Designer's Toolbox - April 2009
Typographic insights from Steve Matteson
Sans Pointy Things – Part 4
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This month we finish sorting through our sans serif tools. Now we contrast last month’s mechanically constructed Grotesques with types modelled after letters written by humanist scribes of the 12th Century. These scribes were perfecting a style developed during the time of Charlemagne in the 9th Century – the very birth of the roman lowercase alphabet. It’s no wonder this type style is the most legible of the sans serifs.
This genre gained popularity in the early 1980’s with the release of Lucida , Stone Sans and ITC Legacy, and has since exploded in popularity. It is arguably the newest trend in typeface design yet it is based on the oldest Roman letter forms.
The classical proportions, open shapes and slight contrast of the humanist letter (illustrated on the next page) aid the reader and lend an organic, approachable feel. Sans serif font designs which adopt this structure are currently very popular as they read well on low resolution device and computer devices – as most sans serifs do – yet have a friendly, warm feel.
The Humanist genre ranges from fonts that are calligraphic in nature (Syntax and ITC Legacy Sans) to more contemporary designs used in computer interfaces (Lucida and Verdana). The calligraphic styles are more organic and the contemporary designs more refined. At either extreme this genre is the nearest cousin to the serif style and therefore is more suitable for text than other sans serif typefaces.
While the Humanist Sans genre is popular for many interface and text applications, large sizes can highlight beautiful details of subtle contrast and flared stems. Architectural firms often use Strayhorn™ , Gill Sans® and Optima® for large inscriptions on buildings.
In summary, sans serif typefaces span a very wide range of graphic voices. Matching the right tool to the message comes easier with an understanding of these voices:
• The Geosmetrics are generally mechanical
• The Grotesques are generally industrial
• The Humanists are organic
The subtle variations within each genre come from the amount of precision (or lack thereof)and adherence (or not) to the proportions and structure of classical forms.
This concludes this sans serif mini-series. We hope you found it useful if not somewhat entertaining. We welcome comments, suggestions
Type Design Director, Ascender Corp.
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