Archive through August 08, 2004

A. Scott Britton's picture

Does anyone here (who works exclusively with text faces) find the art of designing display faces to be reprehensible?

Does anyone work exclusively with artful, graphic display faces (like this maybe:, and do you find the designing of text faces to be too "academic"?

I've nothing at all against either form--just wondering if any of you have strong opinions.

hrant's picture

> Does anyone here (who works exclusively with text faces)
> find the art of designing display faces to be reprehensible?

That would be me. :-> You won't find many of us. But really, "reprehensible" is way too strong - and there's no denying that display faces are fun and useful. But they are also shallow.


A. Scott Britton's picture

Yeah I know it's one of those crazy ones--there are actually people who do ONLY faces like that one though, right?

Diner's picture

Hrant bite your tongue, shallow . . . . Sheeesh! :D

Seriously, I've designed both text and display and I honestly consider text to BE display just with more rules and different goals.

I'm sure somebody will jump don't my throat here and tell me they are totally different but it's still the same number of letters, attention to spacing and kerning and make no mistake COLOR is just as important to a display face as a text one.

Beyond that, I have a grass is greener on the other side philosophy about designing text since display is my preference. I would love to design the next Helvetica or Times so I am compelled to experiment to figure out what works and why with text designs.

It's like sitting down to design a display font and saying my goal is to create something that looks like a 1940s Chinese menu. I can easily judge the success of the face or not when I've gotten a few glyphs into it. I think the same goes for a text face if I define a goal for it before I start.

I enjoy making fonts, all kinds of fonts and I highly suggest that a type design NEEDS to actually make both kinds at least once. It'll raise acute design issues they hadn't considered in there preferred font making style.

My 2

hrant's picture

> I would love to design the next Helvetica or Times

Don't do that, dude - shoot higher, deeper.

I think one thing that makes text work and display not is illusion.


A. Scott Britton's picture

Can you elaborate, Hrant?

Thomas Phinney's picture

What I can't tolerate are intolerant people... including those who don't understand that both display and text faces have their uses.

Seriously though, there are cruddy fonts of both kinds. There are probably more and a higher percentage of cruddy display fonts because novices tend to gravitate towards them. But that fact does not mean display fonts can't be well done.



hrant's picture

> What I can't tolerate are intolerant people...

Don't be so [recursively] hard on yourself. :->
No, seriously: You can't reject intolerance - that only reinforces it. You have to assimilate it.

1) I clearly said that I think display faces are useful.
2) Of course display fonts can be well done (I plan on making some good ones myself one day), but that doesn't negate the nature of the beast.


pablohoney77's picture

I honestly consider text to BE display just with more rules and different goals

was it Hrant that said he thought Times is really a display face? Yet it's probably one of the most popular (unfortulately) text faces out there. Leading me to the next bit...

> I would love to design the next Helvetica or Times
Don't do that, dude - shoot higher, deeper.

who wouldn't like to design the next typeface on everyone's computer? that's gotta be a small chunk of change you can take to the bank anyway. and what's wrong with wishing for that?

Si_Daniels's picture

>who wouldn't like to design the next typeface on everyone's computer?

Vinnie, are you reading this?

hrant's picture

The digital Times we use now, as it generally comes out in offset, is indeed a display face: it's a bit light, and too contrasty (at the point sizes most needed for text).

> and what's wrong with wishing for that?

Nothing, nominally - but nothing comes free - maybe culture pays when materialism wins?
Anyway, I'm not even sure exactly what Stuart was wishing for: the money, the satisfaction, or the glory... or all of it! :-)


Diner's picture

The legendary status that comes with such an accomplishment :D

pablohoney77's picture

digital Times we use now...

is Times 10 any better for text? is there a "good" text version of Times?

A. Scott Britton's picture

Ha! Yeah Vincent, I always wondered how you felt about this kind of conversation.

Outside of the fact that you ACTUALLY DESIGNED Comic Sans, how do you feel about the (gulp...) hatred it seems to have incurred?

hrant's picture

Paul, what is Times? Is Times10 Times? Is Times Europa Times? Roger Black seems to think that the new Times fonts by Farey are not Times. What makes a font itself?

The conclusion of the Comic Sans debacle:


pablohoney77's picture

now that's a good question.. what IS Times?

Si_Daniels's picture

> how do you feel about the (gulp...) hatred it seems to have incurred?

We've been over this a ton of times (although the 'hatred' is limited to a small minority - more people love the font than hate it) what's more interesting is how having a font with you name attached, pre-installed on millions of machines makes you feel, and how seeing the font in use makes you feel. You could equally ask Matthew Carter, but my feeling is that he'd give a different answer.

A. Scott Britton's picture

Nice link, but now I'm afraid of Vincent. Forget I said anything Vincent.

hrant's picture

> now I'm afraid of Vincent.

More than the Canadian Mint?


Thomas Phinney's picture


Besides being tongue in cheek, my comment was not aimed at you, but at anyone who would answer "yes" to either of Scott's questions.

As a side note on Comic Sans, I have recently learned that it is quite popular in the high energy particle physics community, especially for presentations and the like. However, the design of some of the Greek glyphs is apparently considered somwhat of a problem for this community (take the lower-case lambda for instance, with its vertical ascender).



thelring's picture

A weird community. Sorry. I don't think that a film-maker is going to say/ask - comedy v. action?
or a writer - horror v. romance? or pop v. jazz?

There's a place for everything. And everything in its place!

So - Display v. Text? Not important. However, what is really important : WELL BEGUN IS HALF DONE. That is to say : QUALITY!!!!!!!!!!!!


The Lord of The Ring

dezcom's picture

>So - Display v. Text? Not important. However, what is really important : WELL BEGUN IS HALF DONE. That is to say : QUALITY!!!!!!!!!!!!<

Aye, there's the rub. Better a good display face than a bad text face.

It is like selecting a tool to fasten wood. Sometimes you need screws and sometimes nails. They each do what they do best but if either is bent, they are not worth a tinker's damn. Maybe it takes longer to use a screw but that does not diminish the value of a nail. So, you can either bang it or screw it but don't get all bent out of shape about it.


Si_Daniels's picture

>However, the design of some of the Greek glyphs is apparently considered somwhat of a problem for this community (take the lower-case lambda for instance, with its vertical ascender).

True, unlike more recent font work we didn't hire Maxim or Gerry to review the Greek and Cyrillic, so the forms may be a bit unorthodox.

Greek unorthodox is apparently not well received as I hardly saw any Comic Sans in use during my recent trip to Greece. Unlike the rest of Europe which is awash with Comic Sans. No experience of the Crillic though.

Perhaps Comic Sans Pro's time has come?


dezcom's picture

>Greek unorthodox is apparently not well received<

LOL!!! Having been raised in the Greek Orthodox Church and later abandoning it in favor of Nothingism, I wasn't too well received by the faithful either.


pablohoney77's picture

Perhaps Comic Sans Pro's time has come?

let's hear it for McWorld!

kirsten's picture

Do any of you expert typophiles think there are fonts that sucessfully hit from both sides of the plate? That is they work well as both text and display?

Diner's picture

I think Dennis Pasternak's Maiandra font does this pretty well

Also, in a similar vein, Sauna by Underware


hrant's picture

Most people will tell you that a display font will rarely look good for text, but a text font can be made to look good for display. I myself agree with the first part, but believe that at the very top end of text face design the second part is untrue. It might sound paradoxical, but a "real" text face needs to have a certain ugliness about it. One clue is that -as most people will admit- optical scaling matters.


Nick Shinn's picture

What's all this display OR text nonsense?
It's up to the typographer how to use what font where.

For instance, you could use a "text" face if you want a bit of sturdiness -- maybe you are doing a subtle tonal effect, or running type over a busy picture, or printing on a very textured stock. Or you want to make the type look like has been blown up big, really in your face, say with a high contrast image or an image with a coarse graphic screen. Or maybe you are going to give the type a faux effect, and you need the heft to withstand the distress.

At the opposite end, you can use display faces quite small on coated paper, especially on a small sheet that people will hold close. And when you need a precious effect.

So really, typefaces should be designed to look good both small and large.

Rather than "Display" and "Text", consider "Fine" and "Strong" as the terminology.

hrant's picture

Nick, Nick, Nick. You have to snap out of this - the sooner the better. Trust me on this one.

Type is more than about aesthetics, and this is the reason there's a duality.

You yourself have made both display fonts and text fonts. When I think about how you can be capable of making the latter, my tentative conclusion is disconcerting: you do it by mimicking precedent. Disconcerting, because this shakles you; you'll only be able to make text fonts that are as original (hence culturally valuable) as your display fonts by understanding reading, instead of pretending that aesthetics and cultural norms are everything.

Don't be afraid of dumping the sad Emigre relativism.
Type design is so much better without that hogwash.


hrant's picture

No, Mrs Eaves is lousy for long text because its spacing is bad (and it's too loose for the ideal point size range - see below). Mrs Eaves is only a text face if you use InDesign's optical spacing.

You're confusing the x-height issue: in terms of ideal readability, correct vertical proportions depend on target point size range; in fact a book face needs a smaller x-height than a display face!

BTW, the Emigre relativism precludes a font not being appropriate for text because of a too-small x-height. WRBWWRM simply says: vertical proportions don't matter.

Understanding readability requires thought, not idolatry.


Nick Shinn's picture

Hrant, you are not my analyst, parent or spouse, so don't tell me what's good for me. And I ain't never gonna trust ya -- you'll have to convince by the logic of your argument.

And oh no, not the old whipping boy of "Emigre relativism". Please, get over your nemesis of "we read best what we read most" -- or come up with a counter catch-phrase that's as succint and memorable!

Certainly, there is a genre of traditional serifed type, and a way of using it, that requires optical scaling, but this is a special case (which has for too long stultified typography), not a general principle.

A good typeface from either genre will be sufficiently well designed that it can pass muster in an unintended, alien environment.

The exception is outrageously wacky display faces (such as the faux Japanese), and display faces that have extremely fine features, such as Giza, Throwhand (an interest of David Berlow), or ultra-thins. However, it's amazing that faces such as digital Bauer Bodoni can be used as text faces at all, given the delicacy of its detail, but it can, because the design is so strong.

There is a myth which you adhere to, that there is some profound mechanics of extended immersive reading, far above mere aesthetics, which you are particularly privvy to.

But it's not that clever; quite simply, some typefaces are better than others. By the same token, some musicians are better than others -- virtuosi. When they play, the listener becomes deeply immersed. Nothing to do with the maestro's scientific understanding of acoustical bio-mechanics.

Making fonts (aka type design) is a craft, requiring a combination of aesthetic discrimination, originality/personality, and technique. "Reading theory" is bunk.

hrant's picture

> you'll have to convince by the logic of your argument.

But are you listening? And not just to me. You cite snippets from Larson to back up your "religion", but you ignore his whole foundation, which is totally anti-WRBWWRM.

And I don't do catch-phrases. Readability isn't a US presidential campaign.

> it's amazing that faces such as digital Bauer Bodoni can be used as text faces at all

Using a sufficiently loose definition of "text face", of course anything will pass. Bauer Bodoni (especially coupled to your dismissal of optical scaling) is a lousy face for a book for example.

And who's adhering to myths: the designer who combines empirical findings and anecdotal evidence (both of which you ignore), or the designer who pretends humans are ethereal beings who absorb text through some mystical, abstract mechanism? The retina for example is a real, physical thing, with attributes and limitations - and this is a factor in readability. Artsy, self-validating, post-rationalized ideology is not.


hrant's picture

BTW, I had this old thread flagged to address one day:
I guess this is a good place to splice it back in the loop.

Nick, re-reading what you wrote there, there really seems to be an undercurrent of contradiction.

> Hrant, maybe you didn't catch what I was saying... I said Mrs. Eaves is good
> for display and only good for body text in moderate ( not for long body copy).

I wasn't opposed to your conclusion that Mrs Eaves is unsuitable for long text, I was opposed to your explanation of why that's the case.


A. Scott Britton's picture


>"Reading theory" is bunk.

Seriously? Optical correction is a fact of life, and it seems (to me at least) that the practice of optical correction and readability/legibility are a perfect marriage (albeit a shotgun wedding). Can optical correction really have a point without readability? I'm not defending Hrant, which reminds me...


I was thinking about the bouma thing today and it dawned on me--if words can have established shape recognition, why can't individual letters. They obviously can. Still seems like a chirographic convention to me--the broad-nib pen is the genesis of certain "sub-stroke" features (like the one in bicameral "a", moving from the start of the bowl and into the lower portion--this can't be a perfect geometric curve or the eye will notice that something is a little off).

Even a good sans with very little modulation demonstrates the sub-stroke.


hrant's picture

In fact letters are the foundational elements - and for most of us they're the only things we're explicitly taught, which is why reading via boumas seems counter-intuitive*. But once we're taught the atomic units we start fending for ourselves, and we learn things (boumas) without explicit instruction, simply because it helps reading performance.

When you think about it (and when you take into account certain pieces of empirical data, not to mention tons of anecdotal evidence) you realize that it only makes sense. After all, why would the brain refuse to take in the "ing" string for example as a cognitive unit? And why would it be so hard to read the word "readjust"?

* Another "problem" with the bouma model is that it's anti-Modernist.

I think the most elegant way to look at this is to see a letter as a single-element bouma.


bieler's picture

This is completely off topic. I just ran through this thread and the most amazing thing... what's with all the infant photos? Hrant especially, man, you've lost your bouma!!!


jim_rimmer's picture


These types spring from metal sources and were done in a range of sizes from 5 point to in some case 96 point, so they were intended for use as diaplay as well as text. Most certainly the foundries producing them would did a lot of scaling of parameters and weights to make them work. I think very few of these have not been translated in to digital format.

Post Roman
Cloister Oldstyle
Italian Oldstyle (Goudy)
Times New Roman
Van Dijk
Trump Mediaeval

I have listed serif faces only, not wishing to fall into the trap as to whether or not sans types are suitable for text, but what the hell, I have never paid much attention to the "sans-aint-for-text" club. If I like it I'd use it.

Jim Rimmer

hrant's picture

> I think very few of these have not been translated in to digital format.

With a huge difference: no optical scaling. Different cuts for different sizes are what make a typeface suitable for text and display - and at that point you might say it's no longer the same typeface - you would certainly say it's no longer the same font.

If you look at the optical progression in ATF Garamond, you'll notice gradual curves below 12 and above 14, but an abrupt shift between 12 and 14. That's because the ATF boys saw that as the cutoff between text and display. Usually I myself would put it between 11 and 12, but considering that Garamond is small on the body, it makes sense.

And if you put the 6 point ATF Garamond (enlarged) next to the 48 point ATF Garamond next to Times, and you ask laymen "which two fonts are the same", you'll get them pairing up the 2nd and 3rd all the time. And if you ask them "Which one is ugly", they'll point out the 1st one vitually all of the time. Ugly has virtue in text.


thelring's picture

=== I have never paid much attention to the "sans-aint-for-text" club. If I like it I'd use it. ====

Mr. Rimmer - what sans do you like for text? and why do we have the - "sans-aint-for-text" club ?

Thank you

Nick Shinn's picture

>infant photos

Actually, I was 10 when that was taken.
The ravages of time have taken their toll -- please allow me the VANITY of a snotty Pottersque avatar.
Hrant, welcom to the KID KLUB!
Stuart? AW, 2 KEWT!

>reading theory is bunk

A. Scott's question was 'do you find the designing of text faces to be too "academic"?'
No, but discussing it can get that way.

As far as I'm concerned, reading theory has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the CRAFT of making a typeface. The old guys who designed all the most readable faces managed perfectly well without if FOR CENTURIES.

Sure, science and LOGIC can help explain how people and things work, but whenever they are used as the basis of creativity the results tend to be BANAL and inhuman.

As Rilke said (sorry, this is from memory, of a translation) "ONLY THROUGH LOVE can one understand a work of art". There's enough art in typography to make his statement applicable.

>I honestly consider text to BE display just with more rules and different goals.

Right on, Stuart. And I'm sure that's the way Nic Jenson worked on the definitive roman type, which was what we would consider a large text size, around 14 pt in size. Like all subsequent type designers who have produced a smooth text face, he was obviously very UP CLOSE AND INTIMATE WITH HIS GLYPHS, and THE WAY THEY COMBINE with one another.

For text, as opposed to display, the principles are simple:
1. Sturdier details (eg thicker hairlines and serifs)
2. Avoid small counters
3. Wider sidebearings and serifs
It's that simple -- if you follow these principles, you can turn any display type into a text type. However, if your typeface has uneven color as a display face, it will have uneven color as a text face too, and such faults tend to be more obvious at text size.

pablohoney77's picture

why do we have the - "sans-aint-for-text" club ?

cuz it's hard enuff for slow readers like me already without putting everything in sans.

hrant's picture

Nick, yelling isn't going to turn type design into an art, it isn't going to bereft type design of technical considerations (which seem to scare you so), and it isn't going to turn a person into a real text face designer. And don't compare yourself to Jenson, and certainly not Fleischmann - it seems you will never understand his #65.

> the principles are simple

The only simple thing in type design is some of its practioners.

You're dishing out broad, inherited principles without having thought about the why - if one day you do, you'll see that the three things you mention are the tip of the iceberg, and you'll graduate from mimickry and self-serving artistry.


As for clubs, I don't feel like I'm in one, but it's clear that the more continuous text you set, the more serifs (well made ones) help.


jim_rimmer's picture


As nearly as I can figure it the reason that some people dislike sans is because they were told in art school that they should (as a text face).

I do agree that sans type for the most part don't make the most ideal type for large texts, but I think they were not designed for that.

For a good many years I convinced myself that I disliked Bodoni . . .all Bodoni, because I read somewhere that I should dislike it. And then one day I took a really good look at it (since I had come into possession of a large number of matrices for casting it) and discovered that to my new eyes, it was lovely.

I get a little tired of type police. For the past 20 years or more my attitude has been that there is no bad type, some are just better than others. If you apply yourself, you can make any type work, with the possible exception of Murray Hill. I do reserve the right to dislike something.

I think that if any type has gone through the jury system of a respected, established manufacturer it can't really be inept.

To answer your other question I like the following sans for both text and display.

Hess Sans Serif
Philadelphia Lining Gothic
Plate Gothics (Copperplate)
Gill Sans
Goudy Sans
49J Gothic (Lanston Monotype
Twentieth Century
Franklin Gothic (Looks great in 8 point, Yummy!)
New sGothic 206
Grotesque (English Monotype)

And all seriousness, I would add Cheltenham to my Roman list.


If the type I listed did not come out to be the same typeface as when they were metal types that is hardly the fault of the metal types. In any event the ones that I am aware of that are available on the computer still look pretty good to me. Probably because the maker has done extensive scaling and altering. Some of the current Garamonds look a little stiff-assed, and kind of missed the whole point that Garamond should be "uneven".

A parting comment re sans. Scour the internet and look for the new Ancient Greek (sans) that Dann Carr has cut for a book titled Fragments of Parmenides, printed and published by Peter Koch. The text was translated by Robert Bringhurst. It's a really lovely type, and another version has been done digitally, but at the moment I can't recall who did that one.

Jim Rimmer

hrant's picture

> that is hardly the fault of the metal types.

When did I say it was?
My point was that a metal "typeface" that works well in both display and text effectively contains many different fonts, each tuned to its size. A given single font cannot do both text and display well, or at least not at the highest level.


bieler's picture

"Some of the current Garamonds look a little stiff-assed, and kind of missed the whole point that Garamond should be "uneven"."

A while back Jeffrey Atherton and I were doing some research for a book on Gutenberg and we invited Nicolas Barker over to pick his brain. I was working with him on another project at the time so he graciously obliged. He started out his "interview" with a discussion of a very early application of digital type software, that being the use of the mathematical powers of the computer to find the Garamondness in Garamond. It seemed apparent he was only using this as a teaching metaphor, as a point of intellectual approach for us to pursue, but I thought the example quite remarkable.

Gerald Lange

Miguel Hernandez's picture

Hi Guys,

Some people think that a font for text, can

jim_rimmer's picture


I often wonder if the classification of type into text and display is not more than a little subjective.

I have used 30 point Garamond italic for a broadsheet wherein the entire text was set in this display size. I have seen others do the same kind of thing and the effect is striking. So perhaps this is a little off the discussion, but it IS the use of a display type for text. If you scaled that same display fce down into 12 point and set the same text the effect might be less successful.

There have been many comparison studies made by scaling different type-size fonts to a common size to compare weight and stroke. I don't think anyone ever came to common understanding over it. So a text face is often huskier and has differing perameters, and if you blow it up, it becomes a medium weight, and not always graceful.

Sumner Stone designed a lovely face that he has named Arepo, and considers it a display face. I wonder if it wouldn't serve well as a text type. It has all the attributes of a type that would serve in text. It's very attractive, but doesn't holler and shout or draw attention to any one letter.

Jim Rimmer

hrant's picture

> text reading have to be transparece to the reader, but
> pleasent forms are refreshing if they work technically good.

No face can -or should- be totally transparent. But there is a qualitative difference between the transparency needed in text versus display design, and this is due to the nature of the intended reading experience: deliberative, where we have time to read a handful of words and we can consciously appreciate the formal details; versus immersive, where the subconsious reading mechanism takes over, because it becomes a performance issue. Readability really only matters when a reader is pushing the limits of perception/cognition - otherwise virtually everything is pretty legible.

> it IS the use of a display type for text.

Only if you use a peculiar -maybe pointless- definition of "text".
Really any text is "text", even if it's one word. But a useful definition of "text" versus "display" entails a consideration of how humans read. It's been shown for example that when a font is too large reading slows down a lot. So to me "text" means a setting that crosses into the subconscious, immersive mechanism. This is where boumas start to matter, and where an x-height can be too large for example, or spacing too loose. This to me is a useful boundary to think about in the text/display discussion.

> If you scaled that same display fce down into 12 point and
> set the same text the effect might be less successful.

Exactly, and not just aesthetically, but functionally.
And what does that tell you?

> not always graceful.

Exactly. And that's why I say "ugliness" has merit in text face design, because it's really only ugly at the deliberative level. At the immersive level it's required to make a text font "click" for real.

(I wish Walter Tracy were alive, and a Typophiler...)


William Berkson's picture

It seems to me that generally a text type should be artistically strong enough to work for display, if it is optically scaled (big sizes 'go on a diet' for display). In other words, the letter forms will still be identifiable as the same face at both sizes. It may not be great at display, but it should look pretty darn good. The only exceptions would be designs for very small sizes like Bell Centenial or Biblion, where there are extreme distortions for the sake of legibility at a very small size.

But the other way around doesn't work. There are excellent display types that won't work at all as text. There is an assymetry here.

I think Hrant is right that the two different kinds of reading are different, and for extended text the typeface must be able to become transparent. If it is so mannered that it cannot become transparent it will fail as text type.

But he is wrong in ignoring that we also look at that same text type in what he calls the 'deliberative' way. We aren't always immersed. We look at the page, the subheads, the first few words more slowly. We go in and out of immersion. That's why the aesthetics and flavor of the text type are important. Ugly is a liability in a text type also, in my opinion, unless it is absolutely tiny, so the legibility trumps every other consideration.

degregorio2's picture

Display, texto..., pamplinas.

La verdad es que creo que las denominaciones quedan en el camino cuando se trata de usarlas.

Existen tipos (muchos de ellos publicados aqu

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