March 10, 2018
When I tell people I’m a designer, they sometimes ask, “Does the world need another typeface?’ I tell them typography is important because letterforms, like the human voice, have character and personality, which communicate with us even before the words they form do. The medium is the message, the “how” matters as much as the “what.” And also like a human voice, type has its own distinctions, biases, patterns, pitches. Even the untrained eye will unconsciously receive these signals.
When a typeface reaches ubiquity it becomes banal or worse, contemptible. For brands, the risk in using these familiar faces means losing their individuality. It’s why IBM ditched Helvetica last year and Nike is distancing themselves from Futura. Brands—like people—are unique and the smart ones use type to communicate their values.
Meet the Grotesques
The demand for character-driven type in digital design has always been around—even if the means, ahem webfonts—weren’t yet. And in the last five to seven years there’s been a shift from the cold, mechanical utility of Helvetica and the rest of the modernist typefaces towards more expressive typography. 2017 saw more expressive type trends. It’s not just Coca-Cola’s TCCC Unity with its’ Grotesque-style characteristics, there were other brands which employed—or reemployed in the case of YouTube—Grotesque sans for their character and charm. Dropbox, SSSW, and YouTube all made updates. 2018 will be the year of the Grotesques.
What makes it Grotesque?
- Irregular proportions
- Near equal width uppercase letters
- Spurred uppercase G and R
- Double-story “a” and sometimes “g”
- Square-shaped “M”
- Similar cap and ascender height
Grotesques on the web:
- 99designs (Larsseit, Linotype)
- Bitbucket (Circular, Lineto)
- Casper (Calbre, Klim Type Foundry)
- Lonely Planet (Benton Sans, Font Bureau)
- Orbital Insight (Neuzit Grotesk, Fontshop)
- Quartz (Adelle Sans, TypeTogether)
- Spectacles / Snapchat (Spectacles)
- Vivint (Circular, Lineto)
Pairs well with…
Like a good dinner party, you’ll want to pair your typeface with a complimentary and maybe even a little contrasting personality. You may very well go with Garalde, an old style serif. The stroke max widths and larger x-heights are similar to many Grotesques but the serifs are different enough to add some distinction. Also, because they’re even older, drawn by skilled trade craftsman hundreds of years ago, they add the elegance of a Dutch Golden Age painting. If you really want your brand or digital experience to appear sophisticated, make this your primary face.
Old Style serifs:
- Designed during the 16th and 17th centuries
- Especially in France
- More upright letters and horizontal crossbars
- Low contrast between thick and thin strokes
- Bracketed serifs
- Arno (Adobe Type)
- Arnhem (Our Type)
- Baskerville (Mergenthaler Linotype Company, Deberny & Peignot)
- Galaxie Copernicus (Constellation, Village)
- Plantin (Monotype Imaging)
Eventually these Grotesque and Garalde’s will run their course and we’ll move on to the next typographic style du jour. Until then we’re gonna be hanging with these quirky characters for a while. Could be worse, could be your weird uncle, Eurostile.