Category Archives: news | neuigkeiten

 T for Toronto

Ever since I led the team that designed a new passenger information system for Berlin in 1990, I’ve become a total public transportation nerd. I seek and find information about transportation information systems and their application everywhere. At the time, we were lucky enough to be presented with a historic opportunity: the two halves of the city had been divided for 30 years with two distinct transportation systems. We had to start from scratch, and as the work had to be done while passengers were using the existing services, we had to learn by doing. There were a few things we found out very quickly: the new information system had to look distinct from either of the two existing systems to avoid confusion. People had to trust the new maps, diagrams, schedules, and vehicles. A common denominator was needed. Buses, trams, underground trains and ferries all had different liveries which stemmed from a time when they had been run by separate companies. In the East, the provider was called BVB, in the West it was BVG (don’t even ask)! The tram people didn’t talk to the bus people while the underground people considered themselves to be the best and most up-to-date service. There were beige buses, orange trams, lemon-yellow trains in the East and dark-yellow ones in the West. The answer was: yellow. Vehicles were to be yellow, bus- and tram stops featured yellow posts, the letters BVG were featured in a yellow square (that became a heart shape during the pandemic).

Buses and trams in East Berlin, before the redesign of the city’s transit system

The underground used the U in a blue rectangle as their symbol, while the other services spelled out their names: BUS and TRAM. They each got their symbol in different colors and easily distinguished shapes on signs that are dominated by a horizontal yellow stripe. 

BVG design manuals: the company logo and the product logos

It took a few years before the majority of vehicles had been repainted or ordered in the new livery. Today the BVG is yellow. The logo features rounded lettershapes in a yellow square. Berliners know that you can trust any large yellow vehicle to get them to their destinations. The blue, red, purple and green symbols point to the individual services within the system but are always subservient to the big yellow square. When they want to go somewhere, people simply say that they take the BVG – it’s the trusted friend for getting around the place. The BVG logo has become the most known and best liked symbol for Berlin, way ahead of all the attempts to design a graphic identity for the city. 

Berlin buses, trams and trains color the city yellow

Wherever I’ve traveled since the early 90s, I’ve taken a close look at how public transit works in cities around the world. Our diagram for Berlin’s trains was very much influenced by the iconic London Tube Map, which has become the model for most other such diagrams. When the bus and train services in London were brought together under one roof in the early 2000s, it was a no-brainer to use the famous roundel as the symbol for the whole system. Without the word Underground on it, the roundel can appear in the colours of the tube lines as well as in a neutral grey, black or white on bus stops or on printed literature. While bus services are run by several private companies, their logos are limited to appear over the driver door only, so not to confuse passengers about who actually runs the system. The London Transport roundel has become the graphic shorthand for London, beyond its application for public transit. 

When you see the roundel, you know that you’re in London

Other cities I frequently visit, like NYC or San Francisco, are far behind when it comes to public transit. They don’t even have a common fare structure, let alone coordinated passenger information for their MTA, PATH, BART or MUNI services. That is a shame, but also a chance to learn from other cities in order to attract passengers and increase ridership. The budgets will be there!

New York City and San Francisco Bay Area transit logos look like competitors rather than integrated systems

One thing we did learn was that insufficient information is a bigger obstacle to people leaving their cars for public transit than the price of a ticket.

I was very happy when colleagues recently pointed out to me that at least one large North-American area had got its act together and emulated what makes Berlin and London so successful. I’m not familiar with politics in Greater Toronto, but I believe that like London, they have several municipal transit companies running buses, streetcars and trains across the region. Of course, as other cities have found out, passengers don’t really care about the business side of it – they just want to recognise and trust one service. So I was very impressed to see that the regional authority, Metrolinx, has taken on the task of producing a single identity and standard for public transit information.

Using a big T in a circle is an obvious and thus brilliant solution as a symbol for this one coordinated service. T for Transit, T for Together, T for Toronto! The strong letter in a circle looks like a sheltered stop itself. It has immediate authority and visitors will presume that it’s been there forever. The T is visible from far away and easily reproduced in all sizes for all media. I don’t know how many operators and city officials providers had to be brought together to agree on this simple and effective device, and experience. Experience tells me that discussions weren’t easy. I am sure egos may have been hurt and compromises were necessarily made, but the end result has made the effort worthwhile. Not only will it help the region’s residents get more from an expanding network but visitors, who tend to gravitate to Toronto, will experience a city intent on Every visitor will immediately identify Toronto’s transit system above or underground, while Toronto natives can be proud of their city for making good passenger information a priority and public transit more accessible.

The T is a great symbol for the region’s transit systems

Metrolinx and the region’s operators will be paid back in loyalty and higher ridership once people have understood that it has become much simpler to use public transit across the city and the region. I wouldn’t be surprised if Greater Toronto was followed as a shining example by other cities in North America.

My workshop needs help

My typographic workshop at needs support. After more than one year with hardly any income (no workshops!), I may have to close it down, sell the presses and the type, let everybody go who’s been running this place since 2014, and tear apart a large collection of typographic treasures.
We are a non-profit foundation – Erik Spiekermann Foundation gGmbH – any contributions are an immediate write-off. 
Our workshop is a unique place – we have a collection of historic materials like a printing museum, but no “hands-off” signs: everything is available for hands-on work. We do not stop at collecting, but develop new methods and techniques to bring letterpress printing and physical type into the digital age. We call it postdigital printing.
If you’re in publishing, software house, or any other culturally engaged institution, you should be interested in keeping a place like p98a alive. We’re not talking millions, just a reasonable sum to pay the rent and two employees.
Get in touch with me to discuss details, solutions, possibilities and to find out more.

And read this article:

Me at work on a Korrex proof press

p98a workshop tour

The Type Directors Club New York – TDC – asked me to give a tour of our letterpress workshop. Because of the Corona virus pandemic, we’re all getting used to these online events. They may be less satisfying than the real thing, but how else would we fit 400 people into the workshop? And how else would people afford the journey to Berlin?

Here’s the video

Printing a digital newspaper

Krautreporter is a news service, run by journalists in Berlin. More than 12,000 subscribers pay a minimum of 5 Euros a month to get daily updates on the news and well-researched long-reads. Just like newspapers used to do.

Wir drucken Krautreporter from erik spiekermann on Vimeo.

Once we had finished restoring our Johannisberger stop-cylinder press from 1924, we were looking for projects to test the machine. When I suggested to the friends at Krautreporter that perhaps we could print one special issue, they immediately went for that crazy idea.

We had already built our laser-setter and were able to make metal-backed plates up to 52 by 72 cm (approx 20×28in) directly from data, without going through photographic negatives. These plates fit our Heidelberg Cylinder press where we can print 8-up, i.e. 8 book-size pages on one plate. For the newspaper, however, we wanted to print the classic Nordic format, 44×57cm. In Germany we still have a few daily papers which are printed that size, the FAZ – Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – being the most prestigious one.

The newspaper folded down for mailing

Making four aluminium bases to get the thin plates to the height of metal type (23.56mm = 0.928in) was an adventure in itself. All the other things we didn’t know about this large press took us five months to figure out, but eventually we started to print. We had enough paper (60gsm newsprint) to print 6000 copies, 8 pages, all on one sheet, back and front, 88×114cm plus some trim. One side black only, the other black and red. 18,000 prints altogether, at a speed of not much more than 300 an hour, with 2 people at the press at all times. We ended up with almost 5000 good copies. The sheet was perforated in half inside the press but not separated. We wanted the readers to get the full effect – the exact opposite of a smartphone screen. For the mailing we folded the large sheet into a narrow strip with a label around it.

The movie shows our own Daniel Klotz at the press. His buddy Sebastian came to help whenever he could. Daniel spent more than half a year figuring out how to make everything work. Now we know why printers used to go through a three-year apprenticeship. That press wasn’t made to print from polymer plates, and it still holds a few secrets. But we have our proof of concept, a full-size newspaper. It is so popular with Krautreporter subscribers that we may have to print more issues.


Cheap is no good

CfcGhOfWEAANn9DNo idea where this line comes from; I’ve heard it often, not necessarily with “Design” as the keyword. After 50 years in the business, I can guarantee that it is entirely true.

We set the words from our brand new Real wood type (based on FF Real), 20cicero tall, cut for us by Tudor Petrescu in Romania. Tudor is busy right now, cutting a smaller size of 12 cicero in Real Regular as well as in Real Demi.

As always, the poster is printed on MetaPaper Rough Warm White 160 gsm in Black and Pantone Warm Red ink. From original wood and metal type on our Korrex Frankfurt, 50×70 cm.

The 50 posters each are num­bered and signed by Erik Spiek­er­mann. We ship every­where and you can pay by Pay­Pal. Price is the same in these cur­rencies: £, $, €; always 98, includ­ing tax (where applic­a­ble) and ship­ping, wrapped in a solid card­board tube. Please go to spiekerstuff to order. You can also check out the other prints there as well as the metal housenumbers I designed a few years ago. Some of them are still available from spiekerstuff.

Letterpress workshop at P98a

One of the joys of running a letterpress studio is to share the experience with others. At galerie p98a we regularly set up workshop sessions for a group of individuals or an entire team. We’ve had design teams here for a team-building exercise, for a day of reprieve from sitting in front of their screens or simply for the fun of getting their hands dirty.

You’ll find a list of planned workshops on spiekerstuff. That page links to Eventbrite, from where you can reserve a workshop and find out about the financials.

Our friends from Construct London


Stuff from Spiekermann

Our workshop at Galerie P98a in Berlin has been producing posters for a while now, plus other stuff. In our cellar, we also keep some of my older products, like the metal house numbers I designed for Design Within Reach in San Francisco a few years ago. On p98a we now have a shopping cart installed that makes buying posters or house numbers painless – apart from having to pay for them, of course.
We’ll also eventually post our workshops on Spiekerstuff.

November poster hot off the press!

This month’s poster is, as always, 50×70cm in size (approx 20×28in), printed 2 colours on 150gsm Meta­Pa­per Rough. The type is 16 cicero (approx 17 pica) HWT Artz, the one I designed for the Hamilton Wood Type Museum to cut in wood for us.

There are 50 prints of each poster, num­bered and signed by Erik Spiek­er­mann. We ship every­where and you can pay by Pay­Pal. Price is the same in every cur­rency, £, $, €: always 98, includ­ing tax (where applic­a­ble) and ship­ping, wrapped in a solid card­board tube.

Orders with shipping address please to


P98A: our new workshop and gallery

We now have two FAG proof presses, one Grafix, a Korrex Berlin, a Korrex Nürnberg, a Korrex Frankfurt and a Heidelberger Tiegel (platen). We won’t even mention all the small platens in the shop. And as off last week, all the presses are up and running, although the latest FAG needs cleaning up and repainting.
On top of that a surprising amount of large display type, made from wood or Plakadur, Berthold’s resin material from the 50s. And lots of lead type, old and new, including freshly cast Akzidenz Grotesk and Block in sizes from 8 to 24 point Didot. Reglet, quads and furniture, iron and aluminium, are waiting to be sorted. A second row of cabinets is on order.