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Original author: 
Joseph Alessio

  

In the first installment of this two-part series on type classification, we covered the basics of type classification — the various methods people have used, why they are helpful, and a brief survey of type history, classifying and identifying typefaces along the way. Unfortunately, we only got as far as Roman (traditional serif) typefaces and the early-19th century. Now we’re back for part 2!

Part 2 will primarily cover sans typefaces, with a nod to display typefaces and other less common categories, as well as address a few of the questions people have about whether type classification is helpful and necessary.

If you haven’t read part 1, now’s your chance to go over it. It lays important groundwork for this article, covers the categories of serif typefaces, and contains plenty of useful information about the development of serif type. If you already have read it, here is a quick recap to get us started before we move on to the new material.

type classification

Review

Type Classification Systems

Type has been classified in many ways over the years, both formal and informal — Thibaudeau, Vox, British Standards, etc. None of these are complete or all-encompassing, but they’re helpful as an aid to study as well as for learning to use type correctly and effectively. The material in this two-part series draws heavily from the Vox-ATypI system, which is the most “official” of the systems today, having been adopted by the Association Typographique Internationale in 1962 and still the most commonly referenced system.

Is it perfect? No, but it provides a good overview of what is out there; and when you describe typefaces using the terms you’ll learn in this series, anyone who is reasonably familiar with typography will know what you’re talking about.

Here is a quick overview of the type categories we covered in part 1.

Humanist/Venetian

Venetian Typeface Characteristics

  • Notable calligraphic influence, patterned after handwriting.
  • Strongly angled axis or stress.
  • Based on typefaces designed in Renaissance cultural hubs such as Venice.

Garalde

Oldstyle Typeface Characteristics

  • Less calligraphic influence because type began to be viewed as separate from writing.
  • Named after influential type designers Claude Garamont and Aldus Manutius.
  • Still has a tilted axis but less obvious than in Humanist type.

Transitional/Neoclassical

Transitional Characteristics

  • No calligraphic influence. Designed independently, sometimes on a grid.
  • First appeared in the late-17th century.
  • Virtually vertical axis and high contrast between heavy and thin strokes.

Didone

Didone Characteristics

  • Extreme contrast between thick and thin. Rigidly vertical axis.
  • Abrupt, or unbracketed, serifs. Very precisely designed.
  • Named after Firmin Didot and Giambattista Bodoni.

Slab Serif

Slab Serif Characteristics

  • Very heavy weight and low contrast between thick and thin.
  • Unbracketed, prominent serifs.
  • First typefaces created expressly for display purposes.

Sans Serifs

When we left off in part 1, it was circa 1815, with the first appearances of slab serifs, also called Mechanistics or Egyptiennes. By the time slab serifs were being popularized, early sans serifs had already been around for some time in a variety of forms. To follow the progression of sans serifs, we must step back in time a number of years.

History of Sans Serifs

The earliest sans-serif letterforms were, of course, not type, but inscriptions, dating back to as early as the 5th century BC, and enjoyed a resurgence in engraving and inscriptions in the 18th century.

etruscan type
Caslon’s Etruscan type, as seen in a 1766 specimen book. Larger view. (Image source: Typefoundry)

Strangely enough, the first “sans serif” type was created not for the Latin alphabet, but for use in 18th-century academic works on Etruscan culture, which preceded the Roman Empire in the geographical area of modern-day Italy. Circa 1748, the foundry of William Caslon (with whom you should be familiar) cut the first known sans-serif Etruscan type for the Oxford University Press, although there are earlier usages of sans serifs in similar applications.

Embossed Type
Haüy’s type, created to emboss pages so as to be read by touch, was oddly ornate for its purpose. Larger view. (Image source: Camille Sourget)

Another interesting typographic innovation was the work of Valentin Haüy, who founded a school for blind children in 1785. In 1784, a year of preparation during which he devoted himself to educating a single student, Haüy developed an embossing typeface with which to make tactile books. The typeface, which, along with his method, is called the Haüy System, is an early form of sans serif, but it reads more like an upright italic or a disconnected script.

It was first embossed and then often carefully inked over the top so that it could also be read visually, as in the photo above. It looks lovely, but was superseded in both practicality and readability by the system devised by Louis Braille, himself a student at the school Haüy founded.

Caslon Sans
William Caslon IV’s sans serif was categorized as “Two Lines English Egyptian,”. (Image source: typophile)

William Caslon IV — who inherited the type foundry, as well as his name, from four generations back — is credited with the first sans-serif printing type for the Latin alphabet, appearing first in the 1816 Caslon specimen book. It featured only capitals and was marketed as “Two Lines English Egyptian,” the “Two Lines” being a reference to the size of the set type. There was much confusion over this new style, being variously called Egyptian (despite early slab serifs also being marketed as Egyptians), Gothic, Grotesque and Antique, among others.

Figgins Sans Serif
A sans from an early Vincent Figgins type specimen. Larger view. (Image source: Typefoundry)

Eventually Vincent Figgins (whom you may remember as being credited with the first slab-serif type) called the new style “sans serif,” which became the widely accepted term, although you’ll see many of the old terms in use on some typefaces.

Classifying Sans Serifs

At first glance, you might think that sans serifs can’t be classified the way that serifs can, since fewer variables are apparent in the ones we see most often. However, plenty of details can aid specificity when discussing, using and pairing typefaces, even within the broader category of sans serifs or, as Maxmilien Vox termed them, “linéales.” Subcategories were implemented by the British Standards classification, a permutation of Vox’s system, and they provide excellent means of discerning characteristics. I am presenting here a slight variation of those four, with a couple of minor differences for the sake of practicality.

Grotesque

The Grotesque category covers the early sans serifs, specifically those designed in the 19th century and the first decade or two of the 20th. Many of these typefaces had only capitals or exist only in centuries-old specimen books, but a number of them are still quite commonly used. These typefaces tend to be very idiosyncratic, with awkward weight distribution around bowls of characters and irregular curves.

Monotype Grotesque
(Image source: MyFonts)

Monotype Grotesque (above, 1926), based on Berthold’s much earlier Ideal Grotesque (1832), is an excellent example of the quirks commonly evident in Grotesques. Note the awkward “a” and “g,” the squarish bowls, the odd curves and angles at the tips of strokes in the “J” and “S,” and the overall irregularity.

The capital G in a Grotesque is usually spurred, and the British Standards specifies a curled leg on the capital R, although that is not apparent in many typefaces of the period. They tend to display some variation in the thickness of strokes, but the contrast does not show calligraphic influence or a logical pattern. The style became more sophisticated over the course of the 19th century. Perhaps the finest sample of this category appeared in the Berthold Type Foundry’s 1896 release of Akzidenz-Grotesk, which, along with Schelter Grotesk (1886), served as an archetype for many Neo-Grotesques, most notably Neue Haas Grotesk and Univers.

grotesque

Interestingly enough, it has been postulated that Akzidenz-Grotesk was based on Walbaum or Didot. Despite looking extremely different at first glance, a simple comparison of the basic forms shows that the metrics are very similar.

Examples of the Grotesque category include Franklin Gothic, Monotype Grotesque and Schelter Grotesk.

Neo-Grotesque

The Neo-Grotesques, also called Transitionals or Realists, include many of the most commonly used sans. They are based on the later Grotesques and take the design of the sans-serif to a new level with their careful construction and aesthetics. They are much more refined than the Grotesques, during which period type designers were still feeling their way around the new style; thus, the Neo-Grotesques lose many of the awkward curves and idiosyncrasies that are common in earlier sans serifs. You’ll see much less variation in line weight, and most often a single-story “g.”

neo-grotesque

Created with an emphasis on neutrality and simplicity, they were extraordinarily popular among the Modernists and remain popular today. Despite many claims otherwise, simplicity does not directly translate into legibility: A tight vertical rhythm and pinched apertures keep many Neo-Grotesques (including Helvetica) from being good choices for body text. In fact, in the 2013 edition of the DIN 1450 (the German standards on legibility in typefaces, published by the Deutsches Institut für Normung), Helvetica is used as a negative standard. That’s an entirely different topic, however.

In 1957 — a big year for Neo-Grotesque sans serifs, as Frutiger’s Univers as well as Folio (originally thought to be a stronger competitor, although history has proved otherwise) were released — Haas Foundry released Max Miedinger’s Neue Haas Grotesk, which drew heavily on Schelter and Akzidenz Grotesks. In 1960, Haas, in an effort to market it more effectively, rebranded Neue Haas Grotesk to what we know as one of the most ubiquitous typefaces of all time — you guessed it — Helvetica.

helvetica specimen
Many people love Helvetica so much that they’ll hang prints of vintage Helvetica specimens as decoration. (Image source: etsy)

The quintessential members of this group are, of course, Univers and the immortal Helvetica, which has gone through quite a number of permutations over the years (as have all of these typefaces) and was recently revived by Christian Schwartz as a rerelease of Neue Haas Grotesk. A nice informational minisite was created by Indra Kupferschmid and Nick Sherman for the release. Other typefaces in this category include the DIN 1451 and its derivatives, and Bell Gothic and its successor Bell Centennial.

Humanist

If you remember the most important quality of Humanist serif type, you’ll be relieved to learn that the same quality carries over to the sans serifs! The primary characteristic of Humanist type, both serif and sans serif, is a strong calligraphic influence, basing its shapes and flow on forms that could originate from a pen or brush. This means a much higher stroke contrast, and some Humanist sans even feature some stress, whereas nearly all other sans serifs have a completely vertical axis.

Another interesting characteristic of Humanist sans serifs is that their proportions often derive largely from Roman inscriptions and early serif typefaces, rather than 19th-century sans serifs as the Neo-Grotesques did. Because of this design process involving older letterforms, the lowercase “a” and “g” are most often two-story in Humanist sans serifs. All of these characteristics combine to make most Humanists a more legible choice than other types of sans faces.

Humanist Sans (Optima)

Hermann Zapf’s Optima is one example that clearly shows the calligraphic heritage, with an unusually obvious difference between thick and thin strokes, while many others in this category have more subtle features. The Humanist sans group includes classics such as Gill Sans and Frutiger as well as more recent releases like Myriad (1991), Trebuchet (1996) and Calibri (2005).

Geometric

Geometric sans serifs are exactly what their name suggests. Instead of being derived from early Grotesques, like a Neo-Grotesque, or from calligraphic and engraved forms like the Humanist sans, they are built on geometric shapes. The characters often have optically circular bowls and are otherwise typically very rectangular, sharing many components between the various glyphs.

Erbar Grotesk
Erbar’s small x-height, among other factors, renders it difficult to read. Larger view.

Jakob Erbar, whose eponymous typeface is credited as being the first Geometric sans, reportedly based his construction on the circle. Released in the 1920s, Erbar-Grotesk was intended to be legible. Ironically, because of the awkward visual rhythm, resulting from strict adherence to geometric forms, Geometric lineals are among the least legible of sans serifs and are usually suitable only for display type. Geometric sans serifs usually show little or no stroke contrast and usually feature a single-story lowercase “a.”

Geometric Sans

Paul Renner’s Futura, Koch’s Kabel and Lubalin’s Avant Garde are typical examples of the style. H&FJ’s Gotham is also a Geometric sans, although it is less strictly geometric than some and allows for more variation in the heavier weights.

The Rest Of The Story

That’s the basic classification for sans serifs! While the two parts of this series primarily deal with serif and sans type, there are many other styles to consider. The Vox-ATypI system also provides five subcategories of “calligraphics” (i.e. type that is derived from handmade letters), but as they are largely self-explanatory, I won’t dedicate much space in this already lengthy article to them. Here is a brief summary of each category.

Scripts

Script Metal Type
A case of script metal type. (Image source:
Etsy)

Scripts are, of course, typefaces based on handwriting, particularly formal scripts. The letters often connect, but not necessarily so. They range from the very formal — Matthew Carter’s Snell Roundhand, named after the author of a 1694 booklet on penmanship, originally released in 1966 — to the very casual — Ashley Havinden’s eponymous Ashley Script, from 1955.

Glyphic

Trajan Inscription
Carol Twombly’s Trajan was based on this inscription at the base of Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Glyphic typefaces are those derived from engraved or chiseled letters. Many of these typefaces look like they could be classified as serifs but are based on the work of a chisel, rather than having gone through the traditional design process and referencing the stroke of a pen. As such, Glyphics, also called “incised” typefaces, sometimes contain only capitals, and the serifs tend to be small, as a natural detail of the chiseling process rather than as a design feature. Trajan and Friz Quadrata are excellent examples of this style.

Graphic

Graphic Wood Type
Graphic wood type from the extensive Hamilton Wood Type collection.

Graphic is essentially a sort of catch-all label for display type that doesn’t fit into any other category. It includes anything that would be drawn or designed, with a brush, pen or any sort of tool. If it’s not exactly a sans, not exactly a serif, and you’re not really sure what it is, it is most likely a Graphic typeface!

Blackletter

Gutenberg Bible
Gutenberg printed with type designed to mimic the late-medieval Fraktur style of handwriting. (Image credits: JMWK)

Blackletter type began with Gutenberg and was used in printing, even printing body text, until the early- to mid-20th century in Germany. It is based on a medieval scribal hand, written with a broad-nib pen, and differs from graphic typefaces and scripts in that it has been used at length in body text. It has a very dense type style. When the traditional style that Gutenberg had used began to give way to the more readable early serifs (the Humanist/Venetian designs of Aldus Manutius and his colleagues), printers called the new style “Whiteletter,” in reference to the negative space-to-ink ratio on the page; thus, the old type was termed Blackletter, and we still use this term today.

Gaelic

Gaelic Type
Gaelic type includes the Latin alphabet as well as some additional glyphs. Larger view. (Image source: mathewstaunton)

Gaelic type is based on the insular script found in manuscripts throughout the UK. As with Blackletter, it has been used in printing body text in Ireland, from its earliest appearances in the 16th century all the way through to the mid-20th century, but is no longer popular as a text typeface. The Vox-ATypI system was amended to include the Gaelic category in 2010 at the ATypI annual conference, appropriately held in Dublin.

Non-Latin Type

Beyond that, there is still another world of type to discover. The entirety of these two articles on the subtleties of type (and, believe me, it can get much more complicated!) have discussed only the Latin alphabet, which, while quite commonly used, is merely one of many writing systems used today. I encourage you to learn more about, and get involved in, the typography of other writing systems! Some are very widespread and used daily by hundreds of millions of people; others are used by mere thousands.

Regardless of how many people use it, each writing system needs quality typefaces. From the commonly used (check out Nadine Chahine’s interview on Arabic type) to the rarely seen (Jean-Baptiste Levée gave a fascinating talk at last year’s TypeCon on creating Air Inuit Sans, supporting Inuktitut glyphs), the typography of non-Latin writing systems promises an exciting future.

Closing Remarks

We’ve barely scratched the surface of the fascinating subject of typography and type history in this two-part series “Making Sense of Type Classification.” Hopefully, it has piqued your interest in this intriguing field. Knowing your way around the typographic resources available to today’s designers is essential, and it is helpful to understand a little behind the characteristics, history, visual character and idiosyncrasies that make each typeface unique and that define how it communicates.

At one point in the history of Web design, an extensive knowledge of type history was unnecessary because a Web or interactive designer was limited to half a dozen typefaces, and those in limited weights and variants.

Today, however, the landscape of Web design is completely different, and the typographic possibilities are endless! Also, while this material is covered in many design schools, a significant portion of designers today haven’t had a formal design education, so now is the best time to catch up!

That being said, we also must remember that, while type classification is an important aid to studying type, it is not a hard and fast system that cannot be questioned. Many typefaces combine characteristics and could easily fit into multiple categories, and no classification system can cover all of the possibilities. In the end, type classification is an excellent means of learning to recognize common patterns and distinguishing characteristics of typefaces, and we get to learn some type history along the way.

With this short series, you’re now equipped with a strong knowledge of categories of type; you’ve learned to analyze typefaces and pick out unique aspects of letterforms; you’ve seen how type has evolved with culture; and, most importantly, you have a solid foundation for further study of typography and type history! It cannot be overstated how immensely important sound knowledge of typography is for anyone in the broad field of design, and the material we’ve covered here will serve you well in navigating the world of type.

(al) (ea)

© Joseph Alessio for Smashing Magazine, 2013.

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Original author: 
Adriana de Barros

Letters in Chalk by Chris Yoon

These are various chalkboard drawings by Chris Yoon, who has worked for clients like stationery representatives Daniel Richards and Mediterranean restaurant Colbeh.

See also: “Messages on Chalkboards,” and “Getting Creative with Chalk.”

Daniel Richards by Chris Yoon

Chalk drawing by Chris Yoon

Colbert by Chris Yoon

Colbeth by Chris Yoon

Photos © Chris Yoon

Via We Love Typography
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Original author: 
Sean Mitchell

Delicate yet solid curves courtesy of Sudtipos, a sturdy serif from FontFont, a cosy type family by FDI, a whiskey & gin inspired face from Hold Fast Foundry, tetragonal splinters from Benoît Bodhuin, a Dieter Rams inspired face by The Northern Block, a minimalist sans from Mostardesign, a dotted typeface by Nina Stössinger, a versatile sans from Hoftype, and a new softened slab by Insigne.

Sudtipos: Esmeralda Pro

Designed by Guille Vizzari

Delicate yet solid curves, serifs and endings give each composition a fine, elegant and exquisite feeling, along with a firm and sturdy look.

FontFont: FF Dora

Designed by Slávka Pauliková

Based on a detailed study of today’s handwriting styles, the main focus was on transforming handwritten shapes into a serif text typeface, not a script face.

FDI: Canapé

Designed by Sebastian Nagel

Based on the idea of letters with a subtly curved and slightly modulated line. Through this, the typeface has a warm and friendly, almost haptical appearance which brings some kind of cosiness to your communication with type.

Hold Fast Foundry: Gin

Designed by Mattox Shuler

Like a brother to the Bourbon family, Gin is distilled from similar letterforms, but condensed less. Inspired by the likes of old serifs and classic bottles of whiskey and gin.

Benoît Bodhuin: Mineral

Designed by Benoît Bodhuin

Fractured into multiple tetragonal splinters, rectangular modules slightly spaced, like quartz and pixels.

The Northern Block: Tabia

Designed by Mariya V. Pigoulevskaya

Inspired by the work and principles of the iconic german industrial designer Dieter Rams, who is closely associated with the consumer product company Braun and the Functionalist school of industrial design.

Mostardesign: Mettro Pro

Designed by Olivier Gourvat

A sans-serif with a technological and minimalist look, it has six versatile weights from Air to Black with an alternative glyph set to improve its use in different graphic contexts.

Nina Stössinger: Sélavy

Designed by Nina Stössinger

A dotted typeface loosely based on the 13 punched-out caps on Marcel Duchamp’s 1934 Green Box.

Hoftype: Qubo

Designed by Dieter Hofrichter

A forcefully drawn monoline face, Qubo is neutral, cool and very versatile.

Insigne: Sancoale Slab Soft

Designed by Jeremy Dooley

Crafted from Sancoale’s simple geometry, new softened slab serifs provide a lively typeface that conveniently enhances its cousins: Sancoale Softened — a sans with blunted terminals; Sancoale Slab; and, certainly, the first Sancoale.



Sponsored by H&FJ.

This Week in Fonts

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Original author: 
Adriana de Barros

Steady As She Goes (3d Styrofoam sculpture) by Like Minded Studio

“Steady As She Goes” is the title of this 3D printed sculpture by Luca Ionescu from Like Minded Studio.

Steady As She Goes (3d Styrofoam sculpture) by Like Minded Studio

Steady As She Goes (3d Styrofoam sculpture) by Like Minded Studio

Steady As She Goes (3d Styrofoam sculpture)  by Like Minded Studio

Photos © Andy Lewis

Via Behance Network
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Web typography has come a long way from the days when the only way to get a custom typeface on a page was with images created in Photoshop. These days, thanks to widespread browser support for CSS @font-face and services like Typekit, a couple lines of code will add actual font files to your pages.

Go back to 2001 with that information and you would blow many a designer’s mind.

Of course if you’re not a designer, today’s overwhelming variety of type possibilities can be overwhelming. For some help deciphering it all and navigating the sometimes complex world of web typography, check out the video above of Typekit’s Jason Santa Maria‘s talk “On Web Typography.” The video comes from An Event Apart Boston in June of last year, but was only recently made available online (note that Santa Maria has since left Typekit).

After a whirlwind tour of the history of online typography, Santa Maria explores typography from a newcomer’s perspective, looking at how typography affects how you read and how to choose and combine typefaces for a better looking, easier to read site. It’s about an hour long, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better intro to and overview of the art of typography.

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Today I’ve released two limited edition prints along with some originals. The prints are based on words penned by William Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas.

‘The Voice of all the Gods’ is a quote from Shakespeare’s ‘Loves Labours Lost.’ The first time I read the passage in which this phrase occurs I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. The words are extraordinarily rich, and I wanted my visual interpretation to reflect this. The main source of inspiration for the letterforms comes from the 18th century, but I’ve tried to rework or re-imagine them in the spirit of our time. Above all, I wanted my interpretation of Shakespeare’s words to capture their shimmering beauty and harmony.

‘The Voice of all the Gods’
Signed edition of 100, 594 X 420 mm.
Metallic Gold ink on black Plike art paper.

Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ is one of the most powerful and compelling poems I know. I have always found the words incredibly moving. Dramatic, fiery, beautiful and poignant — I wanted my interpretation to capture that. I developed a modern, sharpened italic style which I felt suited the tone of the piece, with what might be described as sharpened flourishes carefully integrated into the design. The forms are based on my cursive italic calligraphy which you can see demonstrated in the video below. I tried to do something unconventional and progressive with this piece. I wanted all the forms to be extremely graceful but also have a tension about them in keeping with the words. I wanted to evoke flames, lightning, and stars blazing in a night sky.

‘Do Not Go Gentle’
Signed edition of 200, 594 X 420 mm.
Gold foil blocked on Midnight blue Plike art paper.
© The Trustees for the Copyright of Dylan Thomas

I have also released several original pieces of art today. Here are two of them, the rest are on my website.

I designed bespoke Roman monumental capital letters. I then commissioned a very talented and respected letter carver to carve rude words into the finest Welsh slate using them.

‘Slate 1’
Bespoke Roman monumental capitals carved in Welsh slate.
50cm X 12.5cm X 7.5cm. Signed by the artist.
One of a series of three.

‘Slate 2’
Bespoke Roman monumental capitals carved in Welsh slate.
25cm X 12.5cm X 7.5cm. Signed by the artist.
One of a series of three.

It has become apparent to me that doing calligraphy makes you a better type designer, and doing type design makes you a better calligrapher. That was a beautiful revelation to me and one that I hope I will continue to benefit from.

Seb Lester is a designer and artist whose clients include Apple, Nike, Intel, Absolut Vodka, Levi’s & The New York Times. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.



Sponsored by H&FJ.

The Voice of all the Gods

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Cape Town based graphic designer and artist Jordan Metcalf was asked by Boston Magazine to create a toolkit for their 2012 ‘Best of Boston’ issue. The work includes a lock-up for the table of contents, an opening DPS for the section, and various sub-section headers. With editorial typography on our minds lately, Metcalf’s work flagged our attention. The play on dimension gives the type this digital characteristic, but it is the slick typesetting and layout that really makes it feel editorially appropriate. Trending!(...) Read More about Jordan Metcalf Typography (12 words)

GRAPHIC DESIGN | Permalink | No comment |

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For years you have been searching for it. You hear the question being asked in your dreams as you go on an Indiana-Jones-type-crusade to find the answer. When the answer comes to you, you know that the confetti will fall from the ceiling and the band will start playing your favorite song. You might even get a kiss from that special someone. So what is this question?

What is the secret to Web design?

A tough question and one that might not have an answer. In 2006, Oliver Reichenstein wrote Web Design is 95% Typography. Some people loved it, others were not so amused. If Web design was based that much on typography, then what was the point of learning anything else? All you needed to do is understand the elements of typography and you were good to go.

Of course typography doesn’t mean font selection. With the advent of @font-face and services such as Typekit, Webtype, Fontdeck, and Google Web fonts, your skills in typography won’t improve. You can easily create wonderful designs with one font for the rest of your life if you choose to—they had to do it centuries ago and they didn’t have Photoshop sticking things to guides for them. If anything, more font selection will make things worse for you because creativity and beauty become hard to achieves when more options are given to us.

More toys means more fun though, right? If you want to go that route, then by all means go for it. I love to look at the different fonts being used and admire anyone that can successfully pull off using newer fonts for the Web. However, I’ve seen too many times what can happen when development options are given to the masses, and it isn’t pretty (re: Myspace). Instead of having a user agreement it would be cool if Typekit made you read a book on typography before you could begin using a font—the Web would improve tenfold, if that was the case.

I’m not being sarcastic, saying that is all you need to know for a majority of websites. Try going through all of the Web designs that you love, strip out the images and ask yourself “how would that website look with just text and spacing?”. When designers say “text is the interface”, they really do mean it. The iA site is a great example of that.

Information Architects
Information Architects is based around strong typography.

One of my all time favorite designs is A Working Library. The site is a showcase of text being the interface. The spacing is just right and the typography is on point.

A Working Library
A Working Library by Mandy Brown.

Some people find design like this to be dull and boring, they feel that design should have more pop to it. At the end of the day some extra visual flair might be what separates your design from the rest, but you need to get the first 95% down. The website that you are reading this article on now has done a wonderful job of presenting a visual design that isn’t reliant on images to be beautiful.

Well That Isn’t Hard

It’s possible to create a wonderful design without the use of images at all. I know that sounds crazy, but it is possible. I’m not saying it should be done, but if we can create elegance simply with typography and white space, then why shouldn’t we be able to create greatness when we start throwing in images, videos and other effects?

With the use of images I’m not talking about images that are needed to represent something such as icons, but images that are there for flare. Sometimes a picture is worth at least ten better words than any word you could use, so it’s better to go with an image (but you still need to consider using white space with it).

Here are two more examples of beautiful websites that place a heavy emphasis on typography to control the design. The first is Blake Allen Design and the second is The Harriet Series (both use images to represent their typography, but you get the point).

Blake Allen Design
Blake Allen Design uses images, but with great typography.

The Harriet Series
The Harriet Series by OkayType.

What makes the two designs above so interesting to me is that the typography not only guides you along a journey, but it does so with personality. You almost feel as if the typography is an expression of the person that designed it. Blake Allen uses Helvetica which gives the website a Swiss, clean and structured personality. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Harriet Series website is a bit more playful and experimental—there is beauty in the organized chaos that the typography creates.

For 99% of the designs out there, typography and white space are going to be your underlying foundation. So if you can’t get them right, then the rest of your design has nothing to stand on. Stop worrying about the pop of your design and first worry about how it will stand tall. Once you get that down then you can begin to dress it up.

Clear is a very simple to do list application for iOS devices. While the majority of the excitement around it are the gestures used to control the interface, you will notice that the typography does enough to get out of the way and allow you to enjoy the application. Sure it is nothing more than Helvetica, but what if it was Comic Sans and had bad spacing all around? Great typography doesn’t have to stand out in a good way, but that doesn’t mean it should do enough harm when it stands out in a negative way, either.

Typography In Other Disciplines

Art of the Menu
Art of the Menu is a great website on menu design.

The Art of the Menu does a great job of showing the importance of typography in menu design. While a lot of restaurants like to add images and illustrations to their menus to give them a bit more pizzaz, they fail in providing a decent typographical structure that allows you to easily browse through the menu.

If you are a designer you have no excuse to say you can’t come up with a decent design. When you create a design that lacks a strong foundation, anything else you add to it is just going to make it worse. Too many designers attempt to save their designs with fluff without understanding they are pouring gasoline onto the fire. If a design is not enjoyable to read then it is not an enjoyable experience, no matter how many images, colors or sounds you decide to add to it.

Looking to understand typography a little bit better? Not too long ago Smashing Magazine did a comprehensive overview of some wonderful typography tools and resources.

(jvb)

© Paul Scrivens for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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Every now and then, we look around, select fresh free high-quality fonts and present them to you in a brief overview. The choice out there is enormous, so the time you need to find them is usually time you should be investing in your projects. We search for them and find them so that you don’t have to.

In this selection, we’re pleased to present Signika, Plastic Type, Bariol, Alegreya, Metropolis, Typometry and other quality fonts. Please note that while most fonts are available for commercial projects, some are for personal use only and are clearly marked as such. Also, please read the licensing agreements carefully before using the fonts; they may change from time to time. Make sure to check the free quality fonts round-up from January 2011, too.

Free Quality Fonts

Signika
A remarkable sans-serif typeface with a gentle character, Signika was developed for wayfinding, signage and other media in which clarity of information is required. Developed by Anna Giedrys of Poland, the typeface has a low contrast and tall x-height to improve readability at small sizes and at far distances. The typeface has a wide character set, supporting most European languages, small caps, pictograms and arrows. All weights from light to bold have alternative negative versions, optimized to solve the effect of juxtaposed positive and negative text setting, whereby negative text tends to look thicker. Available at Google Web Fonts and for free download at Fontsquirrel.

Plastic Type
The designers of this typeface were inspired by the plastics industry, exploring how they could use the various forms and imperfections of plastic in their design. The result of their experimentation is a freely available, beautiful, playful font, released under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license.

Sullivan
Sullivan is a bold display face that comes in three variations. Each variation can be used effectively on its own or layered on the others to create a modern, industrial visual effect. The typeface was designed by Jason Mark Jones and released under the name-your-price policy.

Corki
Corki is a distinctive condensed slab-serif typeface suitable for headlines. Four styles are available: Regular, Rounded, Tuscan and Rounded Tuscan. The typeface includes 134 glyphs: both Latin and Cyrillic scripts, plus two manicules and various arrows. It is available for free.

Bariol
Bariol is a friendly, rounded, slightly condensed typeface, available in four weights and designed with versatility and readability in mind. It’s nice and familiar, without being too sweet, and very readable even at small sizes. Bariol Regular is available for free (a tweet or Facebook update is requested), but each font weight can be purchased for just $1.00.

Alegreya
This beautifully designed serif typeface has a classic, olden feel. The uppercase letterforms seem to be based on Roman script, while the lowercase characters rather have the feel of a humanist book. The family consists of 12 fonts (including regular, italic, bold, black, bold italic and black italic.)

Alegreya

Metropolis
Metropolis is a distinctive, experimental typeface in the Art Deco style. The design was inspired by the industrial movement of the 1920s, when skyscrapers where born. As the designer explains, “Using a double line technique, I wanted to create my own Art Deco style font that represented this era. The result is a bold, bumptious typeface with a stolidly calm disposition.” Metropolis could be a good choice when you are looking for a retro or retro-futuristic look. Released under Fontfabric’s Free Font EULA, you may use it in your private and commercial projects for free, but if you use it with a @font-face declaration, then a credit to Fontfabric is required somewhere on your website.

Typometry
An experimental display typeface inspired by geometrical forms. An interesting choice for unique patterns or just playing arond with glyphs. Designed by Emil Kozole. An advanced version of the typeface with 2 weights, 4 styles and 220 glyphs is available as well.

Tikal Sans Medium
Tikal Sans is a family with curved terminating strokes, ending in sharp edges. With a contemporary feel, a tall x-height and OpenType contextual alternate letters, Tikal Sans offers a functional look with a friendly touch. The thin and black weights are great for display sizes, while the light, regular and medium weights are well suited to longer texts. Tikal Sans Medium and Tikal Sans Medium Italic are available for free, but registration is required.

Tikal Sans

Actor
If you are looking for a workhorse typeface, then Actor might be it. It has a tall x-height, which is why it requires fairly high line spacing. The digits of Actor are created as old-style figures. The font can be used for free via Google Web Fonts.

Veneer Extras and Veneer Extras Italic
Veneer is a versatile, handcrafted “letterpress” font that has an authentic vintage feel with a touch of grunge. The freely available extras include 70 glyphs, in both regular and italics. Registration is required for the free download.

Wayfinding Sans
This type family, designed by Ralf Herrmann, sets a new standard for legibility in signage and wayfinding. Herrmann started this project with extensive field studies, driving tens of thousands of miles to explore the legibilty of road signage typefaces in dozens of countries around the world. The results of these explorations, along with an extensive study of relevant scientific legibilty research, formed the theoretical framework for creating an “ultimate” signage typeface. Wayfinding Sans includes 400 glyphs in one style, with arrows. To get the font, a tweet or Facebook update is required.

Ranger
Here is a playful Colorado-inspired italic typeface, designed by Evan Huwa. It’s a good choice for a bold movie title or a vintage book style. This typeface is sans serif and uppercase only.

Poly
José Nicolás Silva Schwarzenberg of the University of Buenos Aires designed this free font specifically for the South American indigenous language Wayuunaiki. Fortunately, the tyepface can be used not only by the 305,000 Wayuu people, but by everyone across the world. It is a medium-contrast serif font, optimized for the Web and efficient at smaller sizes. Poly is available in the Google Web Fonts library as well.

 Poly, A Quality Serif Font

Adec
Designed by Serge Shi of Russia, Adec is an original experimental typeface. The texture of the glyphs makes the typeface a good choice for distinctive playful designs and graphic branding. The typeface has three styles: Main, Initials and Text. The download contains samples of patterns created using the typeface alone.

Frontage Outline
Frontage is a charming layered typographic system that allows you to combine fonts and colors to achieve an interesting 3-D effect. Add the shadow font or just use the capital letters of the regular and bold cut for a stark effect. Unfortunately, only the Frontage Outline one is available for free (or at least paid for with a tweet or Facebook update).

Andada
This serif typeface might be the perfect fit for the headlines and body copy of your next corporate or personal project. Designed specifically for Spanish text, this typeface is a solid fit for English as well. The free typeface was given the 2010 Desigh Award by Bienal Ibero-Americana. It includes the basic set, accented characters, signs and punctuation, numbers, ligatures and mathematical signs. Released under the SIL Open Font License.

Blanch
Blanch is a distinctive display face, designed for the Fruita Blanch brand, a family-run company. The typeface is a great match for brochures and posters, but can be used for headings on the Web as well. Although it might look a bit rigid, the typeface has a modern, contemporary feel. The family consists of six weights: three condensed weights and three caps weights. Designed by the Spanish design studio Atipus, and released with a name-your-price license.

Valentina
Valentina is a classic “didone” that follows some of the principles of Bodoni from the 18th century, while incorporating many characteristics of the Spanish style of the time. The font contains 457 glyphs, with 125 alternative lowercase glyphs and 46 ligatures. Some of the glyphs can be nicely integrated in a logo or branding design and combined with Ampersand (featured above) or Zeta.

Sánchez
Sánchez is a display serif type family. Similar to Rockwell, it has rounded edges, which provide contrast and balance to the overall square forms. Regular and italic variants are available for free.

Erler Dingbats
This typeface covers the full encoding range for dingbats in Unicode (U + 2700 to U + 27BF). Erler Dingbats is the result of a collaboration between designers Johannes Erler and Henning Skibbe to create a consistent, contemporary font that could be used for everyday communication. It includes a range of popular symbols and pictograms, such as arrows, pens, phones, stars, crosses and checkmarks.

Entypo Pictograms
Entypo Pictograms is a set of more than 100 pictograms available as OpenType fonts, released under the Creative Commons license and free for commercial use. The collection consists of many navigation elements and other familiar icons. Its designers, Daniel Bruce and Andreas Blombäck, look forward to seeing usage of it.

Great Vibes
This beautiful, flowing typeface has looping ascenders and descenders, as well as elegant uppercase forms. It is a Unicode typeface that supports languages that use the Latin script and its variants.

Arvo
This typeface has strong contrast without feeling overwhelming. It can be used in headings and design campaigns. The smaller sizes (9, 12, 14 and 16 points) are hinted in TrueType format for better legibility on Windows. The font is published in the Google Font directory as a free open font (OFL).

Banda Free Regular
Banda is a semi-serif typeface with a tall x-height and rounded semi-serifs. Playful and inviting and suitable for logos, headlines and packaging designs, Banda Regular is available as a free download.

Edmondsans
Edmondsans is a free display typeface with three weights (regular, medium and bold). The typeface isn’t suited to every occasion but would be good for bold, conservative headings.

Fenix
Fenix is a serif typeface designed for display and long passages of text, with its strong serifs and rough strokes. Fenix is elegant yet legible at large sizes, probably a good fit for editorial work, books and newspapers. It is freely available for private and commercial use.

EB Garamond
Georg Duffner is recreating the classical Garamond with his open-source project EB Garamond. His goal is to revive Claude Garamont’s famous humanist typeface from the mid-16th century. Duffner’s design reproduces the original, with its letterforms taken from a scan of a specimen known as the “Berner specimen.” It’s a good, comprehensive Web font, released under the SIL Open Font License, 1.1, and also available on Google Web Fonts. The project is under ongoing development, so if you’d like to help Duffner, feel free to contribute.

Noticia Text
This slab-serif typeface was designed for long passages of texts in digital newspapers and other on-screen publications. Available for free in four styles, the typeface is currently under development, but the first version is available now.

Lusitana
Lusitana is a classic serif typeface inspired by the type found in the 1572 first edition of The Lusiads, a Portuguese epic poem by Luís Vaz de Camões. This typeface is made for long passages of text at small sizes. Designed by Ana Paula Megda.

Cardo
Cardo is a large Unicode font designed especially for academic needs. It works well for general typesetting in situations where a high-quality old-style font is appropriate. Its large character set supports many modern languages, as well as those studied by scholars. Cardo also contains ligatures, text figures (i.e. old-style numerals), true small capitals and a variety of punctuation and spacing characters.

Exo Font Family
A successful Kickstarter project made it possible for Natanael Gama of Portugal to create this typeface and release it publicly. Exo is a comprehensive geometric sans-serif font family with nine weights, in both regular and italic. Each font comes with many OpenType features such as small caps, ligatures, alternates, old-style figures, tabular figures and fractions. Both the OpenType and source files are available to download for free.

NeoDeco
This typeface was designed by Jonatan Xavier to imbue the Art Deco style with a strong modern feel. It is best for brochures and packaging designs, posters and magazines.

Bitter Regular
This slab-serif typeface was designed specifically for literary texts and for reading on screen with eInk technology. The typeface is a great fit for headings in a corporate brochure or on a website. Only one font weight is available, in TrueType and OpenType formats. A description and images are available on the designer’s website. The download link on the official website isn’t working anymore, but you can still download it from Designer In Action. Released under the SIL Open Font License.

Alegreya

Last Clicks

Type Connection
A good relationship can be characterized as two people who fit together. Aura Seltzer adopted this idea for her game Type Connection, which was her MFA thesis project. In this game, you are a procurer who helps different typefaces mate with each other. Each typeface is a lonely character searching for love, and your job is to find its perfect partner. By playing the game, you not only explore type history, but also learn typographic terms, while learning how to pair typefaces.

Type Connection

Just My Type
Picking just the right typeface can be difficult. On this page, Dan Eden presents a collection of beautiful font stacks delivered by Typekit. Some of the combinations aren’t necessarily revolutionary, but Eden delivers a nice, visually pleasing collection nevertheless. Some of the fonts are even free. Whether you’re looking for a new font to please a client or just want to play around, you won’t waste your time visiting Dan’s website. And for a more thorough article on combining typefaces, check out “Four Techniques for Combining Typefaces.”

Novel Constructions
A detailed case study on how Christoph Dunst designed the typeface Novel. Interesting and unique insights into the design process.

Showcase of Typographic Posters
This project is curated by André Felipe, a graphic designer who loves typography and its unorthodox uses. Featuring literally hundreds of posters, this project is a great resource that could serve either as a platform to show off your talent or as a reference for your next project.

Showcase Of Typographic Posters

Squared Superheroes
How well do you know your favorite superheroes? What kind of weapons do they fight with? What do their masks look like? Instead of drawing the usual fine details (facial expressions, hair, shadows, special visual effects), René Schiffer goes for a rather laconic, minimal style. He has picked out the most important characteristics of each superhero and represented them as squared forms. Placed side by side, the superheroes make for a great composition. Now, see if you recognize your childhood heroes! And no, it’s not a typeface, but… well, it could be one!

Squared Superheroes

Further Resources

  • Lost Type Co-Op
    The Lost Type Co-Op is a pay-what-you-want type foundry. Users can pay whatever they like for a font or type in “$0” for a free download. All proceeds from sales go directly to the designers of the fonts themselves.
  • The League of Moveable Type
    This open-source type movement brings high-quality tyepfaces to the Web. The creators of the project release quality fonts every now and then, so stay tuned!
  • Google Web Fonts
    This growing directory offers hundreds of free open-source fonts optimized for the Web. Google also provides ready-to-use snippets to integrate the fonts on your website.
  • Typography and free fonts on Smashing Magazine
    An overview of typography-related articles and free font round-ups on Smashing Magazine.

We sincerely appreciate the time and effort of all of the type designers featured in this post. Please keep in mind that type design is a time-consuming craft that truly deserves compensation and support. Please consider supporting the type designers who create and release these amazing typefaces for all of us to use.

(al)

© Smashing Editorial for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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Stéphane Elbaz is graphic and type designer working in New York and Paris. In 2009 he was awarded the Certificate of Excellence in Type Design from the Type Directors Club of New York for his type family Geneo, recently published by Typofonderie. He is the first typeface designer from outside the foundry to be published by Typofonderie.

How do you define yourself?

I am a designer. I intend to solve problems with aesthetic solutions, but at the same time develop a personal expression. It’s this gap that I find interesting.

My taste for letters appeared really early in my life, during my teenage years. At that time it wasn’t properly an interest in type, but certainly a taste for letters as plastic shapes. Going to the Arts Décoratifs school in Paris led me to discover classic typography. How could one not to be nostalgic when contemplating those school years? It’s very important for me because of how much I learned during these years. Classes with Rudi Meyer and Jean François Porchez gave me the context and the latitude to look at the subject with a more experimental way of thinking.

It was during the type design courses lead by Jean François Porchez that I was involved in the creation of the Caffeine and Cooker Black typefaces. This was clearly an important starting point for me; I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to involve myself in rigorous typographic projects without this first step. Thus letters for me became the dominant element of my graphic design. Type design is a discipline that requires a taste for abstraction plus a systematic mind — two things that fit well with my professional mindset.

You do both web design and type design, which is pretty rare. How does this affect how you work?

Concerning my web design skills, it’s a question I should ask of my colleagues. I don’t know if working with headlines devoid of kerning, or the inability to set a nicely ragged left paragraph is more difficult for me to live with than it is for others. I do, however, have good reasons to be optimistic. Things are evolving more quickly and always improving. The future will bring with it more and more screens and resolutions, and it is important that the typographic quality on these devices improves accordingly.

I think what has occurred on the Internet for some years is a perfect illustration of the importance of typography in graphic design. The capacity to use a large font palette, in comparison to the three or four standards that were used for dynamic texts, changes everything, and permits designers to express different identities.

Beyond the technical constraints of various screens, I don’t think there is any fundamental difference between the content presented on a screen or on paper — in much the same way as I don’t think that twitter or text messages radically changes our language. After all, it’s the graphic designer that has to choose the typefaces appropriate to the subject, and deal with technical constraints with a broader focus than just the screen or the piece of paper.

Why did you leave France to live and work in New York? From there, what can you say about type design in the United States and in France?

I like the charm of tiny cities. Seriously though, the United States is a big country and therefore has a great diversity of expression. There is certainly a tone in American graphic design that is quite different; the references are not exactly the same as in France. It seems, for instance, that the idea of tradition and the images associated with it are not the same in Paris and New York. The shapes and the imaginative world of tradition are an important foundation upon which type designers work, thus there are going to be differences in the type aesthetic.

What is the genesis of your typeface, Geneo?

Geneo was a personal project that I began without thinking of a context or a specific use. I was attracted to slab serifs and began drawing a really thin weight, a little like a typewriter character, but with some kind of Renaissance spirit. I think that I was trying to find an anachronistic mix that actually worked. I was also fond of the brush-made flourish shapes of the Art Nouveau period, and I was particularly inspired by them. All of these elements combined could feel a bit heavy, but my idea was to make a contemporary character where the shapes had to be synthetic while at the same time retaining some flesh, some of the organic.

Geneo won the TDC prize back in 2009, and today it is distributed by Typofonderie, although it’s not exactly the same typeface. Its original identity remains intact, but it had to evolve to conform with the foundry’s standards. This meant a lot of work, but I benefitted from the guidance and exceptional eye of Jean François Porchez. We worked together on both the design of each particular glyph’s details as well as the weight scale of the entire family. Time was also spent designing dingbats and alternative glyphs.

I believe that this new typeface family permits a great diversity of uses. The lighter weights used in headlines can convey both a delicatessen or a piece of literature. The intermediate weights can be used to set body text in an academic journal or in the logo of a new social network. We imagine the heavier weights being used on posters or in editorial design. The family as a whole can also be used in works needing a complex typographic hierarchy. Also, I think that in the context of a rational and minimal text layout, Geneo can add a connotative dimension, a level of contrast. For me, an even more exciting prospect is to see my typeface appear in ways that I couldn’t have envisaged. It’s from other graphic designers’ creations that I am waiting to see new and interesting interpretations.

Can you share something about the new typefaces you are working on?

I have a few things in progress, which I think is often the case with type designers; having several typeface ideas in the back of their minds. What determines if a typeface will one day be completed and released or not is the relevancy of its shapes and its identity. Some others will never be finished because they are shaky in their concept or just not original. I currently have a sans-serif project that I would like to finish. Unfortunately, it’s a category that already appears saturated and therefore is particularly challenging, but nonetheless stimulating.

Interview by Jérémy Landes-Nones.

Graphic and type designer Stephane Elbaz holds degrees in Visual Communication (2003) and Interactive Research (2004) from the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. In 2009 he was awarded the Certificate of Excellence in Type Design from the Type Directors Club of New York for his type family Geneo (published by Typofonderie). He works in New York and Paris.



Sponsored by H&FJ.

An Interview with Stéphane Elbaz

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