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Behind the typefaces

Journal Entry: Tue Feb 14, 2012, 10:02 PM

This is an introductory Journal to a series of Journals to come about the different type categories, the history and how to recognize these type classifications.


Choosing a typeface


At times it seems very hard to differentiate typefaces and recognize from which time, style and designer certain typefaces or elements from a typeface are reminiscent of. It seems an issue which should only regard type geeks, but that almost couldn't be further from the truth. Understanding type and its evolution is in my opinion important to the average Joe as well, but predominantly it's a must for every graphic designer or artist working with text.



To illustrate the importance of understanding typefaces and their evolution, let me give you a specific example. Let's say you—as a graphic designer—are being commissioned to design the layout for a CD album of compiled works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) and it should have an authentic look. In this case it's very relevant from which era the music is. If you go by appearance and personal taste in selecting typefaces to use you will risk making a fool out of yourself if you know nothing about the typefaces. For example, you could select Jenson, which looks quite authentic but is actually a Venetian typeface cut in 1470; 215 years before Bach was even born. Obviously it's not quite as crazy to use a typeface from before Bach's time as it is to use one after his time, but historically speaking Jenson wouldn't have been used during the Baroque. Garamond is also too old but it's becoming more authentic already. William Caslon I (1692–1766) lived in the same era as Bach and cut the Caslon typeface which became hugely popular and virtually every book at the time was set in Caslon or in typefaces based on Caslon. So it would be very appropriate to use Caslon (any of the many digitized versions of Caslon, though Williams Caslon Text by William Berkson is probably the most authentic Caslon for body text size).

It's important to note though that it's not absolutely necessary to choose a typeface which is culturally and historically authentic to the project, but you have to know what there is to know about typefaces in order to make a conscious decision to choose a different kind of typeface. The choice of your typeface shouldn't be a happy accident, and selecting a typeface "because you like it" is never a good argument. Choose consciously.



Type classifications


Even if you understand the history and evolution of type, it's still quite complicated to categorize typefaces, as modern typefaces are designed based on the cumulative knowledge of many generations of type designers and very different styles; it tends to blur the boundaries between type classifications. Still, you can roughly categorize all typefaces which will simplify a lot of things, like selecting 2 typefaces to work together harmoniously.



The Vox-ATypI classification is in my opinion a good start. It's not a perfect system and it's even a little outdated, but I've been using it for years as it's a simple system which is easy to expand for personal reference. Another system I quite like is the Thibaudeau classification. It's a lot simpler and more general, but perhaps that's just what you need. We're going to look at both systems. Note though that I won't be going into much detail about each category as a series of articles is planned for each category—including pictures.




The Vox-ATypI classification


Classicals


The classicals are characterized by triangular serifs, oblique axis and low stroke contrast. In other classification systems, this group is often referred to as "oldstyle".


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Humanist/Venetian


Examples: Centaur, Roos, Brioso


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Garalde


Examples: Garamond, Caslon, Minion


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Transitional


Examples: Baskerville, Miller, Charter



Moderns


The moderns are characterized by a simple, functional feel that gained momentum during the industrial period.


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Didone


Examples: Didot, Bodoni, Filosofia


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Mechanistic


Examples: Rockwell, Clarendon, Museo Slab


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Lineal: Grotesque


Examples: Akzidenz Grotesk, Headline


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Lineal: Neo-Grotesque


Examples: Helvetica, Univers, DIN


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Lineal: Geometric


Examples: Futura, Eurostile, Nobel


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Lineal: Humanist


Examples: Gill Sans, Frutiger, Ideal Sans




Calligraphics


The Calligraphics are characterized by a suggestion of being hand-crafted.


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Glyphic


Examples: Trajan, Goudy Trajan, Aviano


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Script


Examples: Reklame Script, Gelato Script, Metroscript


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Blackletter


Examples: Burgundica, Old English, Givry





The Thibaudeau classification



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Elzévirs


This family contains typefaces with triangular serifs.


Examples: Garamond, Palatino, Lexicon



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Didots


This family groups typefaces with linear or hairline serifs. It generally corresponds to modern or Didone categories.


Examples: Didot, Bodoni, Baskerville



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Égyptiennes


This family contains slab serif typefaces, called Mechanistic in the Vox-ATypI classification.


Examples: Rockwell, Memphis



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Antiques


This is the sans serif family. In Vox-ATypI classification, this family corresponds to the Lineals.


Examples: Helvetica, Univers, Futura






Add a Comment:
 
:iconmafatihul1947:
Mafatihul1947 Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2016  Student Digital Artist
Thanks a lot :D
Reply
:iconbrianskywalker:
brianskywalker Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Do you know anyone who uses the term "Mechanistic" besides Vox? Because I don't.
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2012  Professional General Artist
I think Vox SHOULD get a lot of criticism and I'm not satisfied with the Vox system either, which is why I've developed my own system. However, I do find the term "Mechanistic" to be very logical because in my opinion even Baskerville could be considered mechanistic to a much, much greater extent than the Garaldes. So I honestly don't care which terms people use as long as I find them logical. Besides that though, when I'm talking about specific typefaces, terms like sans, serif and mechanistic are too general anyway, which is why I would rather use Slab serif, Egyptienne or Clarendon instead of "Mechanistic". We have to group some of them together though to understand typefaces better. Modern type has become so relative and fluid that grouping is very difficult and to a large extent makes no sense, but as humans it's impossible to overcome that urge.

Hence, the Thibaudeau system makes a lot of sense but in my opinion gives too little information to be a valuable system. Vox is the best I know of, but I will publish my own system later.
Reply
:iconbrianskywalker:
brianskywalker Featured By Owner Feb 29, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
That does make some sense. You may want to use the term Mechanized as opposed to </i>mechanistic</i>. Not only is it less of a mouthful, but it's also what seems to be favored by more Americans over mechanistic. Ellen Lupton uses it in Thinking with Type, and I think some historians use it as well.
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2012  Professional General Artist
I must say I find 'Mechanized' less logical, but if that's a popular term these days I will start using that. However I won't change it for the Vox classification because that's just what it's called there. I will publish an article with my own classification before I publish one about Venetian/Humanist typefaces.
Reply
:iconpainsugar:
painsugar Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2012  Professional General Artist
super! nice information :):horns:
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2012  Professional General Artist
Thank you!
Reply
:icontonito292:
Tonito292 Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012
Really good and informative reading. I'll be sure to read all of them. I could need a bit more typography knowledge.
One question though, you said that in the Vox-ATypI classification "Classicals" are characterized by oblique axis. what does that mean?
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional General Artist
Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Actually that's a bit of a generalization because the Transitionals have a weight distribution according to a vertical axis. The Venetian and Garalde typefaces follow the chirography more strictly, so the stroke weight is distributed according to the degree of slant of the nib of the calligraphy pen (if you would write the script).

Here's an illustration of this principle: [link]
Reply
:icontonito292:
Tonito292 Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2012
Ah, I see now. thanks. I'll make sure to read the next one too.
Reply
:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
Oooh very awesome :la: Looking forward to the whole series :eager:

I learned different names in college, but it may just be due to translation :)
But they lacked a lot in the Sans Serif fraction, as they were all taught as being in the same class :B

Isn't one decisive factor of classification how the font would be written? As in at which angle you hold the nib. Which probably shows most impact on the Serifs of a typeface as well as the axis of round letters.
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional General Artist
Thanks! =brianskywalker told me he also wants to write articles, though it's not yet clear whether he will write articles for these series or other ones. I think he will do the more technical side; software and beziers and such.

"Isn't one decisive factor of classification how the font would be written?"
Quite, but not completely. It's particularly a relevant factor in the beginning of type evolution. The Venetian typefaces were based on the calligraphic roman script and you can see this in the details such as an 'e' with a beak and indeed a diagonal weight distribution due to the nib of the calligraphic pen. The angle in calligraphy is also why the cross bar in 'e' is diagonal in Venetian typefaces. It gets quite close to a following letter though (as seen here: [link]) which is why the cross bar became horizontal. The variety in widths of the letters are also very prolific; modern typefaces tend to have more consistent widths. The Garalde typefaces became more modeled and the Transitional typefaces are the first more mechanical typefaces. At that point it became more technical than chirographic.
Reply
:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
That sounds cool. I will make sure to promote all your articles :nod:

Yeah, it's like a sketching process I guess.

I guess there also should be a new classification for the insane display typefaces you see so often nowadays :lol:

Oh, that reminds me: we were trying to redo the categories for the Resources & Stock Images > Fonts gallery. It desperately needs to be redone. We already have collected ideas and if it would be okay, maybe you can share some input? :)
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional General Artist
"That sounds cool. I will make sure to promote all your articles"\
Thank you! My group Temple-of-Typefaces is an attempt to raise the general quality of type design on DA and to create a place where type designers can meet/talk/critique and amateurs can learn. With your exposure of my articles that goal should be a lot closer.

I would love to give input on the categories of the fonts gallery. Should I state my ideas here or somewhere else?
Reply
:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
I will send you a note :)
The whole process was started by a CV who is no longer in that position, so it's a bit hard to keep track :D
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional General Artist
Thanks. What does CV stand for though?
Reply
:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
Oh that means Community Volunteer :)
FAQ #18: Who selects the Daily Deviation and how is it chosen? and #communityrelations explain it quite well
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional General Artist
Ahh of course. I should've derived the meaning of CV from the context. I'm so tired I can't think straight hehe
Reply
(1 Reply)
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional General Artist
By the way, how did you become a volunteer? Is it a lot of work?

I would actually love to have a bit more to say about the font design category and its content. Do you need to do maintenance on DA every day or do you choose your own level of activity?
Reply
:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
oh sorry, I hadn't seen this reply earlier ^^;

It's as much work as you want it to be :)

Basically what we do is showcase art (set DDs or feature works in articles/journals), introduce artists (interviews for example) or educate the community (news articles/journals).

There is no real "maintenance" going on; many people think it is our "duty" to move miscats, but that is not the case.
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2012  Professional General Artist
Sounds perfect. I was a bit concerned because I'm not always as active on DA as I have been this month.
Reply
:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
Well, we cannot be expected to be active all the time. Most either work or go to college/university besides dA :)
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional General Artist
Never mind. I read the information available in the FAQ and applied for a position as mod.
Reply
:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
Awesome! For what position, if you don't mind me asking :)
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2012  Professional General Artist
I asked specifically to maintain only these categories:
Digital Art > Typography > Font Design
Resources & Stock Images > Fonts
Reply
(1 Reply)
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