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July 5, 2012 / becca shayne

thirteen typefaces every graphic designer should know about

I hope everyone of my readers in the United States had enjoyable Fourth of July festivities, and for those of you who didn’t just celebrate Independence Day with lots of barbecue and beer, I hope you had a perfectly marvelous ordinary Wednesday :)

If you haven’t heard the name David Airey already, you may be surprised to learn that you do know something for which he is responsable. One of the more famous graphic design blogs (which is now a book), Logo Design Love is his main venture, though he also has a portfolio website, as well as another great blog called Identity Designed.

Today I’m giving you a shortened version of his list of 13 typefaces for graphic designers, which you can go read in detail here, complete with type specimen and links to the foundries etc etc that I’m too lazy to include because he already did that! :) Useful post my friends! David Airey is great! go check out his stuff. He also has great advice for design students.

The typefaces are:

1. Akzidenz-Grotesk
Released in 1898 by the H. Berthold AG type foundry. Not to be confused with Helvetica or Univers. It’s one of my favorites.

2. Avenir
Designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1988, (and then redone in the 2000s, renamed Avenir Next, my personal favorite being the condensed version) for Linotype. Airey includes an interview excerpt in his post which you can go read.

3. Bodoni
First designed by Giambattista Bodoni in 1798, not to be confused with Didot. This typeface has flat unbracketed serifs and extremely high contrast, which makes it super elegant, and a favorite of high fashion magazines etc.

4. Caslon
This is a great one I’ve used many times because of the nice x-height it has. (remember when pairing two different typefaces – i.e. a serif and a sans, they must have similar x-heights to match) Caslon was originally designed around 1734 by William Caslon. Airey includes more history if you’re interested. It’s pretty cool.

5. Clarendon
This one, I’m almost positive, is the typeface of choice in the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City. It was designed in England by Robert Besley in 1845. I like this one because it’s super heavy weight but still manages to be lighthearted with its ball-terminals and slab serifs.

6.Franklin Gothic
Always a classic. Don’t dislike a typeface just because it came with Microsoft Word. It’s still a great one! Designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1902. Gothic (as you will notice if you flip through your own collection of font-families) refers to sans serif typefaces. This one is partially condensed with a high x-height.

7. Frutiger
Since frutiger has so many weights, it’s a great one if you’re only looking to use one typeface (as is Univers). Designed by Adrian Frutiger (who designed Avenir, among others, remember?) in 1968. I did a project on this one. He designed it for the airport system in Roissy, France, so it had to be clear, legible from distances at fast speeds, and strange angles and in the dark. Pretty cool! Read more on Airey’s blog.

8. Futura
Paul Renner. 1927. High x-height, very geometric, super round. This is not one of those ones you’d call a “humanist” sans serif. It is very constructed. As Airey points out, it is very related to the Bauhaus movement, though Renner was not involved directly.

9. Garamond
This one is super old, though it’s been redesigned a couple of times to fit technology advances. Designed in 1540 by Claude Garamond. This one and Sabon are both great. Notice the spurs on the T, that’s a big indicator when you’re trying to identify typefaces.

10. Gill Sans
Designed by Eric Gil between 1927 and 1930, this is a hefty one, designed to be as legible as possible, functioning both as a display and a body text face, which isn’t always easy. You generally would have to make adjustments for very large type versus type that will be read in paragraphs.

11. Gotham
Another Gothic typeface, designed in 2000 actually, by Tobias Frere-Jones (you know him as a part of Hoefler & Frere-Jones type foundry in New York).

12. Helvetica
Duh! It had to be on the list! A lot of people are tired of this because it’s so widely used. When I was 11 and I first learned of it, I dislexified it into Helcleteeva in my brain somehow :P there now you know my secret! (you know how when you’re little and you’re reading something to yourself, never saying it out loud or hearing it before to know the proper pronunciation? also by the way, I’m not actually dislexic). Designed by Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman at the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (a mouthful unless you speak the language) in Switzerland. I’ll let you read the rest of the history on Airey’s blog. Incidentally, he includes a cool graph comparing Akzidenz with Helvetica.

and finally
13. Univers
Originally designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1956, one of the first typefaces to have a bajillion weights (no actually just 63 variants, by the time it was reworked by Frutiger with Linotype in 1997) My favorite is the Univers ultra light ultra condensed (I know that’s not exactly what it’s called but you know which one I mean).

PS I am not sure whether he arranged the list from best to last or just arbitrarily. I’d say everyone has their own favorites and it just comes down to what is appropriate for the project. As my (now former) professor, Doug Scott, (see this post) will tell you, as I have told you, and as Airey mentions, just because we like these 13 typefaces doesn’t mean they are appropriate for everything! Use the discretion of your own knowledge, taste, and whatever suits your assignment before you just pick something. Do a little research about your topic and about some of the typefaces and see if they match.

I am including a list of typographic resources below that you may find useful. Airey also includes a list of links at the bottom of his post, though his serve a different purpose.

I like these for looking up facts/info/specimen of typefaces:

My Fonts
What The Font (by My Fonts)

There, was that a long enough post to make up for the semi-infrequent posting? More soon guys! keep reading!

PS Thanks David for your kind email! I love when people I post about write back!

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