visual communication
Typography 1


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Font Classification: IDENTIFING FACTORS
Garamond did not think of himself as an Old Style designer any more than John Baskerville could realize that some day he would be considered a Transitional designer. What happened is this. Over the centuries type became more and more refined; that is, the contrast between thick and thin strokes became greater and the serifs became finer. This refinement was possible because of the development of smoother papers, better links, and more advanced printing methods. The ultimate refinement was attained in the late 1700’s when Bodoni reduced the thin strokes and serifs to fine hairline strokes.

After Bodoni, type design became eclectic. In search of new forms of typographic expression, designers began to borrow features from one period and add them to another. We see a lot of this today. Many of the fonts designed in the 20th Century are difficult to classify.

Variations in Stress
As early typefaces were based on the written letterforms the scribes, it was important that the type designer tries to capture as much as the written form as possible. The letter O is a good example to study the distribution of weight which creates a vertical stress through the thinnest part of the letterform. It was this characteristic that the early typefaces tried to imitate. This is quite clear in Garamond. As type evolved and the designer was no longer influenced by handwriting, the stress became more vertical as in Baskerville and later totally vertical with Bodoni. In Univers you will find no noticeable stress. | example |

Variations in Thicks and Thins
Faces also vary in degree of contrast between thick and thin strokes of the letters. In Garamond you can see a prominent characteristic of little contrast between thick and thin strokes of a letter. In Transitional faces there is a tendency toward refinement and greater contrast between thick and thins. Bodoni has maximum contrast in these strokes (extreme contrast of thick and thins, hairline serifs). With Serifa there is a return to very little contrast (almost mono-weight). In Univers there is an absence of any noticeable thick and thin strokes; there is a uniformity of strokes (mono-weight).

Variations in Serifs
Serifs also vary from one face to the next in their weight and in the way they are bracketed; that is the way in which the serif meets the vertical stroke of the letter. Once again, you can see the evolution of type from Garamond to Baskerville, to Bodoni this was followed by the return of the heavy serif in Serifa and the elimination of the serif in Univers.

A basic system for classifying typefaces was devised in the nineteenth century, when printers sought to identify a heritage for their own craft analogous to that of art history. Humanist letterforms are closely connected to calligraphy and the movement of the hand. Transitional and modern typefaces are more abstract and less organic. These three main groups correspond roughly to the Renaissance, Baroque, and Enlightenment periods in art and literature. Designers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have continued to create new typefaces based on historic characteristics.*

Old Style (also call Gerald)

Old style type is generally considered "warm" or friendly, thanks to its origins in Renaissance humanism. The main characteristics of old style typefaces are low contrast with diagonal stress, and cove or "bracketed" serifs (serifs with a rounded join to the stem of the letter).
*The roman typefaces of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries emulated classical calligraphy. Sabon was designed by Jan Tschichold in 1966, based on the sixteenth-century typefaces of Claude Garamond.

– 1475
– based on handwriting
– contrast between thick and thin strokes is more pronounced
– slight diagonal stress
– shorter x-height
– scooped serifs, sturdy without being heavy

Bembo, Caslon, Garamond, Jenson, Palatino

A refinement of Old Style forms, this style forms the transition between Renaissance Old Style and Modern typefaces. With the change from the woodcut to copperplate engravings in the 17th Century, the lines of the letters became more fine and rich in contrast. The thick-to -thin relationships were exaggerated, and the brackets were lightened. *These typefaces have sharper serifs and a more vertical axis than humanist letters. When the fonts of John Baskerville were introduced in the mid-eighteenth century, their sharp forms and high contrast were considered shocking.

– 1750
– contrast between thick and thin strokes is more pronounced
– very slight diagonal stress
– bracketed serifs
– tall x-height

Baskerville, Caslon, Perpetua

Modern (also called Didone)
Modern typefaces arose with the distribution of copper and steel engraving techniques in the 17th and 18th Century. The appearance is technical exact. Modern types are named Didone after Didot and Bodoni. *The typefaces designed by Giambattista Bodoni in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are radically abstract. Note the thin, straight serifs; vertical axis; and sharp contrast from thick to thin strokes.

– 1775
– extreme contrast between thick and thin strokes
– flat unbracketed serifs
– hairline serifs
– no horizontal stress
– mathematical construction /measurements
– no influence by handwriting

Bodoni, Bauer Bodoni, Walbaum...

Square Serif (also called Slab Serif or Egyptian
At the beginning of the 19th Century typefaces for attracting attention were in demand for advertising, posters, flyers, business and private printed matters. Egyptian and Grotesque typefaces arose from Modern typefaces. The name Egyptian is derived from its use in a publication about booty from Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. * Numerous bold and decorative typefaces were introduced in the nineteenth century for use in advertising. Egyptian fonts have heavy, slab-like serifs.

– early 1800's
– mono weight
– square ended serifs
– no stress
– bold machine like (industrial age/industrial revolution)
– uniform serifs
– bold display font (used at large sizes)
– rectangular
– geometric impact

Serifa, Rockwell, Memphis Clarendon, New Century Schoolbook...
sometmes the slab serifs are divied into a Clarendon: serifs are bracketed

Sans Serif: Geometric
Sans-serif typefaces influenced by the Bauhaus movement and featuring circular or geometric letters, with little variation in stroke thickness. * Some sans-serif types are built around geometric forms. In Futura, designed by Paul Renner in 1927, the Os are perfect circles, and the peaks of the A and M are sharp triangles.

Futura, Foilio, Gotham, Avant Garde

Sans Serif: Humanist
Sans-serif typefaces with oval shapes and variations in stroke thickness to create a more graceful, human appearance. *Sans-serif typefaces became common in the twentieth century. Gill Sans, designed by Eric Gill in 1928, has humanist characteristics. Note the small, lilting counter in the letter a , and the calligraphic variations in line weight.

Gill Sans, Meta, Frutiger

Sans Serif: Grotesque or Grotesk
The first sans-serif designs developed in the 19th century, and considered grotesque by the English. *Helvetica, designed by Max Miedinger in 1957, is one of the world's most widely used typefaces. Its uniform, upright character makes it similar to transitional serif letters. These fonts are also referred to as "anonymous sans serif"

Akzidenz Grotesk, Franklin Gothic, Univers, Helvetica


*from Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton