Extreme Typographic Nerdery, Part 1: Making Sense of Type Classification

Collage of names of classifications of type

By from SmashingMagazine.com:

In my previous article on Smashing Magazine (“Understanding the Difference Between Typography and Lettering”), I wrote about how understanding type terminology can help us better appreciate the arts of typography and lettering. This article again deals with terminology, probably more specifically than most designers are used to, and the title gets to the heart of what I’m communicating in this article.

Everyone knows their serifs and sans, slabs and scripts, but most classifications go much deeper than that. Type classification, while helpful, is often convoluted, confusing and even controversial. This article, distilling some of the complexities into a more understandable format, lands somewhere in the middle between the basics and genuine type nerdery — the perfect level for a practicing designer.

Making Sense of Type Classification

Why Classify Type?

There’s a certain intellectual delight in knowledge, particularly knowledge about one’s field of work and study. More importantly, perhaps, there is a way in which seemingly impractical knowledge of one’s profession lends more credence to the designer. That being said, what you’ll read here is by no means impractical. It really comes down to solid design choices.

Sets film in 1920′s uses typeface from 1975.

A good grasp of type history will help you avoid typographic anachronisms, which, although often lost on the general public, do not escape the notice of many designers, as demonstrated in Mark Simonson’s article on the 2012 Oscar winner for Best Picture, “The Artist,” and his other typographic scrutinies of popular movies and media.

It’s not exclusively about the history of type, however. Type classification is also helpful in pairing typefaces for projects, sometimes based on historical proximity but also by noting similar features that unify the typefaces, such as axis or x-height. In some cases, by finding enough disparity in the small features, very different typefaces become complementary.

Most importantly, perhaps, this article will not only familiarize you with general type history and commonly used terminology, but also help you learn to look for and recognize important characteristics of type and the inexhaustible minutiae that make typefaces unique, as well as arm you with useful descriptors of type styles.

Type Classification Systems

Over the past century, quite a few classification systems have been proposed. Most are generally believed to be subjective and incomplete, and many of them use the same terms for similar but slightly different classes. The impossibility of a truly complete classification system has led many people to dismiss any attempt to classify typefaces — there are simply too many variables to make anything close to a practical, comprehensive system. Essentially, classification describes typefaces; it does not define them. It’s not inflexible, and is more of an aid than a rule. However, for the reasons given above, I believe there is value to be found in it. Below are a few examples.

The primary “official” classification system currently is the Vox-ATypI system. Originally put together in 1954 by Maxmilien Vox, it was adopted in 1962 by the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI), which made a minor change at the 2010 conference (appropriately, held in Dublin) to include Gaelic as an extra category. It classifies typefaces in 11 general categories, with some subdivision. Its Wikipedia article provides an excellent overview.

The British Standards Classification of Typefaces, adopted in 1967, is also based on Vox’s original classification. It is slightly simplified and has remained essentially unchanged since its adoption.

Bringhurst, in his Elements of Typographic Style — perhaps the standard in typographic textbooks today — categorizes typefaces loosely after periods of art history; for example, Baroque, Rococo, Romantic, etc. A book designer himself, Bringhurst focuses on text typefaces and practically ignores display type.

Others are much more general. An early system by French typographer Francis Thibaudeau, which provided the base for Vox’s later more thorough classification, includes four broad categories: Antiques (sans serifs), Égyptiennes (slab serifs), Didots and Elzévirs (faces with triangular serifs).

Gerrit Noordzij, while at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the Hague, held that typography was essentially an extension of handwriting, teaching typography using loose categories of letters that might be written with a broad-nib or pointed-nib pen, as well as interrupted or uninterrupted strokes, with varieties of both serifs and sans falling into each category.

These are just a few of the ways people have classified type over the years. In this two-part article, I will condense the various methods slightly and present what is at the very least generally accepted as legitimate (as there will always be a few out there who refuse to give up a particularly unusual classification method, or who decry any method at all).

[Full article]

Type-o-philes Scour NYC for Urban Signage Project

New York City signage: "No Parking"

By Jakob Schiller from Wired.com:

[Ed. Entertainingly, this article was originally titled “Type-o-PATHS Scour NYC for Urban Signage Project.”]

New York City is such a sensory overload, it’s easy to miss the details — like the graphical symphony of typography that’s playing under your visual field.

Nyctype.com aims to bring that symphony to the surface by capturing all the different typefaces that plaster the walls of New York City in an Instagram hashtag. From signs to posters to handbills, the site, which launched this week, hopes to highlight the ways in which letters and words help give New York a particular aesthetic and character.

“I feel like cataloging [the typography] is a celebration of the craft of design and of the city,” says Matthew Anderson, the site’s editor [continued below].

Anderson, 33, along with a couple of friends, started a similar blog back in 2007 but it was too sporadically updated. Now, thanks to more camera phones, Instagram and hashtags, they’ve found a solution. Their current site uses Instagram’s API and culls any photo with the hashtag #nyctype. Their contributor pool has, predictably, grown, and hundreds of submissions have already rolled in.

Anderson says he keyed in on typography because it’s an important part of every New Yorker’s daily life. Residents there are bombarded with visual messages. Unfortunately, he says, the uniqueness of the signs that fill the boroughs has been diminishing. Hand painted displays used to be more common but are on the decline and he’s personally on a mission to document as many of these one-offs before they disappear. He prefers the hand painted signs because he thinks there’s an art and certain amount of humanity to them. For him, the mass-produced or more corporate-looking signs that now dominate the city have less soul. (While graffiti makes its way onto the hashtag, it’s not Anderson’s focus).

“We have a visual culture that is erupting but it’s often guided by people who care more about marketing and less about design,” he says.

Down the road, Anderson says he’d like to find a streamlined way to incorporate higher-res photos taken by people with DSLRs. Including video is also a possibility. Beyond that, he’s thinking about white-labeling his website as a platform for general hashtag curation.

“My passion is typography,” he says. “But I realize that this is one of those ideas that could be used for any topic.”

20 Inspiring Typography Based Web Designs

"Lick Me I'm Delicious" web page

From WebDesignFact.com:

Typography is surely a very important element of web design. A website must have a good typographic that makes visitor to interpret its content. It’s becoming easier and easier, with better technologies, for designers to utilize great typography in their website designs. Few weeks ago, we have posted an article regarding vintage style typography within web design. Today we are representing some websites that illustrate great typography. Hope that you will find these examples inspiring. Enjoy!

typography website

typography website

typography website

typography website

typography website

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Responsive Typography is a Physical Discipline, But Your Computer Doesn’t Know It (Yet)

Perspective drawing of letterforms

Perspective drawing of letterformsBy Nick Sherman in Typography & Web Fonts via A List Apart:

For ideal typography, web designers need to know as much as possible about each user’s reading environment. That may seem obvious, but the act of specifying web typography is currently like ordering slices of pizza without knowing how large the slices are or what toppings they are covered with.

If someone asked me how many slices of pizza I wanted for lunch, I would probably say it depends on how large the slices are. Then—even if they told me that each slice was one eighth of a whole pie, or that they themselves were ordering two slices, or even that the slices were coming from Joe’s Pizza—any answer I might give would still be based on relative knowledge and inexact assumptions.

Such is the current situation with the physical presentation of responsive typography on the web. The information at a designer’s disposal for responsive design is virtually nonexistent outside the realm of software. Very little knowledge about the physical presentation of content is available to inform the design. The media query features of today can only relay a very fragmented view of the content’s actual presentation, and related terms from CSS are confusing if not downright misleading.

[Kind of long article]