A while ago Smashing Magazine did an article on 80 Beautiful Typefaces for Professional Design. We had a little discussion about it over at I Love Typography, too. One thing that appalled me was all the classic typefaces that were missing from the SM list!
Garamond was originally designed by Claude Garamond in 1530. It is a beautiful, humanistic face, with cupped serifs and solid design. This is one of my personal favorites. I use it in a lot of designs because it seems to go well with almost everything. There are few situations in which Garamond would be an inappropriate choice. Garamond is very readable at smaller sizes because of its tall x-height. Look at the beaks on the uppercase T and Z and notice how the left ones are tilted out a bit. The lowercase j descends below the baseline.
Caslon is also a font with a history that dates back a considerable way. It was designed by William Caslon in 1725. It has a shorter x-height that Garamond, and it is also an elegant typeface. Caslon is said to have been the first original typeface of English origin. Take special note of the apex of the uppercase A and the unique tail on the Q. The T also has flared beaks.
Sabon is used in many books because it is very legible at small sizes. It may not be an incredibly notable font in terms of a unique look, but it is reliable and another face that cannot easily be misused. It was designed by Jan Tschichold in the mid-1960’s and is based on the work of Claude Garamond. In Sabon, it is the numbers 5, 6 and 9 that are quite unique. Also note the open bowl on the uppercase P, while it is closed on the R. The lowercase j also extends below the baseline with Sabon.
Jenson looks like a font that was inspired by letterpress characters. It was originally designed in 1470 by Nicolas Jenson. Jenson is unique because it has little “flaws” that make it feel very organic. This is not a typeface that the designers tried to make look perfect. It has a low x-height and is great for body copy. Jenson has slightly longer ascenders. The o has a slightly biased stress and the upper and lowercase j extends below the baseline of Jenson, too. The lowercase x and y are interesting to look at, as well as uppercase R.
Classic Sans Serifs
Franklin Gothic was designed in 1904 by Morris Fuller Benton. It is a nice alternative to using a serif font and it has thick and thin strokes, much in the spirit of the serifed fonts. The lowercase a and g also harken back to the serif versions of these letters. Franklin Gothic does tend to be a bit heavy in a composition, so it should probably not be used for long bits of copy.
Univers was designed by Adrian Frutiger. It is a rather unique family because it has an extensive numbering system where the face gets thinner, thicker, extended or condensed depending on which way the numbers go. Univers 55 is considered the standard on which all the others are based. Notice the square dots on the lowercase i and j and the shoulder in the f. Univers has short descenders and ascenders. The tail on the uppercase Q sits on the baseline and the R seems to have a rather uncharacteristic curve in its leg.
Helvetica is probably the most over-used font aside from Arial or Times New Roman. Some might blame it on the generic nature of the face, I would argue that it is actually the versatility of it. It is a fairly recent design, only dating back as far as the 1950’s. Helvetica is clear, legible and a staple in the world of sans serifs. I would caution against using it in identity design, though! Despite its plain appearance, the lowercase y and a and the uppercase R and G do have a little bit of flare to them.
Futura was designed in the 1920’s during the Art Deco movement by Paul Renner. It looks very geometric; the bowls of the a, b, d, etc are very round and the uppercase N would fit into a perfect square. Notice the bowls of the b, d, g, p and q are slightly offset. The lowercase j is also quite unusual because of its lack of a curved terminal.
Beef Up Your Repertoire
By becoming intimately familiar with a handful of fonts, you will begin to notice all the nuances that make each ideal for various purposes and messages. Pick two serif fonts and two sans serif fonts and only use those for a while. See how familiar you become with them. Once you have a good handle on those four, try adding one or two more of each style. Pretty soon you’ll be using 30 different fonts and you’ll know when to use which.
This is the last of our little primer on typography! Just in case you missed any of the previous articles:
- The Finishing Typographical Touches – alignment, justification, rivers, lakes, widows and orphans
- Want People to Read Your Copy? Make it Legible! – tracking, kerning, leading
- Matching Type to Message – looking closely at the mood your typeface choices create
- WHY YOU SHOULDN’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS – ascenders and descenders
- Sound Smart. Talk About Type – serif, sans serif, x-height and baseline
And if you’re a really big Type Nut and this wasn’t enough for you, head on over to I Love Typography, join in the conversation! Oh, and if you’re more of a web designer, check out this great article on 16 Best-Loved Font Bits In Web Design on Inspiration Bit (there’s also a really handy Mixing Typefaces Cheat Sheet that Vivien shared with us over there). And whether you are a design student or not, you’ll probably find David Airey’s Typography Tips and Advice for Students useful.
What do you think of this list? Any you would add? Any you would take away? Which faces will you choose to familiarize yourself with?