Modern type vs Digital Ghosts

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Franz Kugler's picture
Joined: 16 Apr 2008 - 1:30am
Modern type vs Digital Ghosts

I have read a few posts where people argue for Modern type, which is made for use/printing in our time.

Good argument, but Adobe Garamond is also made 'for our time' even if it is only Garamond in name as it is a modern OT version made for text right?

From a book/novel text point of view, why would it be better to use a modern typeface (one designed in the last 15 years) rather than a 'remake' that is meant to be good for the same thing (Baskerville Ten, A-Garamond, Bembo Book).

The 'Classic' book typefaces are in every book I open, so they must have lasted for a reason? (ie, they are good for text [as well as being easily available]).

I like to use modern typefaces for modern jobs, but I do not have a solid argument for clients to use typefaces other than the ones they expect.

Any thoughts?


Nick Shinn's picture
Joined: 8 Jul 2003 - 11:00am

I do not have a solid argument for clients to use typefaces other than the ones they expect.

If your client expects you to think like they do, it sounds like a perfect relationship.

Franz Kugler's picture
Joined: 16 Apr 2008 - 1:30am

Why Would I use Arnhem/Mercury/Minion etc over Adobe Garamond/Baskerville Ten/Adobe Caslon Pro/ Storm Walbaum etc?

Chris Keegan's picture
Joined: 11 Nov 2002 - 3:40pm

Since you mention a book/novel text point of view, the issue of readability is central. I agree with the idea that we read best what we read most, so many of the old classics are still around because they are so widely used, and maybe familiar. I would suggest typefaces, whether old or new, if they are appropriate to the project, and whether they work best in that situation.

Jan Schmoeger's picture
Joined: 12 Dec 2008 - 5:39am

As Nick says, it probably depends on your clients.
I struggled with this issue all my life and, usually, opted for the safe approach, read ‘old-fashioned’.
But then, my customers would have fired me if they thought I wanted to break some new ground, I believe.
That said, I used Minion and Myriad in many books (textbooks, professional), and it was OK.
If you are fortunate enough to get briefs on fiction, poetry, art and so on, you better be brave and adventurous.

Kent Lew's picture
Joined: 21 Apr 2002 - 11:00am

More about designing type than using type, perhaps, but this excerpt from the fanciful tale that Dwiggins tells about the birth of Electra sums up one position:

. . . . Got in touch with Kobodaishi and had a long talk with him. You will remember him as the Patron Saint of the lettering art—great Buddhist missionary in old Japan.
      [ . . . ] He said: “The trouble with all you people is that you are always trying to reproduce Jenson’s letters, or John de Spira or some of those Venetian people. You are always going back three or four hundred years and trying to do over again what they did then. What’s the idea?"
      “Well” I said, “we think those types were pretty good—about the best that anybody ever made, and we’d like to make some like them.”
      “But why like them?” he said. “You don’t live in Venice in 1500. This is 1935. Why don’t you do what they did: take letter shapes and see if you can’t work them into something that stands for 1935? Why doll yourself up in Venetian fancy-dress costume and go dodging around in airplanes and automobiles dressed up that way?”
      “I know” I said. “But you can’t play tricks with the shapes of letters. If you do, people can’t read ’em. People are used to type that looks like that, and you have got to keep mighty close to the old designs.”
      “Used to the 1500 types? Don’t you believe it. People are used to newspaper types, and typewriter types. Your Venice types are just about as queer-looking to your friends in Hingham as Greek letters. What people are used to in your time . . . That’s no argument. [ . . . ] All I’m saying is that the personality of Jenson, or Caslon, isn’t the personality you want. You want the personality of an individual living in A. D. 1935. Take yourself, for instance. You’re a student of letter forms. What would your personality be, expressed in a type?”

-- Kent.

Charles Ellertson's picture
Joined: 3 Nov 2004 - 11:00am

Sometimes with a question like this, it helps to consider a similar situation where you would be part of a different audience.

Suppose there is promising new string quartet. They will be giving a series of concerts next year. The success of the quartet -- thus their reputation and livelihood -- will to some extent depend on critical reviews of the performances, but to an equal or larger extent, on the audience response, including ticket sales.

Your job is to select the program they will (learn and) play. To come up with the program, do you poll composers? Even a broad selection, including some older, seasoned composers who do have a following, some younger, talented people known only amongst their peers, and a few talented students?

Or if music is too much an art to compare to typography, play the same scenario with furniture design and manufacture. Remembering that selling the furniture is part of the task. "Comfort" has several meanings, and with furniture & other artifacts, all have to be satisfied.

Will Powers's picture
Joined: 16 Jun 2005 - 10:32pm

There’s something I’m not getting about Höfe’s initial post, about Chris Keegan’s post, and Höfe’s second post.

I do not think I’ve ever heard anyone say that faces such as
Arnhem / Mercury / Minion lack anything in “readability” when compared to any classic faces or to contemporary re-workings of classics such as the Adobe Garamond / Baskerville Ten / Adobe Caslon Pro / Storm Walbaum group.

And here’s the way I’ve come to think about that now-famous maxim “we read best what we read most”: When dealing with text faces, the maxim does not necessarily apply to any specific faces or even to any specific cuts of faces. Rather, it applies to larger factors at play in the design of types.

The designers of the “modern” faces noted in the first post have not made any significant departures from the basic principles inherent in making text faces. They may have created new cuts of those faces, but when set well, those “modern” faces will offer no impediments to persons who have basic reading skills.

The widespread and successful use of Minion is enough to put to rest any concerns about its utility for text settings. I believe that over time we will see the same successful use of Arnhem and Mercury.

For my taste, Bembo Book is only a partial improvement over Bembos that had been perpetrated in all typesetting systems since its life as a metal face. I just won’t use any Bembo except metal. I rarely use any face based on what we think of as “Garamonds," so I'm not competent to comment on that. Baskerville Ten I have never used, but it sure seems to be a big improvement over ITC or Monotype Baskerville in their most current digital incarnations.

To follow Charles’ post: In a few days I’ll attend the last of 12 concerts of a chamber orchestra festival held this month. We’ve heard warhorses, new arrangements of warhorses, little-heard pieces from several centuries, and one North American premiere, played by 5 stellar chamber orchestras from the USA and Europe. This is like reading 12 books set in classics, re-workings of classics, and brand-new, never-before seen types. Most of the pieces could safely be said to be analogous to classic types, re-workings of classics, and well-crafted “modern” types. These went over well with almost all audiences. A few 20th-century pieces tested Licko’s maxim about familiarity, and a few folks walked out.

Take a few chances with some brand-new faces. Try to educate your clients. All will be well.