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META is not helvetica 1

Where can you find Meta?

don’t worry, you’ve definitely seen it before.


Meta makes its appearance on a London Bus advertisement.


Meta is used on a global scale: here, it is featured as the main titular logo of a facility in France.

Internet powerhouse Firefox finds itself using Meta in its logo.


FF Meta has been ca While that may be humanist alternat FF Meta Book Roman

FF Meta Book Capitals Italic

FF Meta Bold Capitals

early sketches of meta


FF Meta Book Italic

FF Meta Bold R

alled the “Helvetica of the 1990s.” dubious praise, Meta is a warm, ative to the classic sans faces. FF Meta Book Capitals

FF Meta Bold Italic


FF Meta Bold Capitals Italic

Meta’s History Spiel origins of a typeface? yeah, you read that right.

In 1984 the German State Post Office, the Bundespost, was persuaded by Erik Spiekermann of MetaDesign to commission a new, exclusive font for use on all of the Bundespost’s printed material. The aim of the project, which began in 1985, was to develop a face that was easy to read in small sizes, available in several weights, unmistakable as an identity, and technologically up-todate. Although the font was digitized, tested, and approved in the

summer of 1985, the project was canceled. The Bundespost returned to using one of its many previous typefaces, Helvetica, assuming that digital type would not catch on. In 1989, after design software made creating new fonts more efficient, MetaDesign refined the Bundespost typeface for its own exclusive use, renaming it Meta.


the cap height is determined by how tall your uppercase letters are

First, let’s understand a few things an attempted crash course in typography in a single page

the x-height

b k y o z n is determined by how tall your lowercase letter is

the ascender

the baseline is there because your pretty letters need to sit somewhere, right?

is like the neck of your wine bottle. It’s what makes that tall part look hip.

the junction

is where things connect


the counterform


is the inside space in your letter that is crucial to its proper functioning

—think of them as the bottle cap on your bottle of wine

the stem holds the letter upright. Think of it as a flagpole, of sorts.

the descender dips below the baseline and can choose to do so stylishly

A n


the serif

the bowl

is like a letter’s shoe. It gives them some security when they stand. Meta does not have this feature, which is what makes it a “sans serif” typeface

is like the letter’s belly. Though, as you can see, the bowl of this lowercase g is open. This is actually a characteristic that makes Meta rather unique.


G What makes Meta unique? an understanding of why Meta is just weird


curved stems The slight curvature gives the typeface a neat, quirky look.


no spur There is no spur, allowing for the bottom to round out nicely.


odd junctions Seriously. What?


A trait similar to...

bent ascenders

believe it



angled finials A characteristic shared by other letters as well


wavy tail curved leg


a a Helvetica Regular 256pt

Meta is different because not all sans serifs look the same

meta vs. helvetica As you can see, at the same point size, Meta is slimmer in several ways.


Meta Book Roman 256pt

a a Meta


Futura’s counterform is a circle, instead of a nuanced tear drop



g A

Gill Sans has a smaller x-height, and the spur at the end flips upward.

Gill Sans

eta vs. others

Gill Sans is wider because of the larger counterform.

Gill Sans


A A Futura Meta

g the open bowl Baskerville also shares this interesting trait



“a real typeface needs rhythm, needs contrast, it comes from handwriting, and that’s why i can read your handwriting, you can read mine. and i’m sure our handwriting is miles away from helvetica or anything that would be considered legible, but we can read it, because there’s a rhythm to it, there’s a contrast to it. helvetica hasn’t got any of that.”


interviewer: why, fifty years from now, is [helvetica] still so popular? [sigh] bad taste ubiquitous?

erik spiekermann does everything (including designing meta)

Erik Spiekermann, born in 1947, calls himself an information architect. He is equally comfortable and prolific as a writer, graphic and typeface designer, but type is always at the epicenter of this communication dynamo. Even as a child, Spiekermann was drawn to the typographic arts. “I had a little printing press and taught myself to set type when I was twelve,” he recalls. “Years later, when I went to university to study art history, I made a living as a letterpress printer and hot metal typesetter.” When it comes to the design of typefaces, Spiekermann sees himself as more of a problem solver than an artist. His process for beginning a new typeface is simple and straightforward. “Identify a problem – like space saving, bad paper, low resolution, on-screen use – then find typefaces that almost work but could be improved,” he explains. “Study them. Note the approaches and failings. Sleep on it, then start sketching without looking at anything else.” 11



this book was designed by alex chiu

1, Available at

Sweet, Fay. MetaDesign: Design from the Word up.

a student at Washington University in St. Louis. This book

Fonts/DesignerProfiles/ErikSpiekermann.htm Accessed

New York: Watson-Guptil Publications, 1999. (A&A:

was created for Typography 1. All images belong to their

November 1, 2005

VNC999.6.G4 M48 1999 and Vault)

respective owners. This book was set in Scala Sans, Meta,

2 Leland M. Hill. Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of

Spiekermann, Erik and Ginger, E.M. Stop Stealing Sheep

Helvetica, Gill Sans, Futura.

Classic Typefaces (New York: RC Publications), 142-143.

& Find out how Type Works. USA: Hayden, 1993. (Vault)

3 Ibid., 143, 144.

Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefac-

4 Ibid., 145.

es/essays by Carolyn Annand ... [et al.]; edited by Philip B. Meggs and Roy McKelvey, New York: RC Publications, c2000. (A&A: Z250 .R45 2000)


abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz 1234567890 !?&,‘“[]()@#$%^&*~ knmlrqpowsuytzv


“the waves may come and go, but graphic design will always be about problem solving first, and style-making afterward.” –Erik Spiekermann


book created to display meta

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