In “The Visual History of Type” designer Paul McNeil charts how typefaces have reflected social and ideological evolution. And it’s not everyday that we see typefaces getting the spotlight on CNN.
So for us, he has picked 6 typefaces that somehow influenced or even changed the way we think about text, content, books; and therefore, how we read. This article only provides a gentle introduction to each one, but nevertheless this is a pretty interesting refresher on the classics. Even though Futura doesn’t make this shortlist, I will include it here because it’s just too important not to be missed!
an absolute classic designed by Paul Renner which was released in 1927. Its geometric clean shapes, mostly inspired by the Bauhaus movement, were a complete break from the traditional typeface design thinking of the time. Futura, also know as the font which escaped the Nazis and landed on the moon
, went from being an idealistic vision for a better Germany to the first typeface in space; as well as being used and loved by film makers like Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson.
It was Stanley’s favourite typeface. It’s sans serif. He liked Helvetica and Univers, too. Clean and elegant… I was always trying to persuade him to turn away from them. But he was wedded to his sans serifs.
From Paul McNeil’s list, let’s move on to, Baskerville
dates as far back as 1757, but that doesn’t prevent it from being one of the most trustworthy typefaces
today. But you may not know that it didn’t start out like that:
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 is another classic that I’m sure most British readers will be especially familiar with. That’s because Johnston (designed by Edward Johnston) was commissioned by the London Underground Railway just before WWI, and it still stands (though now sharpened up) as the official and very recognisable London Tube typeface.
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.
But before I leave you for the rest of the article, I’ll just mention The Alphabet, from 2001, which stands as literally a fashionable typeface:
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.
It’s… quirky. But absolutely stunning, in its own unique way. See it below.