I am in love with Name Sans, ArrowType’s metro-inspired typeface. Not only is the typeface really good, but the web page is nice too. A lot of type foundries have websites that are borderline unusable, but this is simple and demonstrates what makes the face unique, all without making me feel like I’m entered a funhouse.

When I lived in Toronto, I was fascinated by the typography in the subway system. A lot of the type was rendered in Helvetica or Univers, but some of the walls used Toronto Subway,” a bespoke typeface originally designed in the 1950s, but redesigned in 2004 by David Verschagin because the original design was missing characters, and nobody knew who the original designer was.

Here’s a quote from Wikipedia’s article on the topic:

The font was recreated by David Vereschagin in 2004. Because the original designer of the font is unknown, and no documentation of the font had been kept, Vereschagin digitized the font by visiting stations and making rubbings of the letters on the original Vitrolite glass tiles as well as taking photographs. This is now used by the TTC as their font for station names. Vereschagin designed a matching lowercase, inspired by Futura and other similar designs. As one of the few typeface designs to have originated in Canada, it was used in a number of zines as a mark of local pride.

You can purchase Toronto Subway from Fontspring.

Joe Clark has also written a great paper on the topic (in fact, it might be one of my favourite research papers I’ve ever read on the internet). According to him, Toronto’s subway typography involves the aforementioned typeface of unknown origin, subways lined with washroom tiles, a billion-dollar New York subway design system clone, a new design system from a wayfinding expert that was installed, tested, and ignored, and a billion-dollar corporation that uses as its main font a Helvetica clone that came free with Corel- Draw.” 

The most wild thing about Joe’s well-researched story is how all the half-finished design systems lurk across the city after decades. I lived there from 2015 – 2021, and I can confirm all these systems were never replaced or updated. It is not cohesive, and it makes the subway very confusing for people who are new to the city. In fact, people who are new to the city often can’t explain why they’re so confused by the subway system, the same way most of us can’t explain why inconsistent branding throws us off. But the inconsistent designs have left Torontonians confused for decades.

This one story is a perfect metaphor for Canadian politics: indecisiveness, a lack of vision, a lack of clarity, and occasional deceptive appearances of forward progress and momentum.

Ever since learning all this, I’ve paid a lot of attention to subway type. Name Sans is one of the better ones I’ve come across. It’s playful enough that you could use it for branding, but I think it’d make for good signage too.