Typeface as tour guide for the city of Birmingham

In partnership with design and wayfinding studio City ID, Monotype created a custom typeface for Britain’s second largest city, Birmingham. The Network typeface was designed to visually connect all of the city’s disparate elements, including maps, signage and transport services, with the aim of improving the journey experience for locals and visitors alike.

The Interconnect Birmingham project began as a way of improving and interconnecting the image, identity and legibility of Birmingham. To enhance the journey experience, Interconnect identified gaps within Birmingham’s existing identities and highlighted the importance of a comprehensive and extendable graphic language; this included a typeface to call its own. Many partners, including Monotype, worked together to develop a common set of values and a consistent design language, to produce a growing family of information products, passenger facilities and streetscape interventions designed to deliver a step-change in how people experience and perceive the region.

The challenge

A thorough understanding of people, their needs and aspirations formed the foundation of the Interconnect Birmingham project. Also implicit was the knowledge that shape, form, typography, icons, color and illustrations are the basis of graphic language. With hundreds of factors and parameters to consider, the graphic language and typeface for Birmingham had to be developed to work across transport modes and types of media  

In a vast and diverse region, each town and city has its own character that should be reflected in the information system. Interconnect needed to develop a framework for allowing contextualized graphic elements such as color, typography and illustration at a local level, while maintaining a sense of unity with information that is applicable across the region.Working in an open and iterative way, the team would need to test concepts and ideas with the public before refining the graphic language. 

The VAG Rounded™ typeface was already being used across the West Midlands, but the limited number of weights didn’t offer much variety, something that was required to work across different types of information.To address factors such as media type, legibility and accessibility and licensing,an appropriate and cost effective bespoke typeface was commissioned, developed in partnership with Monotype and typeface designer Dan Rhatigan.

The Network family was an example of really collaborating with a client to create a brand new design after we started asking questions about their initial request for a new weight of an existing typeface.

The solution 

Graphic elements that were already in use across the region were evolved where necessary, ensuring that they are intuitive and legible for a new generation of increasingly digital products and services, while maintaining a level of consistency with existing information. Color sets, graphic devices and illustrations were also developed to improve the look and feel of information. 

The Network family was an example of really collaborating with a client to create a brand new design after we started asking questions about their initial request for a new weight of an existing typeface.

In the meantime, Rhatigan developed the Network typeface to gradually replace VAG and to address issues of legibility and accessibility. Network is designed to suit all design applications throughout the Birmingham information system, establishing a strong visual identity and improving the consistency of the journey experience. At the same time, it references the characteristics of VAG Rounded, which is still used widely across the West Midlands transport network. It is the award-winning Network typeface, however, that you will now find on Birmingham’s wayfinding totems, as well as in print and digital formats. As an added feather in Rhatigan’s cap, the Network typeface was recognized in 2014 with a Certificate of Excellence from the ISTD International Typographic Awards.