Category Archives: Type

Meta Serif.

I don’t use the font, FF Meta, very much, in part because Apple uses it so beautifully and consistently that it’s hard to compete. (Apparently, Apple actually uses a customized version of the font.) Meta Sans has been around since 1984, and was designed by the inimitable Erik Spiekermann, the founder of Font Shop, one of the most important companies selling fonts today. (One more aside: Spikermann, who teaches in Bremen, Germany, also designed Berliner Grotesque, a font I used for the original branding of MANOVERBOARD.)
Today, FontShop created a beautiful, elegant and informative small site dedicated to its relatively recent release of FF Meta’s serif sister. Everything about the design screams “buy me” – the large type at the top, the cute twins below the fold, haloed in pink, and the smartly crafted facts and figures page. To font-heads like myself, the story of the design of Meta Serif is a soap opera with multiple threads, leads, starts, and stops. Three of my most favorite designers collaborated, including Spikermann, the brilliant Christian Schwartz, and Kris Sowersby of New Zealand, to design and build this font.
The site even validates, a very unusual occurrence for any site, but especially sites dedicated to typography for some reason.
Kudos Kudos to FF.

Empire State.

New York State continues to undergo crazy finger-pointing and gnashing of teeth with Spitzer’s assumed coming resignation. In nice contradistinction, I found today a new typeface by one of my favorite type designers, Christian Schwartz. It’s called Empire State Building and it’s lovely, lovely, lovely. The font captures the aspirational, heady days of ornament and art deco without looking treacly, worn, or old. It’s warm without being gothic, slick without feeling corporate, and legible without relying upon 2004 to make it modern. I don’t know if it fully captures the odd beauty of the building’s interior ground floor but it comes pretty close. Oh, it’s not for sale, by the way.


Design is funny.
For a reason that is unbeknownst to me, the only typeface I see these days in storefronts, on menus and in advertisments is Papyrus. It’s a pretty ugly [PDF] font. By that I mean that it’s both pretty and ugly. Mostly kind of ugly.
Designed in 1983, this font has been around a long time and it’s been part of the Linotype collection for a while. For the past few years (perhaps as many as 4), Apple purchased the rights to include the font in every installation of OS X and, thus, every hippy, gardener, menu designer, aesthete, movie goer, spa owner, granola maker, yogurt eater, book binder and peace activist who has purchased a Macintosh of late has had access to Papyrus.
The font looks like a hand-written, or slightly scrawled, message that was seriously bitten around the edges by termites and other semi-natural phenomenon. It has nice, large and easy-to-read capitals and a set of equally legible numbers, making it great for prices of beet juice. And the lower case text is round and real and slightly old with a slightly sweet face, looking much like a wide, wizened raisin in the sun of funky valley. The totality of the experience of seeing this font used over and over and over again is, for me, one of regret, desperation and remorse. Must anything remotely peaceable, naturalistic or organic have this font floating around it like a buzzard on a bison? Isn’t it possible that cold, aloof, and downright mechanical fonts (like ol’ Helvetica, new Gotham, or fine Locator) also could signify the possibility of social progress, the aspirations of non-GMO farming or the health of the soul?

Calibri, Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantia and Corbel

The vast majority of typefaces used on websites are Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, and Georgia. It’s getting boring and it’s in large part because Microsoft, which successfully produced and distributed out the beautiful first and last of these fonts, have been sitting on their hands. (Many have argued that their hands have been tied by, alternately or all together, their engineers, Google, lawsuits, competitors, customers, hackers, journalists, and Apple).
A few new typefaces are coming out soon because of Microsoft’s new OS and they have been shamefully coy in their release of information about these typefaces. Some details can be found. (A number of these fonts look like takes on the consitently beautiful Lucida Grande typeface that litters Mac browser windows.)
Apparently, these fonts may not be as widely disseminated as Verdana and Georgia. But it looks like they will be usable on a Mac, if they are indeed distributed.
Finally, a few people tried to make them downloadable and they have been asked to take them down.
I won’t hold my breath but it sure would be nice if Microsoft would step up to the plate and make Web typography more interesting, variable, sophisticated and formidable. No further information can be found at Microsoft’s Longhorn/Vista page.

Gentle Gentium

SIL International, a strange international organization that was originally called the Summer Institute of Linguistics, has created a nice new tyepface called Gentium. It’s being billed as a “typeface for the nations” and behind its sweet little face is the logic that any Latin-based language can be easily written using it. It comes with all of the diacritics and other forms that will make it a very useful font for multi-language publications. The font can be downloaded for free and is one of a very few open source fonts; this means that it will inevitably get modified and adjusted and transmogrified and coddled and massaged and knit and reknit into something probably ever more powerful, much like Firefox has recently with its newest release.

New Vista

I often feel like a shill for Emigre but they recently came out with a beautiful new typeface that has a tremendous amount of versatility and typographic dignity. It’s called Vista Sans and, to me, it provides a new vista without the “without.”
Vista is apparently based on many of the shop signs found in Sumatra by type designer Xavier Dupre.
In some ways it’s a sweet and more sophisticated combination of Linotype’s commercial Trade Gothic and FontBureau’s overused but fantastically clear-eyed Interstate. The range of odd weights and different kinds of numbers in the set makes this a bit of a must-have, at least on my wish list.

Thinking with Type

There are a ton of typography books out there these days and most of them are pretty awful. The “Type Style 2001” books are typically (pun unintended) yuck-o as they are immediately dated as soon ink hits the paper they’re printed on.
Our local Barnes and Noble has a surprisingly good selection of typography and graphic design books. Every month or so I visit those lovely shelves to see what’s around and what’s come in. This is always a more pleasant and more useful experience than looking for design books online, where everything looks wonderful. Today, amidst the Dover clip-art books (which I love), the Japanese anime design books, and the how-to books, was Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton.
This is a beautiful, stately, organized, thoughtful, historically-relevant, unpretentious, well-written, nicely designed, clear-headed, critically-oriented, short, vehement, structured, and elegantly constructed book that covers all of the typographic basics and, mostly, inspires. It’s up-to-date, and its examples include some nicely designed websites like Speak Up and recent font developments as well. Were I to someday write a typography book, I would hire Ms. Lupton to replicate this book and then I’d sign my name on the cover.

Gill Sans 1

There’s been a huge resurgence lately of the use of the Gill Sans typeface. It’s not clear why, but I see it in print everywhere these days — on posters, in brochures, and within reports. Unlike its most recent flare-up in the mid-90s, the current use of Gill Sans is rather spare and seems to accompany other slab serif typefaces like Bookman.
Here are some suppositions as to why Gill Sans is being used by designers yet again:
1. It’s a quick fix because it reads well for large amounts of set type and there is an assumption around that it hasn’t been seen in a while.
2. It’s a reaction to the sheer quantity of print design currently using Helvetica, which is essentially a refined version of Gill Sans.
3. As a supposedly “humanist” typeface, it’s legibility and friendliness is not off-putting to clients, which are in short supply and request nice, easy solutions.
4. It unwittingly harbors the start of a new economic depression as the Gill Sans’ original release, by Eric Gill around 1929, harbors remnants of the start of the Great Depression.
5. The lower-case “g” is nice.