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A Humanized Sans-Serif Typeface Created by Erik Spiekermann


Erik Spiekermann Erik Spiekermann, born in

In 1988, Spiekermann

withdrew from the management

1947, calls himself an info-

started FontShop, a digital

of MetaDesign in 2000 to work

rmation architect. He is equally

typeface foundry and distributor

on a new project: The United

comfortable and prolific as

of fonts. Spiekermann currently

Designers Network, a collab-

a writer, graphic and typeface

holds a professorship at the

oration of many designers he

designer, but type is always

Academy of Arts in Bremen,

has worked with over the years.

at the epicenter of this com-

is vice president of the German

munication dynamo. Even as

Design council, president

of typefaces, Spiekermann sees

a child, Spiekermann was drawn

of the International Institute

himself as more of a problem

to the typographic arts. “I had

of Information Design, pres-

solver than an artist. His process

a little printing press and taught

ident of the International

for beginning a new typeface is

myself to set type when I was

Society of Typographic Designers

simple and straightforward.

twelve,” he recalls. “Years later,

and a board member of ATypI.

when I went to university to

His book, Stop Stealing Sheep,

study art history, I made a living

first published in 1993, has sold

as a letterpress printer and hot

over 150,000 copies and is

metal typesetter.”

currently in its second edition. He

When it comes to the design


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.

Origins of the Typeface In 1984, the German State Post

1985, the project was canceled.

confounded by Erik

Office, the Budespost, was

The Bundespost returned to

Spiekermann. FontShop

persuaded by Erik Spiekermann

using one of its many previous

encouraged the parent

of MetaDesign to commission

typefaces, Helvetica, assuming

company to license the face.

a new, exclusive font for use

that digital type would not

Released as FF Meta, it has

on all of the Budespost’s

catch on.

become one of the most

printed material. The aim of

In 1989, after design software

successful typefaces available

the project, which began in

made creating new fonts more

from FonFont, a subsidiary of

1985, was to develop a face

efficient, MetaDesign refined


that was easy to read in small

the Bundespost typeface for its

sizes, available in several

own exclusive use, renaming it

weights, unmistakable as an

Meta. Initially, Meta was just

identity, and technologically

used for in-house projects, but

up-to-date. Although the font

soon MetaDesign began to use

was digitized, tested, and

it in mail-order catalogs for

approved in the summer of

FontShop, a digital type foundry,

Characteristics of the Typeface It has a wider opening in the C, which also has angled finials.

Meta has capitals with flat apices, similar to those of Helvetica.

The K has one junction, and the junction of the M rests on the baseline, like Helvetica, except that Meta stems are oblique.

The E has an extended base, while the base of the G has no spur and the J, no loop.

The junction and base of the W are both flat.

Angled finials also occur in the top strokes of the E, F, G, and on both ends of the S.

The tail of the Q is wavy and the leg of the R is slightly curved.

The Z has angled finials on both ends, unlike the lowercase z, which has an upright finial at the top and an angled one at the bottom.

The finials of the v, w, and y are slightly angled, unlike the Meta family capital letters.3

Several of Meta lowercase have particular traits that distinguish the face from other sans serifs. The ascenders of the b, k, h, and

l are slightly bent at the top, a feature that is carried through the stems of the m, n, p, q, and the spur of the u. The finials of the v, w, and y are slightly angled, unlike the Meta family capital letters.3

Comparison Other distinguishing features include the double-storied g that has a highly unusual open bowl. This is a feature shared by the transitional typefaces Baskerville and Cheltenham; only a few other sans-serif typefaces, such as Kabel, have this feature. The l has a slight curved tail and the y has an offset junction.

Meta vs. Helvetica

Both Meta and Helvetica have

While the dots of Meta letterforms

Overall, Meta is a more condensed

thin shoulders.

and punctuation are rounded,

face than Helvetica, and it has only

Helvetica has square dots.

a slightly lower x-height.

The nuanced construction of the Meta typefaces sets it apart from Helvetica’s regularized structure, creating the face’s appealing personality.

Meta vs. Gill Sans

by Eric Gill, 1927

tangible Meta vs. Futura

by Paul Renner, 1932


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Bibliography Lawson, Alexander S. Anatomy of a typeface. Boston: D.R. Godine, 1990. (SC: Z250 L34 1990) Jaspert, W. Pincus. The Encyclopaedia of Typefaces. Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press; New York: Distributed in the U.S. by Sterling, c1983. (SC: Z250 J36 1983) Haley, Allan. Typographic Milestones. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, c1992. (SC: Z250 A2 H18 1992 4o) Friedl, Friedrich. Typography: An Encyclopedic Survey of Type design and Techniques Throughout History. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, c1998. (SC: Z250.A2 F76 1998 4o) Monotype Corporation. Garamond: A Specimen of a Classic Letter Reproduced in Eight Sizes for use on the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Monotype.â&#x20AC;? London: Lanston Monotype Corporation, 1926. (SC: Z250 M66) Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. Vancouver: Hartley and Marks, 2004. (A&A: Z246 B745 1996 and Vault) Meggs, B. Philip. A History of Graphic Design. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992. (A&A: Z244.5.M42 1998 and Vault) Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces, essays by Carolyn Annand ... [et al.]; edited by Philip B. Meggs and Roy McKelvey, New York: RC Publications, 2000. (A&A: Z250.R45 2000)

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This book was designed by Alix Marson in Typography I in the fall of 2012 at Washington University in St. Louis. It includes various fonts and weights of the typeface Meta.

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