Recommendations for a good book sans that was popular in the late 70s/early 80s please...

mrjono's picture


I'm designing a book which heavily references the late 70s/early-80s, particularly European trends during that time. I was a wee baby in the early 80s, and my print archive has very little from that period. Plenty before and plenty after but during that period is a bit of a blind spot.

I think the body of the book will be set in sans serif type, but I'm not sure what was popular then. Image searches reveal a lot of Avant Garde for headlines/display but I'm not going to set page after page of text in it.

If anyone was designing a lot of books then, what faces were they using? I'm guessing Univers was popular, but anything else used a lot then would be great to know about. Am I wrong and should be looking at a serif face?

Any thoughts/contributions would be most welcome.


riccard0's picture

Helvetica, if you must.
What kind of "European trends", by the way?

mrjono's picture

Trends in music and art particularly. Think early electronic album covers, art publishing, magazine design. Is that a bit more help?

I'd be interested in a specific version of Helvetica, a cut closest to photo-letting perhaps, if such a thing exists. Straight out of the box Helv Neue has become a bit of a genre spanner, to quote the Mighty Boosh.

jbtroost's picture

Futura is the font I remember from schoolbooks in the 70s.

PublishingMojo's picture

Designers in the 70s and 80s sometimes used Optima as a book face. They felt the mix of thin and thick strokes made Optima easier to read than standard sans serifs with their uniform stroke weight.

Designers may have also liked Optima because it was designed by Hermann Zapf, whose Palatino was incredibly popular as a book face in the 70s and 80s.

mrjono's picture

I'd overlooked Futura to be honest, but could be an interesting idea.

Thanks for the Optima tip as well. I might mix serif and sans, Palatino is really nice, haven't used it on a commission before.

mrjono's picture

Are there any websites that allow you to browse fonts by year of release?

riccard0's picture

Released doesn't mean widely or early adopted ;-)

Nick Shinn's picture

The faces I used then have not generally proven to be era-specific.
For instance, News Gothic, Univers, Futura and Helvetica all span many decades in popularity.

Avant Garde and Eras would be more time-trapped.
But be sure to set Eras so tight it's practically illegible!

However, the real trick to conjuring an era, or addressing its typographic personality, is not just selection of a typeface, but considering its implementation in layout.

Here's a book layout by Paul Rand, from 1985, using Univers Bold:

Note how Nevile Brody used Univers in the most influential style magazine of the era, Face, with Times as main body:

mrjono's picture

Thanks Nick, always very helpful!

Your comment is really interesting, and I've been considering the way I'd use whichever typeface I use for the job and how I can evoke the time frame I'm referencing from the start of the job. I think I'm heading for Univers after a few test spreads so it's really nice to see the example of Paul Rand's use of it in bold.

Thanks again Nick!

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