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Introduction This context book is a personal investigation into the history and use of typefaces. My graphic design practise centres on the use of fonts in print, and I feel the choice of a typeface is one of the biggest decisions a designer can makes to control the look and feel of a piece of design. I have long been fascinated by the notion that some of the fonts that look the best in today’s design are actually centuries old, so I wanted to understand why type designed so long ago is still used. I have presented this research in the form of a personalised type specimen book. The typefaces included are in date order on a timeline with researched information or a quote about each one. I designed individual spreads to test out each font. The fold-out pages are laid out in a universal format so each font can be compared and contrasted. These pages use the selected typefaces with default kerning and leading, this may not show every font to its best, but for this book to be useful I wanted to be able to see which can be used straight out-of-the-box, and which need extra tweaking to look good on a page—think of these spreads as a type assault course, each tested for performance to be compared.

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Johannes Gutenberg

‘Generally regarded as the inventor of printing, in Mainz, Germany, in the 1440s. In fact it is likely his actual invention was limited to the brass moulds and matrices to produce lead type accurately in large quantities. (Laurens Koster in Haarlem probably made moveable type somewhat earlier.) Gutenberg brought together many existing technologies in the form of the screw press, wood-engraving, and punchcutting already used in many aspects of metal-working. His mission, like all the very early printers, was to emulate the writing of contemporary scribes.’

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e om . S da y r o r iz e h ist in popula ated, a e c verr ut— av e l fa rsia they h ink it o ing. B nit y e v ig tro th y th r( con e eve thers h ever pen d of a t s p o t o i o l d ple ty e m atest n’) an ping w th and exam e tota h t e e o h e r l s e t m i s g k r a t e n im ap erh it the , use C out of ith wa the pr ng, bu rmanc ed.’ p is ic er fo hi bt e ly v e , w n i s not r per e not nsid dou lusiv lo li slon ‘Ca ons co hen in kes, e ble, a r. Cas rs are a l l-sta s to b a e s e per to, ‘ W f mista y read tsoeve a l lett of an ompet a e l o t c u h s o h r d t n i i w g m ctio i v reve hat sh ns e e ndi col l orks, i prete the i t—the ction t s o e h it w has n whic hone h perf d t c n i n a u th face ong a has s e t y p t is str letter c effe h each ) c , 967 wh i man ces (1 r e b a Lie y pef Ben es of T Ty p

‘Designed by John Baskerville as his reaction to improving the Caslon typeface Baskerville remains metaphoric of the transitional period (between the Old Style and Modern). He practiced designing typefaces with higher contrast strokes and geometric letterforms which were less influenced by its more humanist cousin Caslon.

1754 Baskerville Baskerville’s ideologies were an influence to both Didot and Bodoni who lead the way to the modern type period.’



‘The Bodoni font distinguishes itself through the strength of its characters and embodies the rational thinking of the Enlightenment. The new typefaces displaced the Old Face and Transitional styles and was the most popular typeface until the mid-19th century. Bodoni’s influence on typography was dominant until the end of the 19th century and even today inspires new creations. Working with this font requires care, as the strong emphasis of the vertical strokes and the marked contrast between the fine and thick lines lessens Bodoni’s legibility, and the font is therefore better in larger print with generous spacing.’

‘D di ido w sp n th idt lay es a es h p a r im llow e c cre urp e m w p f h a at o s o th her air or rac e d es, st p e e r t h t e y n w co us ape del lar ead eir ris a m her mm a e rs ica ge ab u tic ic e o a nd of D , or te a m ilit se i s a an the nly p c h r y n ex on ap id fi a ou , e d a cl s e on ll irl n m tex m e cce use e u t r i i a s , n t o le n d si qu a e t n ht vi e n y w es of kin se der gan tua fo tp d t y nc p h c c g tt a t t r :// an e, ser efa en an op th ing ted g r ed di al ys d th ve ce re br y a em , t in ap co sp sa so ey s i s d ve ea re he t hi nt lay ba ph a n ep rs k h c ra a t st o u t e is re ur en d p b le ext e s eff sts and ie t r n. ic fre n ds ou wh e ss em ma ec or s at q to u t s bl t io u d p o en et. pr es ller s. str em og e a f W n ok isp .’ nt em on so pri At cti of si ot ly on h li n s ca co ze hil e i m t .c d u s st g h s e d a l n s e om ed ra -q . T o lle ch tra to t n to e t ua he i r s oic st de ha lit y ef nfe ize e no t q p fec rio s, t e u a r i n t iv r va lit y tin e lu . A g es s of

D id ot

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18 45

Clarendon ‘Clarendon is a slab-serif typeface created in 1845 by typographer and Lord Mayor of London, Robert Besley. The typeface was originally created for use by the Fann Street Foundry, a type foundry that specialized in display fonts. The name “Clarendon” comes from the Clarendon Press, a branch of the Oxford University Press. Because of Besley’s foresight and business acumen, Clarendon holds the distinction of being the first patented typeface in history. However, because of the popularity of the typeface, the patent didn’t stop imitators from duplicating the typeface and flooding the market with bootleg versions of Clarendon.’

R Bo egu ld lar

‘T pu he of nc C lo th hcu och u we is tt in m nus rca str er, fon vi ajo ua se on Co t in vac r ch l ele has g t chi is th ity ar ga lo ype n. ba e e d ac nc n fa C se w ig eri ter e. g a ce ha d w ht ve is T s w. o ee s tic he ce in rles n itc nt fro a c nd 19 P th fo h m nd ur er 1 ei e nt ce t v s 2 g s.c nt he the ed an . T no wor om ur en p as d he t k y.’ g an ce sh c co o ra d nd a a mm f vi q er rp pit i ei ng la i s al ss gh s o ck n t eri s ion te n fo he fs, are ed ent co ot it g h pp se ali iv squ the -ce er rif c lo ing ar r nt , p s. w C is ev ur ro Co er o h. iv y du c ca ch T al ce hin se in he d s o d an in v is Fr er a an all ce

Co ch in

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(1926) (DIN) (Engschrift) ‘The typeface was adopted by Germany in 1936 as a standard known as DIN 1451 (DIN is an acronym for Deutsches Institut für Normung– in English, the German Institute for Standardization). The typeface became a standard for traffic signs, street signs, house numbers and license plates. Over the next decades the typeface also found use on various household goods and products, making it synonymous with German design.’

1927 Futura ‘Unlike the ubiquitous and easily adaptable Helvetica, Futura can often be challenging to use. It was one of the first sans-serif fonts developed, and it was a radical departure from typography’s past. Developed by Paul Renner in 1928, Futura was a study in geometry. The characters are based on perfectly proportioned squares, triangles and circles, and the stroke is almost perfectly even throughout. These geometric shapes, however, coupled with exaggerated ascenders and descenders often create awkward spaces and can be problematic from a readability standpoint.’

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‘I think most people, whether interested in design matters or not, probably take Times New Roman for granted. I know I do. It’s one of those quietly hardworking typefaces that is very easy to read and with nothing in the way of quirky or artistic flourishes. Times New Roman is a rather puritanical typeface. It’s easy to imagine its individual letters dressed in sober Cromwellian garb. Baskerville is a Cavalier among types while Perpetua, something of a young goddess. As far as any typeface can be, Times New Roman is timeless. It is the serif equivalent, perhaps of a modern sans-serif type like Helvetica: clean, clear, regular and precise – a highly usable and more than satisfactory working tool.’ Jonathan Glancey,


Rockwell ‘Rockwell is a geometric slab serif design. Like many of its square-serif cousins, Rockwell has very heavy serifs with no bracketing. Changes in stroke weight are imperceptible.

Rockwell is an exceptionally robust design that evokes a feeling of straightforward honesty when set in text composition. It’s a strong, adaptable display face for headlines and posters, and is also legible in short text blocks. With nine weights, the Rockwell typeface family is a powerful and versatile graphic communicator.’

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.Helvetica . . . , ‘I don’t really get Univers but love Helvetica. The lovely sweep and subtlly modulating thicknesses of the lowercase Helvetica ‘a’ is much more interesting (and distinctive) than the cramped Univers affair. I would also cite (in no particular order) the Helvetica ‘k’, ‘e’, ‘G’, and ‘Q’ as head and (‘slightly’ square) shoulders above Univers alternatives. All Helvetica’s numerals are better than those in Univers, especially the swan necked ‘2’ and the sprung ‘7’ but also, less obviously, the sensitive proportions of the ‘3’. Even the ampersand and asterisk are superior in Helvetica.’ Simon Palmer


.Univers . . . ,

‘If I had to pick a side I would, without doubt, pick Univers as the superior typeface. It looks great in body text whereas Helvetica isn’t balanced as well. Although, I use Helvetica when I feel it suits the need.’ Stephen Lee Ogden

‘Univers was designed by Adrian Frutiger and released in the same year as Helvetica. Many Univers characters echo the problems that are found in Helvetica, especially in the almost closed forms and in the fact it had a sloped roman instead of an italic. But Univers was a much more original design, with one strong feature that was new in type design: it was made up of an almost scientific system of 21 weights and widths that could be mixed perfectly. It was an answer to the jungle of different sans serif faces that lacked a clear system of weights and widths.’

1955 -----------------------------Courier New -----------------------------12pt Regular -----------------------------12pt Bold ------------------------------

‘On the one hand, Courier New is the voice of raw clarity and transparency. It can be absorbed quickly, with little relative effort, which is why it is still the preferred font for screenplay drafts (many film festivals require copies of scripts in Courier 12). On the other hand, precisely because it has become the visual connoter of the kind of government doings executed by McNamara and his ilk, it has come to serve as blunt shorthand for secrecy or for the chilling revelation brought to light. Witness the appearance of Courier (or similar typewriter fonts) in places like the film poster for Costa-Gavras’ Z, or the “X” in The X-Files, or any number of History Channel documentaries dealing with espionage.’ Tom Vanderbilt

‘American Type Founders designed OCR-A in 1966 to be read explicitly by machines. To wit: All the character forms are the exact same width, which is great for processing data -- not so great for human eyeballs. Nevertheless, it has become wildly popular among graphic designers for its retro-techy aesthetic.’



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nt va .’ A y s rd wa wo ng o e th wr n e si i s th it r od tte es in o e m l g ti e c ks t h e w fe efa l oo a n e p th ty de le of ed ar hey G e T us n t t. an ins i s o t ab v a s A ru w d mo ce ody e s a e u h pl b as e t ly e r y n w v o E e om e e. rd ec h t d a T r ‘ a G sb uia G nt . It’ ng a e B Av tly e rrec Ed im t t co firs sed ’ . e u ‘Th as orld na w ew ig p th S Di ny o T

e d r a G t n a v A

{{ {{ 1969

Aachen ‘Type Director Colin Brignall designed Aachen

Bold in the 1960’s to capitalize on the freedom that photosetting and dry transfer lettering offered.’

Frutiger 55Roman


‘The availability of many variants and weights as well as its excellent legibility make Frutiger a very versatile font. It can be used for anything that needs a distinct and clean or modern look. Keep in mind that Frutiger is one of Linotype’s best selling fonts: it is not exactly an exclusive font.’


Meta ‘Spierkermann’s original brief for the German Post Office in 1984 called for a font optimized for “the detailed requirements of small type on bad papier”. This earlier font (PT 55) was not accepted by–


Meta the customer and the project was cancelled. Finally launched under the FF Meta brand name, it was one of the most popular typefaces of the last decade, often referred as the Helvetica of the 90’s.’


Meta h t t p : / / w w w. p l a n e t - t y p o g ra p h y. c o m




Hoefler Text

‘Hoefler Text is a serif typeface designed in 1991 by Jonathan Hoefler. Apple Computer commissioned Hoefler to create a typeface that would show off the Mac’s ability to handle complex typography with its advanced type technologies. Starting with System 7.5, every version of the Macintosh operating system has included a version of it. For sometime now, I’ve used Hoefler Text as my default font. It’s compact without being cramped, formal without being stuffy, and distinctive without being obtrusive. Jeff Croft sums it up perfectly: “You may never need another body type.” Mark Womack




Myriad ‘With the release of Adobe Illustrator version 10 a decade ago, Myriad became the application’s default font (an honor previously held by Helvetica). In turn, it became the default font for a generation of design dabblers and print shops—to whom the font dialog will remain a mystery. The typeface has shipped with its Creative Suite software ever since. Perhaps as a result, Myriad remains popular today, and can be spotted everywhere.’


Interstate ‘First released in 1994, Interstate was based loosely on the font family Highway Gothic, used by the United States Federal Highway Administration for road signs. Despite the specificity of its origins, Interstate was embraced universally by graphic designers and has been used on most everything, including the 2000 U.S. Census.’


Neutraface ‘Back in 2002, House released Christian Schwartz’s Neutraface, a family of fonts based on the architectural lettering specified by Richard Neutra in his gorgeous, modern architectural designs. It was epic. The type appeals to me on so many levels. In fact, architectural lettering was one of the factors most exciting to me about moving to Los Angeles several years ago.

But it occurred to me yesterday when looking at my junk mail (the physical kind that arrives in your mail box) that Neutraface is now everywhere. It’s an epidemic. It’s managed to find its way into all sorts of unlikely and inappropriate places—in my opinion, it’s somehow jumped the gap from highbrow to lowbrow better than any of House’s fonts that were intended to be lowbrow.’ Josh Korwin,

300 500 700


Museo ‘Museo was conceived out of the love for one letter form. In some kind of daydream I saw before me the letter ‘U’ with the endings bent. So it really started with my love for the letter ‘U’. The design of Museo was fairly straight forward. I remember a few things that really determined the design… Museo looked a bit like some piece of bent metal wire so I thought of making the stroke contrast as low as possible and I also wanted to keep the shapes simple like for instance a nice round geometric “O”. Jos Buivenga

2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010

Thin Light Regular Book Medium Bold Extra Bold Black

Eames Centry Modern

‘We started working on the Eames collection in earnest over three years ago, although we first started talking to the family in 1999. For us, there’s a lot of historic research, then even more hand wringing as we try to create beautiful and functional typefaces that honor their source material. We partnered with Dutch type designer Erik van Blokland to create the main text family, and I know he spent a solid three years on that alone.’ Rich Roat,


context book test spreads  

wort in progress