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In Praise of a Typeface: United

Posted by Alex

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United by House Industries has been my go-to typeface over the last few semesters. It is a massive family — 105 total fonts (three styles, seven weights and five widths). This variety makes it an incredibly versatile collection. I really hate it when I find a typeface that I love, but find it missing a crucial weight or style. (DIN for example — would love to be able to wield more styles). United does not have this problem. I’ve used it on many projects (a few you know; ISO50 EP, Mega Cities book) and in each case the variety allowed it to be implemented in a unique and effective way.

I discovered it a long time ago while searching for the typeface used in a Nike ad (can’t recall which one, but it was amazing). I don’t actually remember if United was employed in the advert, but if you spend any amount of time searching around the typography of the sports world, you are bound to come across United at some point (Fox, I’m pretty sure, uses it for in game football graphics). There is an obvious resemblance of a few of the weights to a very collegiate look, which might be a turn off for some people, but the rest of the styles make up for this ten fold.

The most exciting part for me has always been the fact that each style has five different widths. I love condensed or extended widths and it’s nice to find a worthy competitor to the standards (Univers, Trade Gothic etc). When you need an extra touch of personality, especially if the project skews toward the technical or urban, United does the job nicely.

I don’t know many other designers (at least at school) that use it regularly and I thought I’d spread the word a little. Finding a new typeface is always pretty exciting, so hopefully if you haven’t tried United before, you can give it a shot and experience the sweetness. Anyone else have any hidden gems? I haven’t come across a new super typeface in a while — would love to hear about what people are unexpectedly enjoying these days.

Helvetica vs. Arial

Posted by Scott

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Nothing too involved here, just a simple diagram outlining the key differences between Arial and Helvetica. You can find the full alphabet overlayed here. Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the unique history these typefaces share, here’s an in-depth analysis. And here’s the battle mode.

Via Swissmiss, who’s workspace is way cleaner and more Helvetica-ish than mine:

Tina Roth Eisenberg of Swissmiss

Tina Roth Eisenberg of Swissmiss

Font or Typeface?

Posted by Scott

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Alex and I were discussing this a while back so it was nice to see the whole subject wrapped up in a nice post over at Shelby White’s blog. Now you can annoy the hell out of all your non-designer friends by constantly correcting them when they use “font” incorrectly. Be sure to start off with “Actually…..”, people love that. I liked Nick Sherman’s take the best:

“The way I relate the difference between typeface and font to my students is by comparing them to songs and MP3s, respectively (or songs and CDs, if you prefer a physical metaphor).”
- Nick Sherman

For a while I thought font was sort of a dirty word, like it really didn’t have any proper usage when talking about design. Typeface still sounds better but it’s nice to know that font does have it’s own place in the world.

Link | Additional Reading

Lettering Art In Modern Use

Posted by Scott

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Sébastien Hayez’s Designers Books blog has a great post on Lettering Art In Modern Use and various other design-related books. I love that last one; I was at the printers the other day looking at some samples and they showed me a letter-pressed wedding invitation with that same script style. It was embossed into the paper with inlaid gold leaf, so nice.

Via Surfstation

Klas Ernflo and My Favorite Letters

Posted by Alex

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A few rejected book covers by Klas Ernflo. Beautiful typography at work here — I especially can’t get over how amazing the uppercase G is in the top image (looks like Didot, but I’m not positive). Surprising (and not at the same time) that these were rejected by the publisher. I would have bought them on the spot, regardless of their contents!

Recently I’ve been trying to determine my favorite occurrence of each letter of the alphabet. I’ve picked a few, like the “G” seen above, but most letters remain up in the air. The eventual goal will be to have a list of 52 shapes; representing my absolute favorite renderings of each letterform, upper and lowercase. After that I guess I’ll move onto symbols and numbers (I already know my favorite “7″ — Clarendon). A few other examples might be the “W” from the Westinghouse logo, the lowercase Avant Garde “a”, and maybe the “H” from Scott’s recent post.

Would love to hear everyone else’s favorites! It’s hard I know, to narrow it down outside of the context of application, but I’m sure there are some standout letters for each of you. Let us know!

Vintage Book Covers

Posted by Alex

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I was exploring the depths of my basement the other day and came across these books. My favorite is the first one, but I think they all have something interesting going on. (I remember the Animal Farm cover from Scott’s post a while back.) The typography of each cover is worth noting — especially the beautiful implementation of the lowercase Carousel on the “Secrets of Health…” cover! The ampersand in particular is pretty amazing. As much as I love Bodoni and Didot, Carousel has a few extra twists that make it more exciting to me.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t live in a design centric city; all the used bookstores were plundered long ago of anything with cool design at work. It is a rare occurrence that I find something worth buying at even the most remote vintage bookshop. Got out here too late!

Apologies for the iPhone photos — it was all I had at the time and I couldn’t pass up the chance to snap some shots. Also worth noting is the price of some of these…when was the last time you paid 25c for a book?

Font Purging / 39,447 to 50

Posted by Alex

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I have 39,447 fonts on my computer. Or at least I did, up until about 30 minutes ago when I cleansed my machine of all the typographic nonsense that was polluting my list. I had thought about doing this font purge for some time, but hesitated, just in case I might one day need to design a document using the official Jedi Knight font, or something similarly ridiculous.

I remember hearing Massimo Vignelli say in the Helvetica documentary that he only uses about three typefaces. I was embarrassed at the time, thinking of my infinite list compiled over many years of dafont downloads and “BEST FONTS!!!” torrents. I guess I considered myself a typeface collector and I worked hard to “get them all”, even if I had no idea of what use some of them would ever be.

As I progressed through school, I noticed that just about everything I had ever designed used the same 5-10 typefaces. Every time I opened Illustrator I scrolled endlessly past hundreds of handwriting fonts, “distressed” fonts, you name it; always searching for the same go-to options. When I did deviate, the work usually suffered.

After much deliberation, I widdled my list down and trimmed the fat as it were. No longer will I be tempted to use weird knockoffs of Gotham or Helvetica clones. I consider myself much better off because of this — not just because it’s easier to manage a smaller list — but because the typefaces I kept are good typefaces. They’ve stood the test of time, and are the result of a tremendous amount of hard work and development by expert typographers. I know something about each one; who designed it, where it came from etc. In this way it’s a bit like my iTunes library; I probably have about 60,000 songs, but mainly listen to a few selected playlists. I have thousands of songs with a play count of “zero”. Why I keep them around I have no idea.

The book pictured above is 30 Essential Typefaces for a Lifetime by Imin Pao and Joshua Berger. It’s a good place to start if you are considering a font purge of your own. (Though I disagree in a few places; for example I would not include Trajan on my list). My final count is now about 50 typefaces; a much more manageable number I’d say. It’s not Massimo’s magic number — I don’t think I could survive on three alone — but scrolling through 50 sure beats scrolling through 39,447.

note: I, and and many designers I know, tend to use the terms “font” and “typeface” interchangeably. Technically this is incorrect as they are not the same thing. Both this and this article do a good job illustrating the difference. Old habits die hard for me; I didn’t actually know there was a difference until about a year ago, so it’s taken some time for me to change my language.