More than words: 6 typefaces that changed how we see the world (2022)

Written by Paul McNeil

Paul McNeil is a typographic designer with experience in brand and corporate communications. He is co-founder of London graphic design studio MuirMcNeil, and currently works as a Senior Lecturer in Typography at the London College of Communication. His latest book, "The Visual History of Type," published by Laurence King, is out now.

I've always been fascinated by type and typography as the central pillars of communication, rather than merely as part of a design toolkit, and have been studying them throughout my career.

A few years ago, I became aware of the absence of any definitive histories of type and, working with design students on a daily basis, I was also increasingly aware of their comparative lack of knowledge of the subject.

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My intention for "The Visual History of Type," my new book, was to fill those gaps, not solely because of the usefulness of helping designers understand how and why type works, but also because of the exceptional richness of its historical connections to technologies, to the aesthetic milieu of different eras and to social and ideological evolution. Type is a microcosmic representation of culture.

Here, I've picked 6 typefaces that I regard as either ground-breaking, influential or interesting.

Baskerville (1757)

More than words: 6 typefaces that changed how we see the world (2)

Courtesy St Bride

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In 2012, the documentary maker Errol Morris conducted a survey in which New York Times readers were asked whether they were optimists or pessimists. The covert objective of this experiment, which drew approximately 45,000 responses, was to discover if the fonts in which its statements were typeset had any impact on a reader's willingness to agree with those statements.

The result proved that Baskerville, a 250-year-old serif, was more credible than other typefaces as it was proven to positively influence the responses of readers. Designed and cut by John Baskerville in the 1750s, the character set is sharply defined with wide, regular proportions, open counter forms and a graceful curvature.

However, Baskerville's type was not regarded as readable, let alone trustworthy, when it was first used in 1757, one of his British competitors accusing its designer of "blinding all the readers in the nation; for the strokes of your letters, being too thin and narrow, hurt the eye."

Johnston (1916)

Just before World War I, England's foremost calligrapher, Edward Johnston, was commissioned by the London Underground Electric Railway Company to design a new typeface as part of a major program to renew the company's image.

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The work of a master craftsman, Johnson's Railway Type demonstrates the beauty and power of typography as a communication tool. A combination of letters with the proportions of classical Roman inscriptional capitals and radical new forms, it embodies an understanding of the history of letterform in every detail, reconciling humanistic and geometric attributes in ways that are without precedent.

Johnston's humanist, geometric sans serif was the original expression of the idea that a typeface could be a deliberate representation of its own time and place. Its many innovations had a galvanizing effect on the direction of type design, influencing everything that came after it.

Vormgevers lettering (1968)

More than words: 6 typefaces that changed how we see the world (5)

Vormgevers exhibition poster, Total Design for the Stedelijk Museum

Credit: Courtesy Stedelijk Museum

Wim Crouwel, renowned for his use of grid-based typography, once said: "The grid is like the lines on a football field. You can play a great game in the grid or a lousy game. But the goal is to play a really fine game."

At Total Design, the studio he co-founded in 1963, Crouwel directed all printed matter for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam after 1964, with every item designed systematically on the same invisible squared grid. In 1968, Crouwel's poster for an exhibition named "Vormgevers" made the grid visible, exposing a fundamental design tool that is almost always hidden from view.

The "Vormgevers" poster marked an advance in the use of constructed letters, becoming the core element of the design and a product of their own systematic construction method. Drawn by hand with a pen, a straight edge and a compass, the monolithic geometric shapes of the Vormgevers' imposing black and white binaries anticipated the bitmap, dot matrix and LED typography of early computer displays.

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Frutiger (1976)

More than words: 6 typefaces that changed how we see the world (6)

Courtesy Paul McNeil

During the early 1970s, sans serif typefaces like Helvetica had become so ubiquitous that they were beginning to seem vapid, dated and dull.

In the design of his eponymous face for Charles de Gaulle Airport, Adrian Frutiger sought to breathe new life into the sans serif by merging the rational, stripped-down features of his earlier Univers typeface with the calligraphic principles found in older humanistic faces from before the advent of the sans serif.

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Although it is not hugely fashionable today, Frutiger has been in the bestseller lists ever since its release in 1976. In 2008, asked to reflect on the phenomenal success of his eponymous typeface Frutiger said: "It has already become to some extent a stylistic expression of the 1970s and 1980s. All media have adopted it spontaneously. It was simply a face which could be read comfortably. It was the 'other one' between Univers and Helvetica."

Chicago (1984)

More than words: 6 typefaces that changed how we see the world (8)

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Courtesy Paul McNeil

As an undergraduate student in the 1970s, Steve Jobs would occasionally attend calligraphy classes simply out of interest: "I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces," he said, "... about what makes great typography great ... Ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer ... we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography."

This was largely due to the groundbreaking work of Susan Kare, who designed Chicago, the first Apple Macintosh typeface, in 1983. Intended for use on-screen in one size only, 12 pixels high, Chicago was robust but exceptionally user-friendly and it remained integral to both the Mac interface and to Apple's identity for over a decade.

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Chicago is an object lesson in aesthetic and technological restraint. Working only in pixels on a limited grid, with no references other than the raw computer bitmaps of the time, Kare achieved a well-modulated typeface with subtly contrasting stroke widths and proportional letter spacing, making it easy to read even on the low-resolution Mac computer screen.

The Alphabet (2001)

More than words: 6 typefaces that changed how we see the world (10)

Courtesy MM Paris

The Alphabet, first published in a fashion magazine in 2001, is not a typeface in a conventional sense. Cut into photographs of fashion models, Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag of M/M Paris created a rudimentary all-capitals alphabet that loosely followed the contours and tonal structures of the images.

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The result is a striking abstraction of both feminine and alphabetic forms that is at once primitive, sensuous and dramatic. Its historical significance lies in the ways it refers to the potential for typographic design in the 21st century to migrate mechanized language from its fixed limits in print towards virtual, moving and physical environments.

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It also speculates playfully on the cultural reception of signs that can be understood by being looked at and read interdependently, raising open questions about the ambiguous nature of representation and about the convergence of words and images in 21st century culture.

"The Visual History of Type" by Paul McNeil, published by Laurence King, is out now.

FAQs

What are the 6 typefaces? ›

The 6 Types of Fonts
  • Serif Fonts. Serif fonts have their origins in the Latin alphabet. ...
  • Slab Serif Fonts. These are the bolder and chunkier versions of the serif fonts. ...
  • Sans serif fonts. ...
  • Script Fonts. ...
  • Decorative Fonts. ...
  • Handwritten Fonts.
Jul 28, 2020

What is the most used typeface in the world? ›

Helvetica, the World's Most Popular Font, Gets a Face-Lift. The 62-year-old typeface that's used everywhere from subway signs to corporate logos has been updated for the 21st century.

What are the 5 classic typefaces? ›

Type has evolved over the centuries. We look at snapshots of these changes and analyze the five most popular of all time; Garamond, Baskerville, Bodoni, Century, and Helvetica. Each came from a different part of the world at a different time and represents a different style.

What are the 7 major typeface attributes that designers must makes choices about? ›

7 Things To Remember When Selecting Fonts For Your Design
  • Branding. A font you select should embody the character and spirit of your brand. ...
  • Legibility. ...
  • Serif vs Sans. ...
  • Font Family. ...
  • Limit the total number of fonts. ...
  • Avoid using too similar fonts. ...
  • When selecting two fonts, use decisive contrast.
Apr 20, 2019

What are the 10 types of typefaces? ›

10 Types of Fonts Every Professional Designer Needs to Own
  • Display.
  • Symbol & Glyphic Fonts.
  • Blackletter.
  • Handwritten.
  • Body.
  • Slab Serif.
  • Sans Serif.
  • Serif.

What is a typeface and examples? ›

Typeface refers to a group of characters, letters and numbers that share the same design. For example Garamond, Times, and Arial are typefaces. Whereas font is a specific style of typeface with a set width, size, and weight. For example, Arial is a typeface; 16pt Arial Bold is a font.

What was the first typeface? ›

What was the first font? The first typeface was a Blackletter variety used by Johannes Gutenberg on the first printing press, starting in 1440. This typeface design was created to mimic the calligraphic handwriting used by monks to hand-transcribe manuscripts prior to the invention of the printing press.

What is a popular typeface? ›

Top 20 Most Popular Fonts Of All Time
  • Helvetica (Max Miedinger, 1957) ...
  • Baskerville (John Baskerville, 1757) ...
  • Times (Stanley Morison, 1931) ...
  • Akzidenz Grotesk (Brethold Type Foundry, 1896) ...
  • Gotham (Hoefler and Frere- Jones, 2000)
  • Bodoni (Giambattista Bodoni, 1790) ...
  • Didot (Firmin Didot, 1784-1811) ...
  • Futura (Paul Renner, 1927)

How many typefaces are there? ›

There are five basic classifications of typefaces: serif, sans serif, script, monospaced, and display.

What are traditional typefaces? ›

  • Orpheus.
  • Canela.
  • Open Sans.
  • Akzidenz Grotesk.
  • Avenir.
  • Gotham.
  • Franklin Gothic.
  • Gill Sans.

Why is typeface important? ›

The fonts add value to your text. It helps readers to perceive information from the text. The correct choice of color, font and text size can prove to be vital for attracting your target audience.

What are the characteristics of typefaces? ›

What Makes A Good Typeface?
  • Consistent Design. A well-designed typeface will have consistent design characteristics throughout the entire character set, which includes numerals, punctuation, and some symbols. ...
  • Spacing. ...
  • Kerning. ...
  • Legibility. ...
  • Even Color and Texture.
Dec 16, 2018

Why do fonts matter? ›

They're hidden in plain sight, but they trigger memories, associations and multi-sensory experiences in your imagination. You may not believe it, but fonts can change the meanings of words right before your very eyes, alter the taste of your food, evoke emotional responses and reveal their users' personalities.

What fonts are popular now? ›

  • 10 Best Modern Fonts. Helvetica® Now. ...
  • 10 Best Modern Fonts. Helvetica® Now. ...
  • Helvetica® Now. Original Helvetica is probably the most ubiquitous font ever, especially when it comes to branding. ...
  • Proxima Nova. ...
  • TT Norms Pro. ...
  • FF DIN® ...
  • Avenir® Next. ...
  • Nexa™

What are the examples of fonts? ›

Some of the most popular types of fonts include serif, sans serif, slab serif, script and decorative. In this guide, we're going to analyze some of the most prominent font types as well as explain how you can use them in your designs. Let's get into it.

What is a typeface vs font? ›

A typeface is a particular set of glyphs or sorts (an alphabet and its corresponding accessories such as numerals and punctuation) that share a common design. For example, Helvetica is a well known typeface. A font is a particular set of glyphs within a typeface.

What are typefaces explain in detail? ›

A typeface is a design for a set of printer or display font s, each for a set of characters, in a number of specific sizes. Since outline fonts such as TrueType and Type 1 are scalable, a computer typeface designer must anticipate the possibility of the design being scaled through a range of sizes.

What is typeface in text? ›

A typeface is the design of lettering that can include variations in size, weight (e.g. bold), slope (e.g. italic), width (e.g. condensed), and so on. Each of these variations of the typeface is a font.

What is the best font of all time? ›

The 10 best fonts
  • Akzidenz-Grotesk. Probably the best typeface ever designed. ...
  • New Baskerville. Probably the best serif typeface ever designed. ...
  • DIN 1451. ...
  • Franklin Gothic. ...
  • HTF Didot. ...
  • Gotham. ...
  • Knockout. ...
  • Gill Shadow.
Sep 14, 2013

What is another name for typeface? ›

You can think of typeface as another term for font (the two words are often used interchangeably), although it's more accurate to call a typeface a "font family," a group of fonts with similar designs. Typefaces have official names like Comic Sans, Garamond, and Helvetica.

What are the two major typeface families? ›

The basic classification of typefaces is as follows:
  • Serifs: These typefaces have small extensions, which embellish the basic structure of a typeface. ...
  • Sans-serif : Sans means without. ...
  • Script: Letter forms developed in close relation to human handwriting are script typefaces.
Feb 1, 2020

What is serif typeface? ›

Serif fonts are typefaces that have serifs, which are extra strokes on the ends of their letterforms. These typefaces evoke feelings of history, tradition, honesty, and integrity. There are many fonts that fall into the serif category containing different shapes, thicknesses, and lengths.

What typeface does Google use? ›

Open Sans

Open Sans. Open Sans Condensed is a highly legible font commissioned by Google and inspired by its predecessor Droid Sans. Google uses Open Sans on some of its websites and its print and web ads.

Which font is most pleasing to the eye? ›

Best fonts for reading
  • Times New Roman. For many, Times New Roman has become the default font for print and web documents. ...
  • Verdana. ...
  • Arial. ...
  • Tahoma. ...
  • Helvetica. ...
  • Calibri. ...
  • Verdana. ...
  • Lucida Sans (PC) or Lucida Grande (Mac)

How do I create a typeface? ›

  1. Create a brief for your font design. ...
  2. Make your fundamental font design choices. ...
  3. Start your font design from scratch. ...
  4. Try designing fonts by hand. ...
  5. Use control characters for your font design. ...
  6. Move to your computer. ...
  7. Choose your software. ...
  8. Draw some letters.
Nov 8, 2021

What are the 3 common types of fonts *? ›

Four Common Font Types and When to Use Them
  • Serif. Serif fonts are the go-to for elegant and professional designs. ...
  • Sans-Serif. ...
  • Script. ...
  • Decorative/Display.
Sep 17, 2019

What is decorative typeface? ›

Script fonts, fonts with extreme features such as swashes or exaggerated serifs, and any fonts designed to be used at larger than body copy sizes could be described as decorative type.

What fonts does TikTok use? ›

Futura Maxi Bold is a font of Futura family which a geometric sans-serif typeface designed by German type designer Paul Renner. Futura released in 1927. We think this font is also used in TikTok's logo so it can also be called TokToK font.

What is a modern style font? ›

In 2021, modern fonts are usually sans serif and can have geometric, futuristic, abstract, or urban font styles. Popular modern fonts like Bodoni, Helvetica, Avenir, and Futura all represent a different take on a modern typeface throughout the decades.

How important is typography in visual communication? ›

For designers, typography is a way to use text as a visual to convey a brand message. This design element is important for graphic designers not only to build personality, convey a message but also to grab the viewer's attention, build a hierarchy, brand recognition, harmony and establish value and tone of a brand.

Why does typography matter in visual communication? ›

Typography has two main purposes in graphic design. The first is to promote legibility, and the second is to help communicate the messaging, tone, and sentiment of a design piece. Another function of typography revolves around aesthetics. We're drawn to visually attractive designs that are clean and easy on the eyes.

How can typography influence a reader? ›

Typography is a tool that can add emotion, drama and personality to the printed matter, making it more visually appealing. It can subconsciously embed the message in the mind of the reader, making it easier for them to understand, grasp and comprehend the presented information.

What are font styles and effects? ›

A style is a predefined combination of font style, color, and size of text that can be applied to selected text. A theme is a set of formatting choices that can be applied to an entire document and includes theme colors, fonts, and effects.

What is a typeface quizlet? ›

"A typeface is the artistic representation or interpretation of characters" It is the distinctive way the letters, numbers and symbols are designed to look. There are thousands of different typefaces. The creation of new typefaces is called type design.

Is the basic style of typeface that is most commonly used for body text? ›

The most common used font style for body text is: Times New Roman or Arial.

Do fonts make a difference? ›

Fonts are vital in conveying the personality and emotion of a brand. Though something simple like the font you choose for your brand may seem insignificant, it is important that you spend some time thinking through your brand voice and personality so that you make the right decision.

How does typography affect your mood? ›

Physically, we use our voice, facial expressions. gestures and posture to convey a wide range of emotional cues from the subtle to the dramatic. Typefaces and the way they are used provide a similarly extensive emotional range typographically.

Why is font important in advertising? ›

Fonts used in advertisements convey different messages to the reader. Classical fonts are for a strong personality, while more modern fonts are for a cleaner, neutral look. Bold fonts are used for making statements and immediately capturing the attention of the reader.

How many typefaces are there? ›

There are five basic classifications of typefaces: serif, sans serif, script, monospaced, and display.

What are typefaces in computer? ›

A typeface is a design for a set of printer or display font s, each for a set of characters, in a number of specific sizes. Since outline fonts such as TrueType and Type 1 are scalable, a computer typeface designer must anticipate the possibility of the design being scaled through a range of sizes.

What is the oldest typeface? ›

What was the first font? The first typeface was a Blackletter variety used by Johannes Gutenberg on the first printing press, starting in 1440. This typeface design was created to mimic the calligraphic handwriting used by monks to hand-transcribe manuscripts prior to the invention of the printing press.

How do I create a typeface? ›

  1. Create a brief for your font design. ...
  2. Make your fundamental font design choices. ...
  3. Start your font design from scratch. ...
  4. Try designing fonts by hand. ...
  5. Use control characters for your font design. ...
  6. Move to your computer. ...
  7. Choose your software. ...
  8. Draw some letters.
Nov 8, 2021

What are the 3 common types of fonts *? ›

Four Common Font Types and When to Use Them
  • Serif. Serif fonts are the go-to for elegant and professional designs. ...
  • Sans-Serif. ...
  • Script. ...
  • Decorative/Display.
Sep 17, 2019

What are the examples of fonts? ›

Some of the most popular types of fonts include serif, sans serif, slab serif, script and decorative. In this guide, we're going to analyze some of the most prominent font types as well as explain how you can use them in your designs. Let's get into it.

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