update, the changes were made to make the letters more readable on digital screens, and bring back the soul and quirk of the original font designed by Edward Johnson . As far as we can see, this has manifested itself in very slightly wider letters and a reinstated distinctive diagonal bowl on the lower-case g:

Yes, it is different. Look harder. 

To be fair, though, the biggest innovation in the new font family is two brand-new weights: hairline and thin. These will be used largely online, and promise to be more readable than the impact-heavy, slightly overwhelming paret font. According to Monotype this required designers to strip [the] typeface of its mass and find its skeleton. Which sounds pretty tricky, really. 

Luckily, even these new weights maintain the diamond above the i and j:

Monotype has also released this video with more detail on how they developed the new design:

The typeface will be rolled out from July this year, though signage in stations will only be replaced when necessary, so you'll see the font online first. Let's be honest, though – it's not like you'll actually notice. 

All images: Monotype.


Meet the YIMBY campaigners hoping to ease the housing crisis

Some houses, being built. Image: Getty.

The nimby is a wearily familiar political breed. Though individuals may support new housing and infrastructure projects in theory, they oppose them in practice (“not in my backyard”). For fear of consequences such as a fall in property values, locals reliably revolt against proposed developments – and politicians retreat. The net result is that cities and countries are denied the housing they need. For the past decade, the UK has fallen far short of the 250,000 new homes required annually to meet demand.

But the nimby has now met its dialectical opposite: the yimby. In contrast to their opponents, yimbys not merely tolerate but welcome development (“yes in my backyard”). The earliest known usage of yimby was in a 1988 New York Times article (“Coping in the Age of Nimby”) and the first organisation was founded in 2007 (Yimby Stockholm). Sister groups have since been established in Toronto, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Helsinki and, most recently, London.

John Myers, a 44-year-old former barrister and financial analyst, co-founded London Yimby with four others last year. They were inspired by the capital’s dysfunctional property market (London is the most expensive major global city for buying or renting) and the success of groups elsewhere.

“We saw what was happening in the States,” Myers said when we spoke. “The San Francisco group has just had three new laws passed in California to get more housing built. There are now more than 30 US cities with yimby groups… There really is a feeling in the air that something has to be done.” Myers lives in a small mortgaged house in Camden, north London, but most of the group’s volunteers are private or social housing tenants and range from “the very young to retired grandparents”.

“The big problem with the housing crisis,” Myers told me, “the dirty little secret that politicians don’t like to talk about is that, actually, people quite like house prices to go up.”

In 2013, shortly after launching the Help to Buy scheme, the former chancellor George Osborne told the cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up” (the average London house now costs £484,362). Though the exorbitant price of housing (such that there are now more outright owners than mortgagors) has become an electoral problem for the Tories, homeowners remain an obstacle to development.

In a recent report for the Adam Smith Institute (“Yes In My Back Yard”), Myers made three proposals to win over this bloc: allowing individual streets to grant themselves planning permission to extend or replace buildings; permitting local parishes to develop “ugly or low amenity” sections of the green belt; and devolving planning powers to city-region mayors.

“There are ways to get support from local people for high-quality developments but we have a system right now that doesn’t try and get that support,” Myers said. “It just imposes measures from the top down.”

In some US cities, yimbys have antagonised anti-gentrification campaigners by supporting luxury developments. There is a tension between the aim of greater supply and that of greater affordability. Myers argued that it was crucial to have “clear rules on what percentage [of affordable housing] is required up front, so it gets priced into the land and taken out of the landowner’s pocket”.

The replacement of stamp duty with a land value tax, he added, would leave both “the buyer and the seller better off: the buyer doesn’t have to scrape a deposit together and the seller doesn’t have the price reduced by the amount of stamp duty”.

That some Conservatives are now prepared to consider previously heretical measures such as building on the green belt and borrowing £50bn for housing investment may herald a new era. The yimby bulldozer is beginning to dislodge the nimbys from their privileged perch. 

This article previously appeared in our sister title, the New Statesman.

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