"Skeleton" typeface anyone?

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Håkon Stensholt's picture
Joined: 4 Mar 2014 - 9:55am
"Skeleton" typeface anyone?
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Hello Typophiles!
I am looking for a so called "neutral" typeface. I know there is no such thing, but I need at typeface for my project that is "free from political, social and cultural connotations". Do you know about any "skeleton" typefaces that excists digitally? Not skeleton as in "skin and bone", but refering to the common ground form of a typeface.
This is a mission impossible, but I thought it could be good to try this forum.

Any suggestions would be very much appreciated!

Stefan Miklos's picture
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Folio, Helvetica, Univers. All 1957. All International Style implying Neutrality.
You can get the complete family pack of Helvetica Neue with its weights.

Stefan Miklos's picture
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In the beginning there was Akzidenz Grotesk.

James Michaels's picture
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> free from political, social and cultural connotations

Who is the audience for this project?

While there are some typefaces you might avoid because they are associated with particular groups, I don't think the majority of common typefaces would cause an average person to draw a connection to particular groups.

Håkon Stensholt's picture
Joined: 4 Mar 2014 - 9:55am
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Maybe my request was formulated poorly. But I need it for a project that is about exploring the letterforms in a contemporary/technological context. All fonts have different connotations/history, but I'm looking for a typeface that will distract the mind as little as possible.

Nick Shinn's picture
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Karloff addresses this issue.

Håkon Stensholt's picture
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I found this one now: http://chilliant.blogspot.se/2012/06/skeleton-alphabet-1.html.
Anyone familiar with Ann Camp?

Nick Curtis's picture
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The least distracting typefaces would be the most ubiquitous ones...Arial or Times Roman.

Johan Palme's picture
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Since everything is political and neutrality is culturally constructed, this is a bit of a Quixotic thing to shoot for.

That said, I'm often caught out by one common font in the "oh, I wasn't thinking about what the text is set in at all" stakes, namely Myriad. I think it says much less than just about any other font (neither old-fashioned nor edgy, not overly associated with a certain era or user segment, not particularly many idiosyncracies).

Donald H. Tucker's picture
Joined: 13 Dec 2012 - 3:47pm
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Impossible to get this absolutely right. I think the first post -- Folio, Helvetica, Univers recommended by Fournier -- is spot on, with the addition of Arial, as recommended by Nick Curtis. Some similar fonts, such as Myriad have picked up baggage. For many people Myriad now says Apple. As for serifs, yes Nick, Times Roman is the one. Although courier is also a contender. Bland, ugly, ubiquitous and forgettable -- used for anywhere mono-spacing is needed, from motion picture scripts to business accounts.
Don

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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I think an extremely "neutral" font is FF Kievit.

hhp

Charles Ellertson's picture
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Nick Shinn's picture
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Sure, some typefaces are extremely bland.
But you should also bear in mind layout—for any given layout the least distracting font is that which one would most expect to appear in that kind of layout.

Martin Silvertant's picture
Joined: 31 Dec 2009 - 11:51pm
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"Impossible to get this absolutely right. I think the first post -- Folio, Helvetica, Univers recommended by Fournier -- is spot on, with the addition of Arial"

At the very least Helvetica is culturally not neutral, and thus nor is Arial. Univers was always more neutral in my opinion. It still has character, but it doesn't have such distinct letters as Helvetica does (a, R, S). I always recognize Univers by its /a but I don't think I would recognize it otherwise. Folio isn't neutral at all, is it?

I wouldn't really consider FF Kievit to be neutral either, but strangely enough it's almost exactly what comes to mind when I think of a "skeleton" typeface.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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That upcurl in Helvetica's "a" makes me want to *throw* up.

hhp

Martin Silvertant's picture
Joined: 31 Dec 2009 - 11:51pm
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Perhaps I'm slightly missing what neutrality is about. I'm starting to think to you guys neutrality is a "dry" grotesque face. At the same time though I couldn't really say what's perfectly neutral. I agree with donshottype's comment: "Some similar fonts, such as Myriad have picked up baggage. For many people Myriad now says Apple." Myriad has always been a face without much of an identity for me, but I can see how people become so familiar with a brand that a typeface suddenly says a lot more than perhaps it initially intended. For me Helvetica and Arial are at least culturally not at all neutral. We recognize both immediately and it comes with a lot of historical baggage. Arial is also the default typeface of the city I live in so Arial tends to become even less neutral for me.

But can you guys clarify what you think of when considering neutrality in typefaces? hamest mentioned he's looking for a typeface that is "free from political, social and cultural connotations". I think faces like Helvetica are not that, but perhaps an unpopular Helvetica no one is familiar with would be. I don't really understand how faces like Helvetica and especially Akzidenz Grotesk pop up here though. What I think of when considering "neutrality" and "skeletal" is a typeface stripped down from the essentials. Not a geometric typeface, but a clean grotesque. No spurs. As I mentioned Univers is quite neutral to me. I don't find Folio neutral at all because of those strange counters. I like it, but it's far from neutral. So perhaps you reason neutrality differently?

Charles Ellertson's picture
Joined: 3 Nov 2004 - 11:00am
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Perhaps I'm slightly missing what neutrality is about.

The original poster's dilemma:

I am looking for a so called "neutral" typeface. I know there is no such thing, but I need at typeface for my project that is "free from political, social and cultural connotations".

So, in a nutshell, a typeface that is not associated with any "branding," in the broad sense of the term.

Why I suggested TheSans and TheSerif

Stefan Miklos's picture
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About the typeface Helvetica.
"The aim of the new design was to create a neutral typeface that had great clarity, no intrinsic meaning in its form, and could be used on a wide variety of signage."

Stefan Miklos's picture
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From AG to Univers.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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Haas Unica beats them all.

hhp

Johan Palme's picture
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To pick up the thread from Martin, how "skeletal" a grotesque is Helvetica really? I mean, some of its features are very distinct and extreme, far from neutral. I'm thinking of the extremely closed counters and ultra-consistently horizontal/vertical terminals, for instance. My take is that Miedinger was primarily concerned with logical consistency and esthetic purity (which may be the same thing), not neutrality in the sense of being unintrusive.

(Univers has a similar thing going, and has the distinctive thing where bolder cuts have more contrast than most grotesques. Avenir, which of course is not a grot, is more "neutral" in the unobtrusive sense to my eye. Myriad is of course close to a copy of it.)

Nick Shinn's picture
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The Neutral typeface:
http://letterlabor.de

Martin Silvertant's picture
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The Neutral typeface is what I would consider neutral.

The original poster's dilemma:

I am looking for a so called "neutral" typeface. I know there is no such thing, but I need at typeface for my project that is "free from political, social and cultural connotations".

So, in a nutshell, a typeface that is not associated with any "branding," in the broad sense of the term.

I know. That's why I have no idea why the first typefaces people mention are Folio, Helvetica and Arial and every other person after that seems to agree. Helvetica and Arial are not free from social and cultural connotations and Folio is simply not neutral stylistically. I think we're caught up in old grotesque faces rather than considering actual neutrality.

Martin Silvertant's picture
Joined: 31 Dec 2009 - 11:51pm
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My take is that Miedinger was primarily concerned with logical consistency and esthetic purity (which may be the same thing), not neutrality in the sense of being unintrusive.

That's exactly my thinking. I can see how you can argue that Helvetica has a certain neutrality or clinical look, but that's different from the kind of neutrality (skeletal) we're after. Strip Helvetica's character down and you have a neutral typeface. Get rid of the vertical leg in /R and the curvature from the bowl to the spine in /a for starters.

Nick Shinn's picture
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Hrant H Papazian's picture
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Martin Silvertant's picture
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Nick, why do you say it's averaged neutrality? It's just an average. That's very different from neutrality, even if averaging techniques may be applied to eventually get to a form which may be perceived as neutral. The output of these averaging techniques depend on the input and since the input isn't necessarily neutral, you can't expect the outcome to be. To get to neutrality you need human eyes and rationality. If all typefaces are like circles and true neutrality is like a triangle, then by taking the average of all those circles you will never get to a triangle. It will give insights into the common ground of typefaces which will probably make it easier to create a neutral skeleton because it restricts the area it can live in, but the averaging technique is just a tool and is not a showcase of neutrality.

Like froo said: "With this method, you only get the set of common elements, a blurred area"

Nick Shinn's picture
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Martin, I would say that averaging, cleaned up a little, is as good a method of targeting neutrality as any other.

However, what I really believe is that the fish is not aware of the water.
So, considering that power laws (e.g. Lotka’s) operate in cultural markets, the most neutral or invisible typeface will be that which is most used for the kind of document and layout in which it appears, for the given readership demographic.

Bert Vanderveen's picture
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In a sea, lake or river water is neutral - a drifting log (or swimming fish) not so much.

OTH - Akzidenz G is the ‘mother of’ and thus the origin of this river.

Martin Silvertant's picture
Joined: 31 Dec 2009 - 11:51pm
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I'm not entirely convinced. We would have to assume that most of the typefaces we use as input are of the perfect proportions and weight to be neutral in order to target actual neutrality. I believe Spiekermann stated somewhere that all typefaces are about 17% different from each other, which would mean that the essential skeleton you're targeting is the remaining 83%. I don't understand how that can be used to target neutrality. I think targeting neutrality is a rational process.

I certainly agree that neutrality is contextual as well. A renaissance bible in Univers would be anything but neutral, contextually.

Stefan Miklos's picture
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The counters of the neogrots.

Nick Shinn's picture
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Stefan, your analysis is flawed, because you are working from recent digital examples. The design of AG, especially, varied considerably from size to size, and it was redesigned after the publication of Helvetica.

Stefan Miklos's picture
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Can you tell me if a 'genuine' AG is digitally available, please?
Thanks.

Stefan Miklos's picture
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What do you think of François Rappo's Theinhardt?
[[http://www.optimo.ch/typefaces_Theinhardt_Regular.html]]

Martin Silvertant's picture
Joined: 31 Dec 2009 - 11:51pm
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Wow, great typeface. I would love to have seen this instead of Arial, and Aktiv Grotesk instead of Helvetica.

Nick Shinn's picture
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Can you tell me if a 'genuine' AG is digitally available, please?

No, because every digital rendering of a metal face is an interpretation.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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In fact typically even a metal face was an interpretation! Drawings done by the designer were as a rule modified by the "works" people; Gill's drawings for example didn't even exhibit overshoots for the rounds. And then was the general oblivion towards spacing on behalf of the "designer". All this was especially true of smaller sizes.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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Reasons for interpretation:

1. Foundry type letter design varies with size: and size-specific (“opticals”) fonts are almost never made for sans serif.

2. Foundry type image varies with paper stock and different amounts of pressure and ink gain.

3. Foundry type impression of the same letter varies with individual type, inking, and pressure.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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4. Foundry type in its original design would not sell well today... :-/ Example: Fleischmann, which nobody has yet had the cojones to properly revive.

hhp

Les O'Neill's picture
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Hrant, what have you against DTL Fleischmann?

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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It doesn't go far enough. Check this out:
http://www.themicrofoundry.com/other/Fman65.gif

hhp

Les O'Neill's picture
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Well maybe I'm dim, but I'm still not getting it? Below is a compiled screencapture from the DTL specimen Pdf showing the Text & Display cuts of the lowercase. Would you mind critiquing and explaining just where & how Erhard Kaiser has let you down?

–'s picture
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What are you missing in DTL Fleischmann? If I compare its glyphs to the scans you have shown, I don’t see any crucial differences.

I hope you don’t mind that I have taken the liberty of adding the lowercase glyphs of the DTL Fleischmann text cut to your image:

The only downside about DTL Fleischmann for me is that it is not exactly affordable at more than $4,500 for the entire family.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Please read my contribution to the second story here:
http://www.typographer.org/2005_06_01_digests.html#111945232557055739

Yes, DTL Fleischmann is close... just not close enough for somebody who's interested in original intent. It clearly shies away from reviving the Didone "o", the diminutive bowls on the ascending letters, and other such idiosyncratic –and telling– design decisions.

hhp

Les O'Neill's picture
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Well I think I'll leave it at that, except to say, if you think there is something significant missing from all these interpretations (probably 1000's of prime time hrs) then perhaps you should consider doing a version that might fulfill your own expectations and release that to the wild?

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Not a bad suggestion. Personally I'm more a fan of reviving ideas that can lead to new forms, rather than the old forms themselves. I'm just not very sure what he was thinking. So I guess I need to whip up a séance with the Fmann. :-)

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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It would be hard to duplicate the effect of the low-x-height b, d, p and q, given the way that alignment zones work.

I put an irregular x-height into Oneleigh, quite nice and subtle at high res IMHO, but it looks randomly ghastly on screen, depending on its size.

With an authentic digital Fleischmann, I would imagine that on screen its odd-height bowls would sometimes appear full x-height, at other times waaaay shorter, and occasionally just right.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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I wouldn't mind if the short bowls would align with the x-height when there aren't enough pixels. But that's getting rare everywhere.

BTW in the epic #65 the "p" and "q" do reach the x-height... and they sit above the baseline... That's a very strong clue as to what the Fmann was thinking... something we've become to genteel to revive.

hhp

Stefan Miklos's picture
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If you don't mind, let's get back to the initial topic.

I am looking for a so called "neutral" typeface.

You can use [[http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/canadatype/recta/|Recta]] by Aldo Novarese.

I need at typeface for my project that is "free from political, social and cultural connotations".

Life is not neutral even though the Swiss International Style designers assert the opposite with the use of Akzidenz-Grotesk.

Do you know about any "skeleton" typefaces that excists digitally?

Not skeleton as in "skin and bone", but refering to the common ground form of a typeface.

Something common, vulgar, an ersatz, find Arial.

"While it is widely believed that Arial’s design was based on Helvetica, it is more accurate to consider Monotype Grotesque as its ancestor."

Andreas Stötzner's picture
Joined: 12 Mar 2007 - 10:21am
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@Hrant: > …DTL Fleischmann is close... just not close enough for somebody who's interested in original intent …

This you could say about any critical type revival of a historic face. Erhard Kaiser’s Fleischmann is an excellent typeface.

> … It clearly shies away from …

This is arrogant nonsense.
The designer made decisions, the result is convincing. What about it?
_____
btw,
I did a skeleton alphabet years ago for my own teaching purposes. It later became [[http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/andreas-stotzner/lapidaria/minor-light/|Lapidaria]].

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Kaiser's Fleischmann is not only an excellent typeface, it is the most convincing Flesichmann revival to date. But what I'm saying cannot in fact be applied to any revival; this is a rare case where I believe something valuable has failed to be revived. Virtually all revivals are either accurately faithful, or discard aspects that were –or have largely become– pointless. In contrast, I think aiming for higher readability is ever-relevant, and this particular opportunity has yet to be grasped.

Did Kaiser play it safe (as I suspect), was he wary of reviving an aspect he did not himself sufficiently understand, or did he think the deviation in the original was simply a bad idea? That is the interesting question – it reflects not only on an individual designer but on how the market shapes culture.

hhp