Inspiration has been drawn from images of old fire engines and Victorian horse drawn carriages in London Fire Brigade’s archives.
Type foundry The Foundry Types and Studio Sutherl& have collaborated on a new headline typeface for London Fire Brigade (LFB) using a 3D drop shadow style.
The typeface pays homage to the hand-painted lettering seen on old fire engines and this informs the wordmark of the organisation.
LFB’s previous typeface, Foundry Sans, was created by The Foundry Types’ co-director and designer David Quay and type designer Freda Sack in 1990. More than 20 years later, LFB approached the studio again as it needed a “headline typeface” with “unique features bespoke to LFB”, according to the foundry’s co-director and designer Stuart de Rozario. Studio Sutherl& became involved in the 18-month project at the end of 2021 to help with its development.
After “thorough research into the LFB archives”, Rozario says he found that many of the old fire engines, fire stations, and even Victorian horse drawn carriages featured 3D lettering. Using this as a starting point, Rozario decided to employ similar techniques “with a modern twist” to design LFB’s bespoke Fire Brigade Headline typeface.
The old designs bore similarities to what Rozario envisioned for the new typeface. He says, “We wanted to create something strong and bold that has a presence to it but also wanted it to appear caring and not too aggressive, so it echoes the nature of what the fire brigade does.”
The geometric grotesque type style aims to embody the characteristics of the LFB team; “unique but familiar, human and approachable, strong and robust”, says Rozario. He adds that it was “well received” by the LFB team.
Rozario explains how applying the 3D drop shadow style to rounded characters, like O and S, proved to be “technically tricky”, as pixelated areas were appearing around the edges. Realigning the letters and “modifying the shapes” eventually solved the problem, Rozario adds.
The new typeface will be used across the fire stations, on products and in LFB’s new museum, which is planned for a site on Albert Embankment. A new running man icon in the same drop shadow style will also be applied across physical and digital spaces.
Red, yellow and gold is “synonymous” with signs and lettering on fire engines, says Rozario, which is why these colours are used widely across the new applications of the typeface, including on the exterior and interior of Shoreditch Fire Station.
Since Fire Brigade Headline will be used predominantly as a graphic device, LFB also required an update to their original font, Foundry Sans, which will now be used across communications, especially longer form writing.. The Foundry Types crafted a “more accessible bespoke font” called Fire Brigade Sans, says Rozario.
He adds “legibility is emphasised” in this new font, using the example of the letter l to demonstrate how certain characters now feature slight curves which aim to make them more distinct.
The new typefaces were launched in an exhibition at Shoreditch Fire Station during London Design Festival 2022, that will run until this weekend. More than 40 studios have contributed to the exhibitions, interpreting the new headline typeface into posters and danger signs.
Supple Studio created a poster titled Love and Ladders, which depicts a version of the running man holding a red ladder made up of three hashtags in the Fire Brigade Headline typeface. The hashtag is part of “a series of alternate glyphs”, according to Studio Sutherland partner Jim Sutherland. 
Graphic design studio Alphabetical’s poster features the number 77 in the headline font with text inside in Fire Brigade Sans, detailing the number of seconds that it takes LFB to respond to emergency calls.
Worcestershire-based carpet manufacturer Brintons designed a bespoke Quickweave wool carpet for the exhibition, which features the running man icon alongside the universal fire exit arrow symbol in the 3D drop shadow style. As well as being a creative interpretation of the new typeface, the carpet is also meant to draw attention to the fact that wool as a naturally fire-retardant material due to its high water and nitrogen content. Another benefit of wool is that it does not produce smoke or fumes when set alight, which is one of the main causes of serious health issues following a fire.
I don’t get it. All that effort recreating the old fire engine lettering, when they could have just used Gill Sans with a drop shadow?!? £££ I guess.
I like the idea of looking at the old to reinvent the new and being inspired by the past, however…
The beautiful gold type in the book, which sits nicely over the red. Replaced by jarring yellow, which is hard on the eyes and resembles something you’d find on a maccies box?
The application of type on the floor… what on earth…
The actual content chosen for said type…
The list goes on.
I’m amazing by how many large companies/collaborations, with so many talented, intelligent people get so bogged down in the process and seem to be more concerned with creating a great narrative of how they came to a solution, than actually if the thing will work in the given environment. Not only that, but just to take a step back and realise when something looks inherently terrible.
Great story about a really interesting piece of work – I love the fact that old fire engine livery was used as a reference point and inspiration.
At the risk of starting a heated debate (but hopefully a cool, rational one will ensue…) the use of the term “drop shadow” differs to my understanding of it when I was a signwriter and commercial artist some 35 years ago.
We used 2 principal types of shadow in our lettering work – block shadow and drop shadow. The shadow employed in the LFB typeface is what we referred to as a block shadow, as it adds a 3D block appearance to the letter. What we used and called a drop shadow was effectively a repetition of the letter form usually offset downwards and to one side by a distance of about 50-75% of the vertical stroke width, hence the term “drop” as it was dropped down and to one side. This sat behind the primary letter form and created the appearance of a 2-dimensional letter floating off the surface and casting a shadow. Interestingly, the corresponding Corel Draw menus use this terminology in the same way.
Further variations we employed were to have the shadow either touching the letter or leaving a small gap, hence we had 4 types of shadow: block-on, block-off, drop-on and drop-off. As well as enhancing the appearance, leaving a gap between the letter and shadow allowed you to work a little faster when signwriting as it took reduced the degree of precision required to get as decent looking outcome.
The knowledge and intimate understanding of letter forms gained during my signwriting career from 1981 to around 1991 still informs my work at Merson Group, the UK’s largest signmaker, working with organisations like Network Rail and Heathrow Airport and brands like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aston Martin and Lotus Cars.
So, in your own sphere of reference, is it a drop shadow or block shadow – discuss!
“We wanted to create something strong and bold that has a presence to it but also wanted it to appear caring and not too aggressive, so it echoes the nature of what the fire brigade does.”
Sorry but this fails in the second aspect. It is bold and has a presence: not an altogether pleasant one though. It is overly harsh and extremely retro.
The drop shadow, super high contrasting colours and all caps, is very hard legibility wise and while reminiscent of Victorian fire engine graphics etc., it also resembles old style pub typography.


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