Typefaces are sets of glyphs designed with stylistic unity, and a glyph is any basic symbol within a larger set of symbols and that represents a readable character in writing. Type design as defined today started with the printing press's advent. With digital type design's advent, the number of typefaces increased to a practically countless total, growing daily.
The terms typeface and font are often used interchangeably. But, technically, a typeface consists of fonts. A font is just one alphabet and its associated characters in a single size of type.
Typefaces are, broadly speaking, either serif or sans serif styles. Serif styles have serifs — little projections at a letter's edge — sans serif styles don't. These letters have serifs. These don't.
The main categories of serif typefaces are these and their derivatives —
- old style (1400s)
- transitional (mid-1700s)
- slab/Egyptian (c. 1800)
- neoclassical & Didone* (late 1700s until and mainly the late 1800s; this category is also called "modern")*
The main categories of sans serif typefaces are these and their derivatives —
- grotesque (mid-1800s to early 1900s; "neo-grotesque" emerged in the 1950s)
- humanist (early 1900s)
- geometic (early-ish 1900s)
Each typeface category has subcategories, too. We won't get into that.
There are other major typeface styles such as script, which includes the category blackletter (a.k.a. Lombardic), typefaces modeled after manuscript lettering before the invention of the printing press. But the eight style categories above encompass the vast majority of typefaces.
Below: the famous transitional typeface Times New Roman, designed in 1932 for The Times newspaper of London.
It's uncommon for a non-designer like me to be interested typefaces. My interest came from a love of books and perhaps the colophons of books by publisher Alfred A. Knopf that would often include a descriptive blurb about the book's typeface. (Check out the post on The Millions website, "Praise the Colophon: Twenty Notes on Type.")
Lucian Bernhard (March 15, 1883 – May 29, 1972) was, "a German graphic designer, type designer, professor, interior designer, and artist." He was influential in creating the Plakatstil (German, "Poster Style") design of the early 1900s in Germany.
He was by no means among the most significant of type designers...it just happens that today's his birthday and I'd like to blog about typefaces. Also, on my personal letterhead I used to use a typeface, Berlin Sans, designed in 1994 by David Berlow (assisted by Matthew Butterick) that is a digital re-imagining of Bernhard's typeface designed in 1930. This article about Berlin Sans, on The Inquisition website, will tell you more than you'd ever care to know about that typeface.
Below: a sample of the Berlin Sans FB Regular font.
Thanks for reading.
Above: the Johnston typeface, a humanist sans-serif typeface named after Edward Johnston, its original designer. It's famously the typeface of the London Underground transit system. More about Johnston:
It was commissioned in 1913 by Frank Pick [and] in 1933 [was] integrated into London Transport.... The capitals of the typeface are based on Roman square capitals, and the lower-case on the humanistic minuscule, the handwriting in use in Italy in the fifteenth century. In this, it marked a break with the kinds of sans serif previously used, sometimes known as grotesque, which tended to have squarer shapes. [It] was redesigned in 1979 by Eiichi Kono at Banks & Miles to produce New Johnston, the variant of the original font currently used by London Underground.
*Didone is a portmanteau of Didot and Bodoni, two late 1800s serif typeface designs highly characteristic of what became the Didone style category of type.