Grunge fonts have come and gone. Rotis has been
used so much for headlines and logos that it is hot
on the heels of Times New Roman for the “Ennui
& Upward” award. And Tekton is about as stylish as
that chenille bathrobe hanging in the back of your
closet. There is nothing wrong with typefaces like
Rotis or Tekton—or even grunge fonts. It’s just that
they once were very popular—and now they are not.
There is little risk in using “safe,” classic typefaces
in your projects. You can’t go wrong with
Helvetica, Garamond or Gill Sans. These classic typefaces
are like a basic black dress or navy blue blazer.
While no one will accuse you of being cutting edge,
neither will they suggest your designs look dated
because of the typeface you chose.
But what if you want to take a walk on the
typographic wild side? What if your project calls for
something typographically up-to-the-minute? Want
to know which typefaces will ensure your designs are fresh, stylish and hip? Read on. But be aware
that typographic fashion can be as fleeting as a chipmunk’s
Even with what seems like hundreds of new
typefaces being released on a daily basis, the hippest
new designs fall into three categories: sans serifs, slab
serifs and scripts.
SANS ARE STILL STRONG
Sans serif typefaces contain the simplest letterforms.
One might think we’re reaching the end of the rope
on the number of variations type designers can create
from the same 52 basic shapes. Yet fresh new
fonts continually arrive on the scene. Sans serif typefaces
remain the most popular new designs for several
reasons. They are the easiest to work with; they
provide the greatest variety for graphic designers;
and they tend to be very large families. Sans serifs
offer greater latitude in usage than their serifed cousins. Sans serif typefaces can be set very large—or “medicine-label” small. They can be set snug—or
with relaxed letterspacing. Finally, because so many
new sans serif typefaces are being drawn, there is no
shortage of fonts to choose from. The perfect design,
with just the right attitude and exactly the proportion
and weight you’re looking for, is probably no
more than a few mouse clicks away.
The most popular sans serifs fall into three
design subcategories. Humanist sans designs are
based on the proportions of Roman inscriptional
letters. Retro sans—although not a standard style
of type—are updated revivals of old fonts of metal
type. Industrial-strength sans designs (not a standard
category either) have the most basic letter shapes and
are often based on signage fonts.
HUMANISTIC SANS: THE STRENGTH OF
A SANS WITH THE WARMTH OF A SERIF
Two particularly handsome and remarkably versatile,
new humanistic sans serif typefaces are Soho
Gothic from Sebastian Lester and Migration Sans
by André Simard.
Soho Gothic is the sans serif branch of the
extended Soho typeface family. This collection of seven
typefaces ranges from a willowy hairline to a brawny
ultra. Each weight also has a complementary italic.
Features that distinguish Soho Gothic from
other sans serifs are the flat, crisp apexes of the diagonal
characters such as A and V and the marked horizontal
stress in the a, g and s. “I wanted the family as
a whole to radiate effortless modernity,” says Lester.
“My goal was to create a superior communicator that
works in all conditions and at all sizes.”
Migration Sans is André Simard’s first commercial
typeface. He says it marks his migration
from working with typefaces as a graphic designer to
designing them as well.
His many years selecting typefaces informed
his design decisions for Migration. Simard drew
Migration with design traits he repeatedly looked
for in faces for his design projects. “As I thought
about the development of Migration, I wanted to
give it advantages I knew graphic designers would
appreciate,” Simard recalls. “A large x-height and
slightly condensed proportions are just a couple of
NEW RETRO SANS: WHAT’S NEW IS OLD
Ideal Grotesque and Scout, designs from Rod
McDonald and Cyrus Highsmith, while brand-new
(in fact, Ideal Grotesque will not be available until later this year), have their roots firmly planted in
McDonald long admired Monotype’s classic
Grotesque series, which was first drawn in the
early part of the last century, but he realized it
would need a major overhaul if it were to provide
good service as a suite of digital fonts. “Though
Monotype Grotesque never achieved the popularity
of Akzidenz Grotesk or its contemporaries Futura
and Gill Sans,” says McDonald, “it remained a
steady seller for many decades, and it is found in
early 20th-century avant-garde graphic design from
Western and Central Europe.”
McDonald’s interpretation of these classic metal
fonts is a six-weight family that retains all the elements
that make the original typefaces so appealing,
while updating the design for the digital 21st century.
Highsmith’s new sans serif typeface family,
Scout, pulls elements from both new and old. The
design has a little Venus, a touch of DIN and a bit
of nondescript industrial signage. The 24 members
of the typeface family are divided into six weights,
from thin to black, each with a corresponding italic
in both regular and condensed proportions. There are
designs and weights to meet a broad range of typographic
INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH FONTS:
NOT FANCY & WON’T BREAK
In the manner of Neue Helvetica and Frutiger Next,
Linotype has taken the basic Eurostile design and
created a remarkably fresh and improved version.
The new rendition is the work of Akira Kobayashi,
director of typeface design at Linotype. Kobayashi
chose to base his work solely on specimens of
the original metal fonts. As a result, his version,
Eurostile Next, is a softer design than graphic
designers are accustomed to working with. As
Kobayashi explains it, “The phototype and early
digital versions of Eurostile had rather awkward
curves. They were poorly drawn, with too many
straight lines. This was not the original intention of
the design.” Kobayashi also adjusted the cap stroke
weight so the capital letters no longer dominate and
are now in balance with the lowercase. Finally, new
light and ultra light weights were drawn to complement
the extended, normal and condensed variations
within the family.
The Azbuka typeface family has its roots in a
very pedestrian source. “The idea came in part from
an old sign in London that read ‘SPRINKLER STOP
VALVE’,” says Dave Farey, designer of the typeface.
“I wanted to draw a wide range of weights, italic and
condensed designs all in one go,” recalls Farey, “rather
than add on to the family later.” His goal was to create
a family that could be used for text and display copy, with sufficient weights to provide a broad typographic
palette. Indeed, the completed design, created
in collaboration with fellow type designer Richard
Dawson, consists of 20 typefaces in eight weights
ranging from extra light to extra black. The five midrange
designs have complementary italics. Seven condensed
designs round out the family.
SLAB SERIFS: SQUAREJAWED
Slab, or square, serif typefaces are enjoying a renaissance.
They offer versatility—whether for corporate
identity, product branding, text or display use—and
bring a fresh look to traditional typographic applications.
One reason slab serif typefaces are so popular
is that designers are seeking alternatives to sans serif
designs. They want something just as adaptable as a
sans serif—but with those distinctive serifs that can
give a typeface so much character.
Slab serif typefaces are almost as versatile as
sans serifs. Many Old Style typefaces, and almost all
Didones, require two or more fonts—one for text
copy and another for display setting—to perform
well in a wide range of sizes. But slab serifs—like
their serif-less cousins—generally need only one font
to excel in a wide range of sizes. Newer slab serif
typefaces are often developed as very large type families,
and some offer a complete suite of condensed
designs. There is also an honest, straightforward
quality to slab serif typefaces. In addition to standbys
Giza, Serifa and Rockwell, there are several new families.
Two notables are Soho from Sebastian Lester and
Boomer from Cyrus Highsmith.
Sebastian Lester’s Soho is the serifed branch of
his Soho family. It is made up of nine weights and
five widths of carefully crafted OpenType fonts. With
more than 32,600 characters and 24 OpenType features,
Soho gives designers a wide range of options—from the chic lines of the lighter weights to the
rock-solid statement made by the heavier weights.
A handy feature of the Soho design is that its
serifs, although chunky, are not long. This allows
for more variation of spacing than most square serif
Cyrus Highsmith drew Boomer Serif and its
sans serif counterpart for AARP. (Rumor has it that
while the design was under development its working
name was Geezer.) Where some slab serif typefaces
are almost geometric—and, as a result, are virtually
humorless—Boomer is distinguished by large upper
bowls in the caps and a delightfully quirky lowercase.
This is a design with personality.
Although they are usually relegated to specialty
categories, both Soho and Boomer prove that a
slab serif typeface can be immensely charming and
NEW SCRIPTS: A PLETHORA
OF FABULOUS FONTS
Scripts have been some of the most popular new
type styles for a long time. There are thousands
of script typefaces to choose from—and the styles
are as varied as flowers in a garden. Scripts can
project a mood, create a sense of immediacy and
reflect a period in time. Musclehead, with its rotund
strength, has a different personality than the passionate
Demian, and both of these are distinct from
the elegant Christoph’s Quill.
With all these choices, however, comes a problem:
How do you sift through the mountain of new
script typefaces to find the right one? If you are looking
for a fashionable script, two requirements should
guide your search: readability and novelty.
When working with scripts, remember they are
harder to read than serif or sans serif typefaces. This
slows the reader down—and can hinder comprehension
and retention. The more words you set, the
less fancy the script should be. Taking advantage of
Zapfino’s alternate characters and OpenType features
can produce an elegant three-to-four-word headline.
But using these same features to set even a mediumlength
sentence can be off-putting to the reader.
If you are selecting a new script for a project,
opt for a fresh design. Both Cezanne and Bickham
Script are remarkably versatile and wonderfully
expressive typefaces. But they have been overused
to the point of tedium. If you want a fresh look for
your project, pick a fresh new font. From the elegant
but quirky Pitu to the more amiable Home Run
Script, new script typefaces are released almost daily.
There is no shortage of great designs to choose from.
Pitu, by Polish designer Łukasz Dziedzic, is
a beautiful study in contrasts. The fine hairlines,
sharp contrast in stroke thickness, long spiky serifs
and blade-like ascending strokes are in counterpoint
to the soft calligraphic loops, sensual descending
terminals and voluptuous curves that also infuse
Although surprisingly readable in short blocks of
copy, Pitu is at its best at large sizes and when setting
just a few words. This is when the drama, grace and
lusty richness of the design can best be appreciated.
Cyrus Highsmith’s design brief for Biscotti
called for a typeface that was both “pretty” and
“celebratory.” The solution is a remarkably simple
interpretation of the flourished, engraved scripts
traditionally chosen for weddings and other festive
and formal occasions. The descending swashes on the
full-bodied capitals give a hand-lettered quality to
the design and provide a striking counterpoint to the
constructed single-stroke lowercase ascenders.
Highsmith drew two weights of Biscotti: a bold
that is barely so and a regular that is decidedly delicate.
Doyald Young’s Home Run Script is rooted in
formal script lettering—but Young’s interpretation
makes a more friendly (and emphatic) statement than
traditional designs. Young challenged himself to draw
a bold condensed design with a tight fit, while still
maintaining a high level of character legibility. This
called for some compromises—like the tall lowercase
t—but the end result is at once commanding, easy
on the eyes … and great fun.
Stephen Rapp found his inspiration for Memoir
in 18th-century handwritten letters and journals. The
result is a romantic yet robust design. Its textured
strokes imply age, yet the refined letter shapes and
abundant swash characters give Memoir a timeless
and stately demeanor. Available as an all-singing, alldancing
OpenType font, Memoir takes advantage of
contextual character substitutions to create headlines
and short blocks of copy that accurately mimic handwritten
Although fads are fleeting—and you can’t go
wrong with the classics—sometimes stepping over
the conservative, tried-and-true line is absolutely the
right thing to do.