27 TTC fonts

Nick Shinn's picture

Last year I taught a one-semester course in type design at Humber College in Toronto, as part of the Graphic Design Advanced Diploma (GDA 3-year). Four hours a week in class, plus homework.

The project I gave students was to make a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) font.

Background: In the 1950s, Toronto built a subway system, with comprehensively modernist architecture. As part of the program, a geometric, all-cap typeface was designed (anonymously), for use in signage.

The course began with digitizing the original drawings, to introduce the technicalities of font production in FontLab, and then proceeded with students producing their own designs for a matching lower case.

Here are the results.

1985's picture

Interesting idea, Nick. What level is GDA 3rd year? I mean, what age typically or is it a mix?
Is your class in addition to the usual studies?
Wish I had the option of a lesson like this when I was studying.
Thanks for posting, I know there was some requests to see your students in the Reading thread.

(By the way, something seems to have gone amiss on the first page.)

Paul Cutler's picture

So the caps (more or less) are from the sample you gave them? Cool.


riccard0's picture

I found especially interesting that the decisions started with how to deal with the original caps' "quirks" (asymmetric C, for example).

joeclark's picture

Yes, as I recall somebody’s done a trifling amount of work on the history of this typeface. It goes without saying such work was unmentioned and uncredited.

Joe Clark

Nick Shinn's picture

I did mention your activism to my students, Joe, if that's what you're referring to.
They worked from scans of the original drawings that were posted at the Torontoist web site, courtesy of you, with due credit.
Should I have asked your permission for them to use those images?


Is your class in addition to the usual studies?

No. The Humber philosophy is that doing type design is a useful part of a design education, providing a unique insight into typography.

quadibloc's picture

His web site was of interest, allowing me to compare the original TTC typeface to your students' work.

I'm surprised to hear, though, that the face is often mistaken for Gill Sans, although perhaps some of the letters resemble it. Without knowing what it was, I would have mistaken it for another typeface, but it would have been Kabel or Bernhard Gothic - or something like that.

joeclark's picture

You know I read this site. You could reasonably imagine that I have all sorts of alerts and feelers out there for anything resembling the conjunction of the keywords TTC and font. So you should have taken a bit more care in your original post to state that you cited me to your students. Nobody likes to be taken for granted and I’m a tad sensitive about a few things.

Joe Clark

Stephen Coles's picture

Interesting to see the influences of other faces on their lowercase designs (Triplex, Futura, Dessau, Trebuchet, Kabel, Avant Garde Gothic). Were they instructed to start with an existing typeface or did they naturally find that to be the most accessible entry point?

Nick Shinn's picture

Sorry Joe, I wasn't aware you owned this issue.
Mention should also be made of Toronto designer David Vereschagin's "Toronto Subway" font of 2004.

Nick Shinn's picture

Were they instructed to start with an existing typeface or did they naturally find that to be the most accessible entry point?

They were instructed to digitize the upper case exactly, then design a matching lower case that adopted the same formal vocabulary as the capitals. Despite such strict constraints, there was still plenty of room for interpretation, for instance in the the choice of x-height. I think they did a pretty good job of keeping things "geometric", with the exception of one who just had to have a grotesque "a".

So in this respect, it's a similar idea to Gotham, with "given" capitals and a lower case up for grabs.

joeclark's picture

Thanks for your snark, Nick. Condescending as ever. Good thing you’re way the hell out in the 905, an acceptable minimum distance.

Verschagin designed a font; I’m the one who did all the research and wrote the definitive articles. You sure as hell don’t “own” it.

Brock French's picture

*tracking* keywords: type-drama

Nick Shinn's picture

Joe, this is not some long-lost typeface you've rescued from oblivion.
It doesn't need research and a "definitive article" to have its worth attested -- it's a very obvious part of Toronto's graphic heritage, one that any Toronto resident remotely interested in typography can't help but be aware of and impressed by.
Designers often notice these things, you know, without prompting by writers!

I have a great deal of respect for your advocacy in trying to preserve the integrity of the TTC design, and like you am appalled by the piecemeal liberties that have been taken to "update" the design of parts of the transit system.

However, whether the type system is corrupted or not, a large amount of the original signage remains, and this is typographically relevant and a suitable subject for a type design project, with or without your contribution. Making "found" lettering into typefaces is a commonplace for type designers. For instance, I was greatly inspired by the old lettering on the downtown Toronto post office (now the Air Canada Centre), in the design of Fontesque. I have considered publishing a version of the TTC typeface in the past, for example, as something for the goody bag at Typecon 2002. And there is Gotham, which I also didn't mention in my original post, but which was quite instrumental in shaping my ideas for this project: font with lower case to match cap industrial signage.

Jonathan Hoefler's notes on his revival of the Fell types, when he showed that there are several ways to interpret a revival, and Oz Cooper's demonstration of different ways to overdo the revival of an Incunabula face, have both reinforced my interest in the multiplicity of possible revivals/interpretations.

I was also looking to move away from the type design courses I have taught in the past, where the emphasis I felt had been too much on individual expression. So you see, there are many reasons I came up with this project, none of which have anything to do with a certain pundit.

Certainly, you are responsible for publishing the original drawings online, but I didn't actually tell my students those drawings existed, and I had never seen them. I had wondered whether any of them would work from the signage directly (rubbings, drawings, or photos), or go to the TTC offices and find source material, but thanks to the Internet and Google, they discovered the scans of the original drawings online, and so they all took the straightforward route and worked from those. I didn't have a problem with that, although I would have been extremely impressed if someone had worked more immediately from the image in the wall tiles, trying to capture some of the quality of that medium.

blank's picture

Nevermind, feeding the troll just isn’t worth it.

tupper's picture

it's a very obvious part of Toronto's graphic heritage, one that any Toronto resident remotely interested in typography can't help but be aware of

True that. When I lived in Toronto I was inspired to create a TTCish font.

riccard0's picture

They were instructed to digitize the upper case exactly

That means that, for example, the "normalised" Cs aren't stylistic choices but failures?

Nick Shinn's picture

All the cap Cs are as per the original, no failures.
Some are better rendered than others.
This was very technical--I wanted to be able to give high marks to those who got it right, just like in science and maths subjects.

Nick Shinn's picture

Also part of the same type design meme: various revivals of the London Underground typeface, Storm's vanished Metron, the FontFont Berlin Street Sign typefaces, etc., etc.

Typophiler Pascal Loewe has created this page:

Bendy's picture

What a fascinating idea. I love the way this demonstrates that uppercase and lowercase operate rather separately: even after the uppercase is decided, there's so much freedom in designing a lowercase to accompany it.

William Berkson's picture

Not so easy to get good teaching activities, and this seems like a really good one. Your students are fortunate, Nick!

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