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Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09)

Photo(s) by Stephen ColesImported from Flickr on Jan 9, 2012. Artwork published in
circa 2005
.
    Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09) 1
    Source: http://www.flickr.com Photo: Stephen Coles. Uploaded to Flickr by Stephen Coles and tagged with “baabembo” and “baasign”. License: CC BY-NC-SA.

    Heathrow is another victim of the homogenization of the world’s airports, its regional identity robbed by replacing a perfectly functional, custom British serif (BAA Sign Bembo) with ubiquitous Frutiger. I’ve watched the change take place over the last 3 years (2006–09) and the cleansing is now nearly complete. Shed another tear for typographic diversity.

    BAA Sign was drawn by Shelley Winter with Freda Sack around 1994. We are still seeking the creation date. It was still part of the British Airport Authority typography standards in 2005. Some might say the switch to Frutiger is justified by the conventional wisdom that sans-serif type is inherently more legible. This assumption is contradicted for this specific case by Rob Waller who studied BAA Sign in a 2007 study:

    “This study combined three research methodologies to inform the choice of a typeface for signs at London’s Heathrow Airport. The methodologies were legibility testing, qualitative consumer research, and expert review. The study showed that, contrary to a number of expert predictions, the serifed typeface performed as well as the sans serif in legibility testing. Character width was a more significant factor in legibility, with condensed sans serif performing relatively poorly.” — Comparing typefaces for airport signs, Information Design Journal, vol 15: 1–15

    (Emphasis mine.)

    Page from BAA Typography Standard, 2005.
    © British Airport Authority. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Page from BAA Typography Standard, 2005.

    Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09) 3
    Source: https://www.flickr.com Photo: Stephen Coles. License: CC BY-NC-SA.
    Page from BAA Typography Standard, 2005.
    Source: https://www.cagp.com License: All Rights Reserved.

    This image and those that follow are from a 2018 auction as a result of Terminal 1 refurbishment.

    Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09) 5
    Source: https://uk.cagp.com License: All Rights Reserved.
    Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09) 6
    Source: https://uk.cagp.com License: All Rights Reserved.
    Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09) 7
    Source: https://uk.cagp.com License: All Rights Reserved.
    Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09) 8
    Source: https://uk.cagp.com License: All Rights Reserved.
    Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09) 9
    Source: https://uk.cagp.com License: All Rights Reserved.
    Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09) 10
    Source: https://uk.cagp.com License: All Rights Reserved.
    Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09) 11
    Source: https://www.cagp.com License: All Rights Reserved.
    Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09) 12
    Source: https://uk.cagp.com License: All Rights Reserved.

    Typefaces

    • BAA Sign Bembo
    • Frutiger
    • Helvetica

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    Artwork location

    7 Comments on “Heathrow Airport Signage (2005–09)”

    1. Fernando Mello says:
      Mar 17th, 2016  3:30 pm

      I think the old font was designed by Shelley Winter and Freda Sack.

    2. Mar 18th, 2016  10:58 pm

      Thanks, Fernando. Indra mentioned as much in the Flickr discussion.

    3. Eric Ebacher says:
      Apr 2nd, 2017  6:20 pm

      Does anyone know what the font in the top photo is called?

    4. Apr 3rd, 2017  7:05 am

      Eric, the typeface is called BAA Bembo and was designed specifically for Heathrow.

    5. DereK Taylor says:
      Apr 5th, 2018  9:17 pm

      I need to make a sign up in the old font for an airport reunion. If I can’t ( for security reasons/copyright ) use BAA Benbow, what’s the closest common font?

    6. Apr 6th, 2018  8:33 am

      Hi Derek, a bold style of any variety of Bembo will bring you reasonably close to the basic shapes. The main difference is in the vertical proportions: In BAA Bembo, the lowercase letters (like ‘acemno’ etc.) are much taller in relation to the uppercase. If this aspect is of concern—it’s arguably more relevant for the overall appearance than the detailing of specific letterforms—then any so-called oldstyle serif with a large x-height might work, see e.g. Sole Serif (Text Bold) or Publico (Text Semibold). Among fonts that come bundled with Windows, Cambria Bold (with lining figures, accessible via OpenType features) is a good approximation.

    7. Apr 22nd, 2018  11:16 pm

      Just updated the article with more info about BAA Sign Bembo and images from a new auction that includes some of the old BAA Bembo signs.

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