Jax: a new type classification

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Frank ADEBIAYE's picture
Joined: 29 Apr 2007 - 4:46pm
Jax: a new type classification

Type credit: Allumi PTF by Jean-François Porchez, Typofonderie

Riccardo Sartori's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 - 4:20am

You aren't really explaining it, are you?
And, other than the cool infographic, if it isn't a poster design critique you're after, proper text would have been a better choice.

Frank ADEBIAYE's picture
Joined: 29 Apr 2007 - 4:46pm

A bigger explanation is on the way...

Nick Cooke's picture
Joined: 25 May 2004 - 2:29am

Does this have anything to do with today's date?

Frank ADEBIAYE's picture
Joined: 29 Apr 2007 - 4:46pm

The Five W method is helpful to give a structured explaination :

¶ Who is it about?
It's about communication & typography

¶ What happened (what's the story)?
There is a lot of type classifications (Thibaudeau, Vox-ATyPi, Alessandrini) but they most focus on the look of the typefaces rather than on the use of the typefaces. Erik Spiekermann in “Stop Stealing Sheeps” raises the question of a classification of type according to their purpose (cf. Jean-François Porchez, “On type classifications”, Gazette, Typofonderie, March 10th 2011)
In the same time, I had an opportunity to re-read the Jakobson scheme. Roman Jokobson is a American linguist, he studied the language according to six functions :
§ The Referential Function
corresponds to the factor of Context and describes a situation, object or mental state. The descriptive statements of the referential function can consist of both definite descriptions and deictic words, e.g. "The autumn leaves have all fallen now."
§ The Expressive (alternatively called "emotive" or "affective") Function
relates to the Addresser and is best exemplified by interjections and other sound changes that do not alter the denotative meaning of an utterance but do add information about the Addresser's (speaker's) internal state, e.g. "Wow, what a view!"
§ The Conative Function
engages the Addressee directly and is best illustrated by vocatives and imperatives, e.g. "Tom! Come inside and eat!"
§ The Poetic Function
focuses on "the message for its own sake"[3] and is the operative function in poetry as well as slogans.
§ The Phatic Function
is language for the sake of interaction and is therefore associated with the Contact factor. The Phatic Function can be observed in greetings and casual discussions of the weather, particularly with strangers.
§ The Metalingual (alternatively called "metalinguistic" or "reflexive") Function
is the use of language (what Jakobson calls "Code") to discuss or describe itself.
(see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakobson%27s_functions_of_language)
So I decided to mix Jakobson with "Erix" (Erik S.) hence "Jax"

¶ Where did it take place?
It took place in France, because, in there, we love speculative/abstracts studies.

¶ When did it take place?
It took place in 2011, because, from time to time, a type classification appears.

¶ Why did it happen?
It happened because I wasn't satisfied with my reflexions about type licencing. So I wanted to go further : what's a typeface is for and in which case, people have to use it willingly or unwillingly.

¶¶ So what?
Nothing, such a type classification is pointless from a "graphic design"/"visual" point of view.
But it could be useful to explain what typography means as a communication tool.

¶¶ Some examples, just to be more concrete?
Yeah of course :
- as a piece of art (A), a typeface is sometime expressive as such: e.g. a calligraphic typeface, a decorative titling typeface --- Zapfino, History, PF Champion
- as a branding tool (B1), a typeface carries the message
- as a default typeface (B2), a typeface is used in a word processor, in Gmail or in instant messaging application --- any preinstalled typeface, like Times New Roman or Arial for instance
- as a full-featured workhorse design (B3), a typeface could be used for a book, a magazine, a website, etc. --- most commercial typefaces
- for core applications, terminal, display, programming (C), a typeface is a interface --- courier, fixedsys, ms sans serif

¶¶ Is there, however, a connection between function & aesthetics/licencing aspects

Yeah, possibly:
A | calligraphics | copyright/copyleft | on-demand, self-made
B1 | all classes | copyright | on-demand
B2 | transitionnal, modern | copyright/copyleft | pre-paid
B3 | all classes | copyright/copyleft | on-demand, pre-paid
C | mechanistics | copyright/copyleft | pre-paid

Blank's picture
Joined: 25 Sep 2006 - 2:15pm

That is WAY too much text for an April Fool’s joke.

darrel's picture
Joined: 4 Feb 2003 - 6:03pm


Thijs Meijerink's picture
Joined: 18 Mar 2011 - 8:31am

Could you give an example of how you'd classify some common fonts? And btw, if the classification is not about the font itself, but about the use of the font, why not apply the classification to that, instead of to the font?

btw, 76:14

Andreas Stötzner's picture
Joined: 12 Mar 2007 - 10:21am

M. a. a. n.

Reynir Heiðberg Stefánsson's picture
Joined: 19 Nov 2010 - 11:15am

Globomunication? Now there's a word fully deserving of a belt of 12.7×99 ammo!

Frank ADEBIAYE's picture
Joined: 29 Apr 2007 - 4:46pm


I'm glad you love the word "globomunication" ;-)

Some examples, sure :
- expression : zapf chancery, zapfino, bickham script, and so on any typeface expressing a feeling in first place
- message : gotham when used for obama campaign, helvetica, din
- contact : arial widely used in e-mail applications, times new roman widely used in everyday life
- public : garamond widely used in publishing, baskerville and caslon as well
- code : courier is the best example, as a core system fonts in most of OSes

I apply the classification to the fonts themselves, because, somehow, form is related to use. For instance, courier could hardly be a typeface for expression. Helvetica and Arial are very close, but do not belong to the same category, because the context and the people who are using them are different.

M. a. a. n., I didn't know the abbreviation, so thanks you for giving me an opportunity to improve my english ;-)
Jax is possibly "maan" for type designers, but it could be useful for "the rest of us" in order to make understand what typefaces & typography actually is nowadays in the real life. Out there, most people use typefaces but do not see them ; they cannot distinguish every subtle forms but context of use is meaningful for them.

John Savard's picture
Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm

Seeing the distinction between "message", "contact", and "public", I would have put Courier in the "Message" category - I'm still vague on what "Code" should mean. If it means simply a way to express the symbols of the alphabet without much subtext, that can apply to Caslon or Helvetica in the right context.

So what I'm seeing here is:

Expression: Script and display typefaces - where the style of printing is intended to convey some type of "feeling". Comic Sans and Papyrus would go here too, along with Hobo, with the fonts that look like candy or balloons - but also much more respectable ones, Zapf Chancery being an example.

Message: This also seems to be a "display" category to a limited extent. Franklin Gothic seems to be what goes here - typefaces that are bold, but otherwise relatively plain.

Contact: If Times New Roman, then Century Expanded and Caledonia. I think Helvetica will sometimes be used in this mode, even if Helvetica Medium, normally used for signage, goes under "Message". These are utilitarian typefaces, used for ordinary communication - often, without much thought being put into the choice, by people who are not typographers. Courier can go here some of the time too.

Public: If Caslon and Garamond - then this is where traditional classic typefaces are used for things like the "visual identity" of a prestigious college. This is where a typeface is formal and elegant - without verging into script or display.

While the use of a typeface more clearly corresponds to one of these categories, one can also classify typefaces - although this classification is fluid - by their dominant use. Caslon was once firmly in the "contact" category in its heyday.

I'm not quite sure where to fit Bodoni or Albertus here, though...

Frank ADEBIAYE's picture
Joined: 29 Apr 2007 - 4:46pm

@quadibloc : you've got it! :-)

Bodoni and Albertus belong to B3 category, because they are often used for publishing.

The C-class (code) is specific to programmers (context of use: text editor, emacs, vi, etc. --- in that specific context, type conveys information, nothing more ; to a certain extent, writing as a novelist is a kind of coding, and many writers appreciate typefaces like courier, especially if you use distraction-free text editors)