Type Design

ITC Garamond

Michael Bierut hates ITC Garamond. I wouldn’t normally link to something like this, but unusually for Design Observer there are a couple of actual laugh-out-loud moments in the article, including this gem:

The most distinctive element of the typeface is its enormous lower-case x-height. In theory this improves its legibilty, but only in the same way that dog poop’s creamy consistency in theory should make it more edible.Michael Bierut

Go and have a read of the whole thing. It’s good to see an actual taste-based critique on something for a change. I’m a big supporter of backing up your statements with facts or reasoned arguments, but from time to time we’re all entitled to a bit of plain old raw opinion. And if you’d like to make up your own mind (why wouldn’t you?), here’s a sample of ITC Garamond Light:


Sample text from FontShop and Linotype.

Make The Type Bigger

I’ve been thinking for a little while that the text on Ministry of Type is maybe a tad too small, making me guilty (perhaps) of that terrible designers’ conceit, small type syndrome. I’ve been designing sites for clients lately with much larger text, around the 13-15pt range, and coming back to my own site with its small text gives me a bit of a jolt. So here goes, bigger text, and a switch to FF Dagny Web Pro from FontFont, delivered via Typekit. I like FF Dagny a lot for its own characteristics, but I have to admit I’m fond of it too because it reminds me of Univers and Folio. Of course, if either of those two Linotype faces were ever to be available for online embedding (ice-skating through Hades, anyone?) there’s no guarantee they’d actually work well in the browser anyway. Perhaps right now type designers at Linotype are working on web versions of their entire back catalogue?


Oh, and yes, I was thinking of this when I wrote the title.


Martin Schröder recently posted about the small amount of the beautiful Rautendelein script he has, and asked if anyone could shed some more light on it. He knows it was most recently cast by TypoArt, and all I’ve been able to find (thanks to a native German-speaking friend) is this entry on Google Books, listing the face as being produced by Schelter & Giesecke (which became TypoArt when it was nationalised by the East German government in 1946).

It’s a lovely face, and like Schröder I’m impressed at the casting, and like he says it must be incredibly easy to lose those delicate overhangs, and a real pain to have to lock all the sorts together with those little notches. So, any ideas, anyone? He can be contacted here.


For the Love of ‘&’

There seems to be a lot of ampersand-related activity about at the moment. Ampersands are of course beautiful things, and occupy a special place in most designers hearts, so you’d expect there to be a constant low-level hum of ampersand appreciation online, but two projects came up recently that are particularly interesting.

The first is a straightforward commercial venture, by Haäfe and Haph, who have designed a set of 10 display ampersands, on sale for $9.99. That’s less than seven quid! Of course I bought the set, how could I not, for I am weak:


The second project is Font Aid IV, organised by the Society for Typographic Aficionados to raise money for the earthquake rescue and reconstruction in Haiti. The idea is to get submissions for ampersand designs from loads of designers, assemble them together into a font and sell it, giving all the profits to Doctors Without Borders. Yves Peters wrote a bit more about the project on the FontFeed here, and there’s a good selection of submissions on this Typophile thread. Some of them are really rather lovely — a few of my favourites are below — I look forward to the font being available to buy:

From left to right, submissions by Sulekha Rajkumar, Jos Buivenga, Victor Zuniga, Oleg Macujev and Anderson Maschio. I curse my own talents for procrastination for not doing one myself.

Another recent post is this one by Alex on ISO50, showing some of his favourite ampersands and talking of the variations in the ampersand and the challenges in drawing the symbol. There’s also a calendar project showing a different ampersand every day, 300&65 and a whole blog about ampersands, called (you guessed it) Ampersand.

Then of course there’s Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ middle name, with historical information on the various forms of ampersands and how they appear in H&FJ fonts.

I can end this post with an appropriate quote from Bringhurst, “In heads and titles, use the best available ampersand”. You’ve a lot of choice, even online — even more if you use a font service, or some other method for showing type online.


One of the design sites I read regularly is Fubiz, and on there I recently read this post on Daniel Carlsten’s work for the new gambling site, Gnuf. I’m rather fond of the type and iconography of playing cards (as I’ve posted before), so a new identity using many of those themes is going to get my attention, especially as Carlsten has designed a typeface for Gnuf based on them. Looking at how the whole identity works on gnuf.com, I like how he’s not tried to ‘smooth out’ the type, keeping the instead the odd widths and shapes of the letters and numerals and their exaggerated, oddly-placed serifs. I guess there are free fonts out there that do the playing card thing well enough, since the theme hardly requires fine kerning or balance, but it’s unusual and worthy of comment to see it as part of a nicely integrated identity like this. It’s worth checking out the rest of Carlsten’s work too, there’s some lovely work in his portfolio.


The Exquisite Book

Browsing earlier, I came across this blog post for The Exquisite Book. It’s a book project involving ten groups of ten artists, including fine artists, illustrators, designers and comic artists, where each artist creates one page having only seen the previous page. It’s roughly the same idea as a game you may have played as a child, which I’ve only just learned was invented by the Surrealists and was called The Exquisite Corpse. I can’t remember what we called it, but certainly not that.

Anyway, the book project looks like one worth following, and the blog post has a few sample pages. I’ll be interested to see how it ends up looking as a collection, and what the binding will be. I was especially interested in the sketch for the book title page (below left) and had a play with the idea in Sketchup.


Some output from Sketchup, from me playing with the ideas in the sketch from The Exquisite Book site at bottom left. To match the sketch I used a mix of Century Gothic and Helvetica - and some hand lettering naturally.

Measuring Type

I’ve just seen this project on Swiss Miss and I really like the idea. Matt Robinson and Tom Wrigglesworth compared how much ink different common typefaces use at the same point size by drawing them out on a wall using biros. It’s not a scientific analysis or anything but it is a gloriously fun thing to do. I like the way they ended up with a graph made out of biros at the end of it, showing how much ink is left — the resulting evidence is its own data. It’s a great way of explaining typographic colour too. Love it.


Dot, Dot, Dot


Some time ago I quietly redid the logo for The Ministry of Type, recreating the crown image out of little dots. I didn’t make an announcement out of it at the time, but I was (and am) pleased with it — it’s a lot more me now. I had a number of reasons for wanting to redo it, mainly that even though I drew the original crown image, it was very close to the official ones, and related to that, those Keep Calm and Carry On posters have become so incredibly popular that I’ve had more than one person ask whether there was a link between them and my site. Short and long answer: no, there isn’t.

So, it was time to redo it, and with the dots I was feeling very pleased with myself indeed, until the very next day when I saw a link on TypeNeu (I think) to the recent work of Brighton’s own Colophon foundry, specifically their typeface Perfin, which has a crown made of dots in it. Consternation! Had I unwittingly ripped them off? But no, their crown is very different from mine, and I’m pretty sure I had my idea without seeing theirs, and more importantly, there’s plenty of room in the world for lots of things made of dots. Still, it did provide a nice excuse to get in touch and I can confirm they’re an extremely talented and nice bunch of people. Here’s a bit of Perfin, designed by Alison Haigh for Colophon, you can see their inspiration for the face: the perforations and dot-matrix printing Royal Mail use to identify post in their systems.

Perfin, designed by Alison Haigh for Colophon. Images courtesy of Colophon.

That was some time ago, and I was reminded that I’d meant to make a post on this when I read on Brand New about the new Pfizer branding. Ignoring for a moment the regrettable update to their logo, I was drawn to the other brand assets that Siegel+Gale produced for them — the dotted illustrations and typeface, below.


I can imagine that there were all sorts of discussions that likened the dots to pills or something or other, but to me, thinking of Pfizer as one of those old 20th Century companies like ICI, IBM and all that, I had images of mid-century computer displays, specifically a type of nixie tube called (I think) a pixie tube. I’ve got a picture of some basic nixie tubes below, as it seems that the type I’m familiar with—where the letters are formed from individual points of light — are quite rare. Indeed, this is the closest I could find online to the type I saw in my father’s and grandfather’s workshops. They’re really rather beautiful things:


A couple of nixie tubes. Image courtesy of Adam Greig on Flickr.

Update: If you’re interested in perforated typefaces, you may also like to take a look at Dividend, from Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Amusingly, there’s also an article on typography.com about nixie tubes.

So yes, that Pfizer logo change. Overall, it’s good, but it’s just that P. It seems so disconnected from the rest of the name now — I really think they should have kept the serif in it, it provided a visual ‘push’ of the P into the F. Just my opinion, mind.


I have a new favourite typeface. I’m a bit partial to slab serifs (a long time fan of Egyptienne) but projects that call for them don’t come up all that often. I was looking for a new face for a client’s project on FontShop the other day and, lo, Amasis was featured right there on the home page — it’s an Egyptian (hey, the clue is in the name) but with strong humanist characteristics and, while it also looks lovely at display sizes, its real strength is to stay perfectly readable as body text. So yes, it turns out it was also perfect for the client’s project, and I’ve bought a couple of the weights for myself.


Amasis Regular and Bold. Some text from Wikipedia, other bits from Herodotus’ Histories.

Amasis was designed by Ron Carpenter in 1992 and is available from Monotype directly, from FontShop (where I got it) and of course, other quality typeface establishments.


I came across this a week or so ago - another thing found on Behance if I remember correctly, and I’ve had a bit of a play around with it. I like the idea of a Fontstruct-style system for Blackletter, and I can see that Jan Schöttler has created some quite lovely things with it, but without looking at the PDF in Illustrator I would find it far, far easier to draw the letters with a pen and brush than make them with this kit. It reminds me of a Tangram puzzle game in a way. I had a play around with it and created the word below, which is tending a bit too much towards the death-metal band logo for my tastes, but hey, it has a bit of charm. Maybe you will have a better experience with it (warning, Flash site).

Ho hum. It would look more at home scratched in biro on a schoolbag, I think.
The parts.
The parts, assembled.