Playing favourites, part two.

“What’s your favourite font?” is an impossible question. I like too many to answer with brevity. So here are some I like, accompanied by specimens and short explanations.

1,081 words by Kris Sowersby
16 January 2013

It’s important to distinguish between what I consider my “favourite fonts” and typefaces that I think are good. There is a lot of overlap, but this is a small list of my personal favourites.

Here is part one and part three.

Linotype Garamond from the ‘Linotype-Schriften’ specimen, 1967.

It has bite and vigour, a warm sharpness that feels serious and literate. Out of all of the metal “Garamond” revivals, Linotype Garamond impresses me the most.

Gill Sans from ‘Printers’ and founders’ type specimens’, Typographica 6.

A subtle combination of geometry, classic proportions and humanism, Gill Sans is a masterpiece. It creates a wonderful clear texture on the page. In the metal cuts I really love the Regular weight. The Light and Bold are fine, the Extrabold is forgettable and the Kayo is… well, more amusing than anything. I prefer the a from the 30pt sizes & larger. I cannot stand any of the digital versions, they have something fundamentally wrong with them that I just can’t put my finger on.

Gotham from the Hoefler Type Foundry ‘Catalog No. 7’, 2003.

So well-made that it’s used virtually everywhere, Gotham has become part of the visual fabric of most cities. It can be dressed up or down as needed, it seems to be almost infinitely flexible. Frere-Jones has drawn letterforms so obvious they’re essentially archetypal, and that makes it one of the great typefaces of our time.

From the ‘Specimen of Plain & Ornamental Types’ from the Foundry of V. & J. Figgins, 1845.

There is not one particular 19th Century “grotesque” that I prefer, I like virtually all of them. They are a bit rough around the edges, they’re honest and human. You can see the founders struggling with certain aspects of the sanserif genre that we now take for granted, but they were actually figuring it out, inventing new forms.

From the Commercial Type ‘Guardian Eyptian Headline Family’ PDF specimen.

One of the most comprehensive newspaper typeface families ever created, covering all sizes from headlines to classifieds. It's stylish, thrifty and practical, and manages to remain serious throughout. The Guardian Family exemplifies a mastery of form for a specific newspaper environment.

From the Haas’sche Schriftgießerei AG dedicated ‘Helvetica’ specimen.

I was very dismissive of Helvetica until I saw it in metal. It then became abundantly clear why this was such a powerful typeface. There is a warmth inherent to the metal Helvetica that saves it from being pallid and lifeless. The Medium weight in display styles is almost unbeatable, and the light, regular and halbfett in text are refreshingly clear. Schwartz has done a great job restoring Helvetica to its former glory with his Neue Haas Grotesk revival.

“Highway Gothic” used on a New Zealand traffic sign.

New Zealand road signage uses multiple versions of “Highway Gothic” — officially known as the FHWA Series fonts — and a couple of versions of Transport. In the context of our traffic signage I think they’re rather vernacular, slightly vulgar and totally appropriate. Used anywhere else, they’re just ugly, ill-drawn fonts.

Johnston Underground from ‘Letters of Credit’ by Walter Tracy, 1986.

Completed in 1916, this seminal sanserif has an endearing mechanical British charm. The caps are authoritative and well-balanced, the lowercase is wide and geometric but both are firmly rooted in classic humanist proportions. It’s not perfect — or even consistent — and that’s a good thing. The original single-weight drawing and implementation in the Underground remain superior to the digital versions.

Journal from the Emigre website.

According to Licko, “Journal is an uncommon revival. Rather than resurrecting a particular typeface from letterpress specimens, Journal is a revival of the letterpress look itself.” Made entirely from straight-line segments, Journal looks like a cross between hand-written and typewritten letterforms. Journal is neither easy to use, nor suitable for a wide range of uses. However, when used appropriately it has undeniable charm.

Various fonts in use from Arktype’s website.

All of the Arktype typefaces demand to be manufactured. They have a unique collection of letters specifically for fabrication and they are all fantastic. The solidity and mass of them are physical and impressive, making the most of a material’s specific strengths. They take architectural type to a sublime level.

Labeurs Ordinaire, Série No. 17 from the ‘Spécimen Général’, Deberny & Peignot, Paris, 1926.

This is about 90 years old. Aesthetically, it still feels normal and contemporary, which is no mean feat. There is nothing that really gives away its age. No. 17 would make an excellent jobbing typeface; it’s strong and sturdy, economical and unfussy. I think of it as a decidedly French take on the Scotch Modern genre. The closest digital typeface would be H&F-J’s underrated Chronicle Text.

Lexicon from Wallpaper* magazine.

I just can’t find fault with Lexicon. It is beautiful, practical, sharp and human. It is, in my opinion, one of the best serif typefaces ever designed and it’s priced accordingly.

Maple from the Process Type Foundry website.

Back when I was a fledgling graphic designer, Maple was one of my first typographic purchases. I never regretted licensing it and used it as often as possible. Olson has drawn just the right amount of charm and flavour from the British Groteques without crossing into slavish revivalism.

FF Meta from the FontFont Focus ‘FF Meta’ specimen, 2008.

Over two decades old and still performing strongly. To me, FF Meta defines the point where digital typeface design came into its own. It’s a very rugged typeface, idiosyncratic and pretty well indestructible. Coupled with generous spacing and open forms, FF Meta feels welcomely warm and serious in text settings across all mediums.

Miller from ‘Human Space’ by O.F. Bollnow, published by Hyphen Press, 2011.

When Carter released Miller in 1997 the Scotch Roman genre was restored to its former glory. Miller is not a facsimile of a specific Scotch, it is a clearheaded distillation of the best models. Like its creator, it is humble and honest. It is sober, beautifully spaced and hardworking. In short, Miller is an excellent typeface that deserves all the work it can get.

Playing Favourites Part One and Part Three.

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