Davidthedesigner's fab fonticle

20 August 2008

vee have vays of making you type

(With apologies to all you Germans out there.)

Well, here we are approaching the end of this series. It doesn’t seem as though I’ve been posting fonts more than twice a month, but I must have speeded up somewhere along the line as I shouldn’t be reaching Z until November. Maybe X will stop me in my tracks: we’ll just have to wait and see.


But here we are at V, and first up is Van Dijck – which, you may be surprised to hear, wasn’t designed by the man with the strange ‘cockerney’ accent who starred in Mary Poppins. Instead it was Christoffel van Dijck, one of the great 17th-century Dutch typefounders, who gave the font its name. Though this modern version of the font may not have been cut by him, it is nevertheless representative of the best designs from the 1600s, and was drawn at Monotype under the supervision of Jan van Krimpen. However, Van Dijck Italic, for which original punches survive, is almost certainly the work of van Dijck himself.

And in complete contrast, next up is Verdana. It’s perhaps a given that this series is really all about type that has been designed for the printed page: that’s something that can’t be avoided. But if I were to be compiling this list at the beginning of the 22nd century, it would be interesting to see how many of them might be fonts that had been specifically designed for reading on screen. And whether Verdana would still be there.

Designed by Matthew Carter, and released in 1996, Verdana was bundled with subsequent versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating system, as well as their Office and Internet Explorer software on both Windows and Mac OS. In addition, it was long available for download from Microsoft’s web site allowing it to be used by any system supporting TrueType fonts. As a result, it is now installed on most desktop computers.

22 July 2008


If I had to choose just one font (instead of the 52) that I could use instead of Helvetica, then I think that would really have to be Univers. I love it. And I love it because it’s so damn difficult to use. In my view, it’s the one font that sorts the men from the boys.

It’s arguably one of the greatest typographic achievements of the second half of the 20th century. The family has the advantage of having a variety of weights and styles, which, even when combined, give an impression of steadiness and homogeneity. In 1954 the French type foundry Deberny & Peignot wanted to add a linear sans serif type in several weights to the range of the Lumitype fonts. Adrian Frutiger, the foundry’s art director, suggested refraining from adapting an existing alphabet. He wanted to instead make a new font that would, above all, be suitable for the typesetting of longer texts – quite an exciting challenge for a sans-serif font at that time. Starting with his old sketches from his student days at the School for the Applied Arts in Zurich, he created the Univers type family. In 1957, the family was released by Deberny & Piegnot, and afterwards, it was produced by Linotype. The Deberny & Peignot type library was acquired in 1972 by Haas, and the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas Type Foundry) was folded into the D. Stempel AG/Linotype collection in 1985/1989. In 1997, Frutiger and the design staff at Linotype completed a large joint project of completely re-designing and updating the Univers family.

And now to a new discovery (for me at least) – which is the way of this little series: it makes me go out and hunt things down when I get to particular letters and nothing obvious springs to mind.

It’s Utopia. It was designed by Robert Slimbach for Adobe in 1992, and was intended to solve a number of typographic problems related to office correspondence. This demanded versatility, so Slimbach created a font family with cuts for text, for titles, extra bold for headlines, small caps, all caps with numerals, old face numerals, fractions, ligatures and scientific markings.

07 July 2008

the times they are a-…

Trajan-1So, I’ve got to T – and I was trying to find a way of avoiding Times. Because (and do please correct me if I’m wrong) Times is the serif equivalent of Helvetica. It surrounds us. We see it everywhere. Sometimes used well. But more often than not, used without thinking – simply because it’s there. It’s successful though, there’s no denying that.

And, talking of success, I really can’t avoid including Trajan – can I? Because it’s found its way onto this blog before: and more than once, which is more than you can say for every other font in this series. It first appeared here last summer. Then, just before Christmas, Richard put me on to the little video about it being the movie font (which is well worth watching again). And if that weren’t enough, it tried to sneak in early by masquerading as a J-font. So, love it or loathe it, it has to be here, doesn’t it?

Designed by Carol Twombly for Adobe in 1989, it is – as they say – a modern classic.

My second T wasn’t quite so easy to decide upon, though. There are lots of fonts that begin with T, that’s for sure – like Tabitha, Taffy, Talking Drum and Tom Boy. All useful if you’ve got to knock out a poster for the village fete, say. But nothing much to get a serious designer’s juices flowing.

I was sorely tempted to include Torino Italic after Mike Dempsey sang its praises last week. But, as beautiful as it is, I thought we needed a little grist to counter the ‘perfection’ of Trajan. Here instead, therefore, is…


The first cuts of Trade Gothic were designed by Jackson Burkein 1948. He continued to work on further weights and styles until 1960 while he was director of type development for Mergenthaler-Linotype in the USA. Trade Gothic does not display as much unifying family structure as other popular sans serif font families, but this dissonance adds a bit of earthy naturalism to its appeal. Trade Gothic is often seen in combination with roman text fonts, and the condensed versions are popular in the newspaper industry for headlines.

There we are then – suited to a T.

01 July 2008

there’s no scratching around this week

Forgive me, forgive me, but I’m going to start this post with a moan. Why is it that organisations like to tinker around with what they’re giving you, dress it up as ‘making the user experience a whole lot better’, and in the process make life ten times more exasperating? And then refuse to listen to you when you question what they’re doing?

I logged on to my bank account yesterday morning to make a payment – to a new supplier. A few clicks of the button should do the trick. But, oh no. The service has been upgraded and I can’t do that any more. Now I’m told I have to phone a ‘team’ on a premium-rate number. Turns out, after spending an hour on the aforementioned premium rate number, that my account is being ‘migrated’ and in future I’ll need a card reader to carry out that transaction. Except they can’t send me a card reader because my migration is still pending. Well, why don’t you tell me that on your web site, NatWest Bank, instead of wasting an hour of my time? Oh, I see, it’s to improve security. But what about my ‘user experience’: you’ll pass my comments on to a ‘customer care team’ who will call me back within the next 48 hours. THANKS A BUNCH.

And so to TypePad – who have also ‘improved’ their service. Not for me, though TypePad: because the search tool is no longer available to some users. THANKS A BUNCH.

Because, you know what? I’d really like to use that search tool. Why? Because I want to mention Matthew Carter in this post (when I get around to starting it), and I know I’ve mentioned him before on this blog – but I can’t remember when. Easy to find with a search tool. But without, I’d have to go back and read every post I’ve ever written in order to find it. THANKS A BUNCH.

But of course, NatWest Bank and TypePad don’t read this blog, do they? No, they’re too busy ‘improving’ their services. THANKS A BUNCH.

So, sorry to put you through that lot, dear reader. At least I feel a bit better now. And so, on to the real stuff: the 52 fontsand the letter S. And, once again, I’m spoilt for choice.
SabonAh, that’s better already, isn’t it? Sabon: designed by the great, the one-and-only, Jan Tschichold. And I must say that I was tickled by the description of Tschichold on the Textism site: ‘a shit-disturber of the highest order‘.

Tschichold designed Sabon in 1964, and it was produced jointly by three foundries: D. Stempel AG, Linotype and Monotype. This was in response to a request from German master printers to make a font family that was the same design for the three metal type technologies of the time: foundry type for hand composition, linecasting, and single-type machine composition. Tschichold turned to the sixteenth century for inspiration, and the story has a complicated family thread that connects his Sabon design to the Garamond lineage.

Jakob Sabon, who the type is named for, was a student of the great French punchcutter Claude Garamond. He completed a set of his teacher’s punches after Garamond’s death in 1561. Sabon became owner of a German foundry when he married the granddaughter of the Frankfurt printer, Christian Egenolff. Sabon died in 1580, and his widow married Konrad Berner, who took over the foundry. Tschichold loosely based his design on types from the 1592 specimen sheet issued by the Egenolff-Berner foundry: a 14-point roman attributed to Claude Garamond, and an italic attributed to Robert Granjon. Sabon was the typeface name chosen for this twentieth-century revival and joint venture in production; this name avoided confusion with other fonts connected with the names of Garamond and Granjon.

A beautiful, beautiful font. Use it wherever and whenever you can.

And love them or loathe them, but every designer really needs to have a script face up his sleeve for use in emergency situations. Put your money on Snell Roundhand.

It was designed in 1965 by Matthew Carter. Conception and design were both based on 18th century round hand scripts. The font has an elegant and festive feel and its capitals can also be used as initials mixed with other alphabets. Or so it says here.

27 June 2008

let’s start another one of those alphabetical series things, shall we?

I know I’m going to regret this one day, but in the spirit of 52 fonts you could use instead of helvetica (which hopefully will get through to Z) I thought why not try another subject? Now, you know there’s only one davidthedesigner, don’t you? But what about all the other professions? Do they have bloggers with names? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.

But here’s a start at least: let me introduce you toalicethearchitect. Hello Alice. I particularly like this little story of yours about clients who are best avoided.

20 June 2008

i’m on a roll: i’ve got to the Rs

I’m supposed to be posting two fonts every two weeks, but I’m afraid I’ve lost track of where I am on the schedule. I know there were some weeks that I skipped when I had some difficult letters further back in the alphabet and I was struggling to find fonts that I’m prepared to post up here. And now I’ve hit a bit of a winning streak where I’m spoilt for choice. So, first up is a perfectly appropriate follow-on fromlast week’s Quadra:

RockwellUnusually for this series I can’t give you the name of the designer, for it’s attributed only to the Monotype Design Studio, and first appeared in 1933. However, it can trace its roots back to the London type founder, Vincent Figgins, who released the first successful slab, or ‘square’, serif typeface in 1815. Unlike classical serif faces, this design had blunt, straight-edged serifs and almost no thick-thin contrast in the stroke weights. The face was a cap-only design called Antique and was offered in three sizes.

About the same time, William Caslon IV brought out a mono-weight sans serif typeface called Egyptian. This term was soon used to label all slab serif typefaces, and is still in use today.

By 1825, more slab serif typefaces appeared, now with lowercase characters. The popularity of these designs waxed and then waned again during the first three decades of the twentieth century, until geometric sans serif typefaces became popular. Soon, new slab serif typefaces patterned after geometric shapes began to be released. The Rockwell family, first issued in 1933, is Monotype’s answer to this typographic style.

Rockwell’s precursor was a design called Litho Antique, produced by the Inland Type Foundry in 1910. American Type Founders revived the face in the 1920s, with Morris Fuller Benton cutting several new weights. The Monotype Corporation produced its version of Rockwell in 1933; unfortunately, some of the literature erroneously referred to it as Stymie Bold, thereby creating confusion that still exists today.

RotisAnd next is Rotis, designed by the great Otl Aicher in 1989. It’s a comprehensive family group with Sans Serif, Semi Sans, Serif, and Semi Serif styles, for a total of 17 weights including italics. The four families have similar weights, heights and proportions; though the Sans is primarily monotone, the Semi Sans has swelling strokes, the Semi Serif has just a few serifs, and the Serif has serifs and strokes with mostly vertical axes. Rotis has become something of a European zeitgeist. This highly rationalised yet intriguing type is seen everywhere, from book text to billboards. The blending of sans with serif was almost revolutionary when Aicher first started working on the idea. Traditionalists felt that discarding serifs from some forms and giving unusual curves and edges to others might be something new, but not something better. But Rotis was based on those principles, and has proven itself not only highly legible, but also remarkably successful on a wide scale.


Rotis is easily identifiable in all its styles by the cap C and lowercase c and e: note the hooked tops, serifless bottoms, and underslung body curves. Aicher was a long-time teacher of design and had many years of practical experience as a graphic designer. He named Rotis after the small village in southern Germany where he lived.

12 June 2008


I thought that Q was going to be one of the difficult ones, and I’ve certainly not got any typeface that begins with Q in my own font collection. But that’s the circumstance that makes me go out and do a bit of hunting, and that usually results in some nice surprises. Like Quadra 57, for instance:


I can’t tell you very much about it, except that it was designed by Karl-Heinz Domning in 1974 for the H. Berthold AG Typefoundry, Berlin. And I can’t tell you anything about Karl-Heinz Domning, either. Which is a shame. Because it’s a rather fine font, in a butch kind of way, don’t you think?

But I can tell you a bit more about David Quay (or at least let his website tell you for me). He designed Quay Sans in 1990:


According to Linotype, it’s one of the precursors to the long run of functionalist European sans serif faces that has been a dominating force in type design since the 1990s, and is based on the proportions of 19th Century Grotesk faces. Grotesk, the German word for sans serif, defines an entire branch of the sans serif movement, which culminated in the 1950s with the design of  Helvetica.

ITC Quay Sans is made up of very simple, legible letters. The weights of the strokes throughout the alphabet vary very little. Microscopic flares on the ends of each terminal add a bit of dimension to the design. This helps prevent the onset of the monotony, a danger when one repeats countless near mono-weight stroked letters throughout a large body of text. ITC Quay Sans is a very readable face; it works equally well in all sizes.

05 June 2008

the power of the Ps

Eleven months ago – way before I started this little series of 52 fonts – I wrote about Perpetua. At the time, of course, Barack Obama was the outsider – the man who stood very little chance of becoming president. Which just goes to show how the right choice of font can do wonders for your image.

PalatinoAnd talking of winning, I have lots to thank Palatino for. Because way back at the beginning of my career I won a Royal Society of Arts bursary, thanks to its use in my ‘Heritage Trust’ project submission.

Here’s what the Hampshire Chronicle had to say:

Local Man Takes Top Typography Award

A Winchester man was recently awarded the top bursary in Typography in the Industrial Design Bursaries competition of the Royal Society of Arts.

[davidthedesigner], who is a graphic designer, formerly attended the Southampton College of Art for four years. He submitted his entry in September of last year and received his award recently in London, at the Society’s headquarters.

Forty-five candidates took part in the typography section alone, and this was eight more than in the previous year. Those entering had to assume that they had been commissioned by an organisation owning properties of historic interest, to re-design its printed matter in order to give it a unified and recognisable style. Typographical layouts were required for a give-away leaflet, letterheading, membership card, one of a series of booklets on country houses, and one of a series of posters.

Commenting on [davidthedesigner]‘s entry, the jury wrote: “[davidthedesigner] showed maturity and commendable professionalism in his analysis of the problem, and his presentation and report were quite outstanding. His layouts and specification were clear and accurate, so that it would have been possible to put the work in hand for immediate production.

“These qualities made his submission stand out among those of other competitors, although it was fealt that his treatment of some of the items created a slightly aggressive feeling not altogether suitable for the subject.

“The overall corporate identity, however, came over consistently and the concern for the use of his scheme in relation to the future development of The Heritage Trust showed a practical approach. His poster was intelligently handled and particularly attractive,” stated the jury report.

Sometimes, just sometimes, it feels like it’s been downhill ever since.

23 May 2008

an optimastic outlook

OptimaYes, I know. But I really couldn’t resist that heading. Sorry.To be honest, I don’t really like Optima, and I’d walk a million miles in order to avoid using it. But the whole point of this little avoiding-helvetica series is that sometimes I’m going to have to confront some demons. And at least the story behind Optima is an interesting one: so maybe I’ll need to pull it out of my dusty old type drawer and give it another go.

Optima was designed by Hermann Zapf and is his most successful typeface. In 1950, Zapf made his first sketches while visiting the Santa Croce church in Florence. He sketched letters from grave plates that had been cut about 1530, and as he had no other paper with him at the time, the sketches were done on two 1000 lire bank notes. These letters from the floor of the church inspired Optima, a typeface that is classically roman in proportion and character, but without serifs. The letterforms were designed in the proportions of the Golden Ratio.

In 1952, after careful legibility testing, the first drawings were finished. The type was cut by the famous punchcutter August Rosenberger at the D. Stempel AG type foundry in Frankfurt. Optima was produced in matrices for the Linotype typesetting machines and released in 1958. With the clear, simple elegance of its sans serif forms and the warmly human touches of its tapering stems, this family has proved popular around the world. Optima is an all-purpose typeface; it works for just about anything from book text to signage. It is available in 12 weights and 4 companion fonts with Central European characters and accents.

In 2002, more than 50 years after the first sketches, Hermann Zapf and Akira Kobayashi completed Optima Nova, an expansion and redesign of the Optima family.

OctavianAnd now on to Octavian, which was designed by Will Carterand David Kindersley for the Monotype Corporation in 1961.

Will Carter described it thus: “While the ultimate authority is the ancient inscriptional pattern, the physical characteristics of the present rendering are manifest in the economic proportions of the shapes and the modified relations of the strokes. Thus, the letters are narrower than the classical forms and their weight heavier.”

Apparently, Octavian is a fine book font and works well for other text settings that are less demanding, such as magazines and brochures. I’ve never used it, though.

21 May 2008

the man who detests helvetica

WeinerHere’s a rather sweet little film about Lawrence Weiner. He apparently splits his time between New York and Amsterdam, but on this showing one rather suspects that he lives in the south east corner of the Hundred Acre Wood, in an area called ‘Eyore’s Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy and Sad’.

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