Gill Sans is a humanist sans-serif typeface. It was designed by Eric Gill and released in 1928 by the British branch of Monotype.
The face itself had humble origins. In 1926, Gill was commissioned to paint a fascia for a new printer-publisher in Bristol. He used large sans-serif capitals, and sketched an alphabet for the owner to use as a guide for future notices and announcements.
Gill was commissioned to develop this fascia alphabet into a full metal type family in the hope that it could be a competitor to a wave of German sans-serif families in a new ‘geometric’ style. These included Erbar, Futura, and Kabel.
Gill Sans not only competed, it was an immediate success, and due to its similarity with Edward Johnston’s Underground Alphabet, the London and North Eastern Railway Company (and latterly the nationalised British Railways) chose Gill Sans for their printed material and signage.
Gill Sans quickly became one of the dominant typefaces in British printing. It was regularly used in British advertising of the mid-20th century – and still remains extremely popular: described as “the British Helvetica” because of its lasting popularity (Helvetica being of continental origin).