MY FAVOURITE TYPEFACE
Graphic designers have favourites, like everyone else. Favourite colours, images, layouts and alignments, but above all, favourite typefaces, ones that they—or we, since I’m a graphic designer, too—like to use the same way Cézanne liked to paint apples, that is, again and again. Those preferences become signature styles. Although there are thousands of typefaces, and new ones appear all the time, most designers tend to pick a few and stick with them. This saves time, of course, but it’s also because typographers are huge snobs, as well as susceptible to fashion, and thus they automatically dismiss most typefaces as vulgar. As a result, the well of working faces among design professionals remains fairly small. The downside of that is that many jobs look alike. The upside is that beautiful type in the hands of great designers can look entirely new each time they use it.
We asked 17 graphic designers to name their favourite typeface and why. We found some overlaps, of course, but some surprising answers as well.
Serif vs. sans, old vs. new
Designers often seek a font that looks both modern and beautiful at the same time. That effect can be achieved by juxtaposing a serif face with a sans serif one. Pamela Geismar—the daughter of another celebrated designer, Tom Geismar—adores a relatively new style, Archer, which for her combines old and new; she rolls her eyes at her father’s choice of Myriad, finding it mundane. For Tom, however, it is Myriad’s functionality that appeals.
It’s hardly surprising that Ruth Ansel, a longtime magazine art director, likes Firmin Didot (though she says she doesn’t favour just one typeface). Didot is used at Harper’s Bazaar, where Ansel worked when she was starting out in the 1960s, as well as at Vanity Fair, of which she was later the art director. It’s a font that has associations with Condé Nast in general and Vogue in particular. Ansel’s other choice: Alternate Gothic, designed in 1903. It still looks contemporary and maybe always will.
For a traditionalist such as Jerry Kelly—a calligrapher as well as a book and type designer—a face must be beautiful. Those he likes are born in a historical context: Sabon exists because of Garamond; we have Gill because of Edward Johnston’s designs for the London Underground—but his love of beautifully spaced and proportioned type means, he says, that he hates the web, and that the example of Baskerville shown here is, in his opinion, a “poor” version of a “perfect font.”
Wynn Dan says Franklin Gothic No. 2 is his favourite because “it is easy.” When asked to explain, he adds, “You don’t have to do very much for it to look good.” Henry Hudson clearly has the same view of this durable and hardworking typeface, which he describes as a “beautiful workhorse.” Those qualities, as well as its ability to retain a feeling of modernity, make it a favourite with many designers. Unusually, it’s also bold and legible even in small point sizes. Franklin Gothic is so dense that its appearance can resemble shapes as well as simply representing words, allowing it to be used to create an effect similar to that of a rule on a page or screen, for example.
Eric Hanson, who is an artist and illustrator as well as a designer, is a highly organized being who uses one font for typing letters and a different one for emails—although for his artwork he draws all his lettering by hand.
Ironically, a designer’s criterion for choosing a particular face is often that it should be unobtrusive. It should have a quality and flavour that can be felt by a reader yet not actively noticed, lest it interfere with reading or understanding. It’s there, yet not there. That may also be why many designers can’t really say why they choose one face over another—it’s a decision that is both rational and irrational; a well-judged feeling, perhaps. Just as a typeface can be chosen to reinforce an idea, it can also be there to play against type (literally!).
Art director and founder of e-ternal.net
I just love Trade Gothic Bold Condensed No. 20. I like Garamond, too.
Trade Gothic, designed between 1948 and 1960 by Jackson Burke for Linotype.
Garamond, see entry for Lisa Anselmo, below
Art director, ruthansel.com
Don’t have one favourite typeface… but of course Firmin Didot and Alternate Gothic. Why? They rescue me as go-to fonts.
Didot is a group of typefaces named after a famous French printing and type manufacturing family. Firmin Didot as we know it today is based on a collection of related faces developed between 1784 and 1811. Firmin Didot (1764–1836) cut and cast the letters; his brother Pierre (1760–1853) was the printer.
Alternate Gothic, designed in 1903 by M.F. Benton for American Type Foundry (ATF).
Group creative services director, Time Inc., Style & Entertainment Group
Garamond (Adobe Garamond). It’s good for so many things, from a dainty invite to a saucy headline. Also, being one of the first fonts digitized by Adobe, it’s the best drawn, best kerned, and has a huge array of options, from small caps to swashes. The non-aligning figures are also gorgeous.
Garamond, designed by Claude Garamond (1480–1561). Adobe created a digital version in 1989, designed by Robert Slimbach.
Art director, Cornucopia
It would probably have to be Sabon. I used it in 1992 in Paris on the first issue of Cornucopia and am still using it today on issue 48.
Sabon, designed by Jan Tschichold (1902–1974)
Art director, wynndan.blogspot.com and wynn75011.tripod.com
Franklin Gothic No. 2 (and Extra Condensed), because it is easy. You don’t have to do very much for it to look good.
Franklin Gothic, designed by Morris Fuller Benton (1872–1948) and thought to be named in honour of a prolific American printer, Benjamin Franklin
Owner and art director, Two Associates
Lovely, suave Bodoni Bauer for the head, Old Face* for the body. Just pipped Gill in the last 10 metres.
Bodoni is a series of serif typefaces first designed by Giambattista Bodoni (1740–1813) in 1798. The Bauer type foundry reworked it in 1926 to produce its own version, Bauer Bodoni, designed by Heinrich Jost and Louis Hölls. In 1983 Berthold Types Limited made its own version, Bodoni Old Face, designed by Günter Gerhard Lange.
Design director, Allure magazine
Baskerville, because it reminds me of my former boss.
Baskerville, designed by John Baskerville (1706–1775) in 1757. Allure created its own digital display version in 1991 for the launch of the magazine.
Owner and art director, Chermayeff & Geismar
As to my favourite typeface, I guess I would have to say Myriad Regular. It’s my default face, because it’s so legible and easy to use, and it works well in digital formats as well as print.
Myriad, designed by Robert Slimbach and Carol Twombly for Adobe Systems, is best known for its adoption by Apple; it replaced Apple Garamond as the company’s corporate font in 2002.
Art director, pamelageismar.com
At the moment my favourite face is Archer—I love its whimsical look, the way it has a retro heart but a contemporary feel, and all the weights, which make it very versatile. Plus, I’m a sucker for typefaces with those little balls at the ends of the lowercase As.
Archer, designed in 2001 by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones for Martha Stewart Living magazine
Designer and potter, Paula Greif Ceramics
Firmin Didot. It makes me feel elegant. And Bodoni Poster, because it’s so festive.
Bodoni Poster is a variant of Bodoni (see entry for David Eldridge, above) designed in 1929 by Chauncey H. Griffith (1879–1956) for posters for the Mergenthaler Linotype Company.
For Firmin Didot, see entry for Ruth Ansel, above
Artist, designer, illustrator, Eric Hanson Illustration
It depends on its use. I use Gill Sans for emails. I prefer Times New Roman for my writing because it looks like writing, like the printed word in a book. I also like Baskerville for this reason, but it’s a bit fine-boned. Gill Sans is more of a signage font, I think, and not as boringly ubiquitous as… Helvetica. Helvetica makes me think of the product labels I see at the pharmacy.
Gill Sans, designed by Eric Gill in 1926, took inspiration from the typeface Edward Johnston designed for the London Underground.
Times New Roman was commissioned from Monotype in 1931 by the Times newspaper in London and designed by Victor Lardent.
Artist and designer, johay.org
Gill Sans. It always appears modern but never trendy. It echoes the beautifully practical London Underground font that Eric Gill collaborated on but dropped out of before completion. As my mother would say, “There’s something very sensible and very British about it.”
Art director, henryconnell.com
Franklin Gothic No. 2, roman. The beautiful workhorse of the golden age of modern graphic design.
For Franklin Gothic No. 2, see entry for Wynn Dan, above
Calligrapher, book designer, type designer; a partner in Nonpareil Type
I’m so into beautiful types that it’s really tough to pick just one. I’d much rather let you know my 12 favourites. All that being said, I would guess Hermann Zapf’s Aldus is near the top: it’s such a perfect drawing, as are many of HZ’s types, and a wonderful combination of classical design with modern interpretation. A perfect font. Of course there are other perfect fonts: Bembo (in metal, not the poor electronic versions) and Baskerville are perennial favourites. I also like Walbaum, Dante, Galliard*, Optima, Comenius, Michelangelo*, Requiem*, Gill Sans, Emerson*, Garamond, Caslon, Diotima italic*, Ex Ponto, etc., etc.
Aldus, designed by Hermann Zapf in 1954, and named for Aldus Manutius, a famous 15th-century Venetian printer
Bembo is the name of a 20th-century revival of an old-style serif cut by Francesco Griffo around 1495, designed under the direction of Stanley Morison for the Monotype Corporation in 1929.
Walbaum, designed in the early 1800s by Justus Erich Walbaum.
Dante, designed by Giovanni Mardersteig and the punch-cutter Charles Malin for the Monotype Corporation in the mid-1950s
Optima, designed by Hermann Zapf between 1952 and 1955 for the D. Stempel AG foundry
Comenius, designed by Hermann Zapf in 1976
Caslon, designed by William Caslon (1692–1766)
Ex Ponto, designed by Jovica Veljović in 1995, based on Veljović’s handwriting
For Baskerville, see entry for Deanna Filippo, above
For Garamond, see entry for Lisa Anselmo, above
For Gill Sans, see entry for Eric Hanson, above
Clarendon. Beaten into me early. Always makes me happy.
Clarendon, designed by Robert Besley for Thorowgood and Co. in 1845
Artist and designer, treyspeegle.com
Knockout 70, that’s my go-to…or Knockout 30. It is the most durable sans serif I’ve ever used and replaces my old favourite, Franklin Gothic.
Knockout, designed by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones
Former magazine art director, now a design critic and the author, with Erica Lennard, of The Art of Doing Nothing: Simple Ways to Make Time for Yourself
Cheltenham, because it reminds me of reading the print edition of the New York Times, a rare pleasure here in Paris (I’m not crazy about the Herald Tribune layout, it’s too “loose”—though it is also a Cheltenham tour de force). Cheltenham is also the typeface used for the opening credits of Woody Allen’s early films. And the letterforms are beautiful—a high-minded concept designed by an architect, I believe.
Cheltenham, a display typeface designed in 1896 by the architect Bertram Goodhue and Ingalls Kimball, director of the Cheltenham Press, and developed into a final design by Morris Fuller Benton at American Type Founders
President and chief creative officer, Nooka
I like Gotham Narrow for many reasons. Its high x height is great for legibility; the lines have a mechanical heritage that is very well suited for digital; and it has a nice backstory.
Gotham Narrow, designed by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones
* Not shown