Presentation details
Inscribed in the living tile

Type in the Toronto subway

Joe Clark

Sunday 16 September | 11:30 – 12:00
Location: Sallis Benney Theatre

Presentation | Theme: Landscapes | Duration: 30 minutes

A public-transit system is a hands-on place, or one that’s foot- and arse-on. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), which runs a 69-station subway line and a network of buses and streetcars, offers riders a typographic treasure in the form of the subway’s station names and original signage, which use a mid-century sansserif font not found anywhere else – upper case only and like Bernhard Modern in its crossbar heights and Art Deco curves. The font is still a spot-on choice 50 years after the subway opened; it reminds us just how generic Vignelli’s Akzidenz in the New York subway really was.

Yet the TTC ignores its own graphic history, specifying new signage in Swiss 721 (sic). In the 1990s, the TTC shelved a novel, well-tested wayfinding system that was devised, at a cost of $250,000, by signage pioneer Paul Arthur. You can find the standard faux-Helvetica along with Arial on equivalent signs on different sides of the same platform.

Typographically, Toronto is a curious place. It is located in the only part of the world where one may become a registered graphic designer (under a law enacted by the Ontario government in 1996). But Toronto has always betrayed the Canadian-style inferiority complex in microcosm. This session will give you a guided tour through the mess of Toronto subway type. What can the TTC learn from other historic transit systems – like Berlin or Paris – whose redesigns honoured the existing typography while updating signage and wayfinding?

Speaker details

Joe Clark Open & Closed Project | Canada

I work in the field of accessibility for people with disabilities in Toronto. I have a 25-year interest in typography, with a wide portfolio of published articles and presentations. I’ve done paid work on legibility of typefaces for transit signage. I’m the founder of the Open & Closed Project, a standardization project that also includes screenfonts for captioning and subtitling (Screenfont.CA)

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