Five Typefaces That Never Let You Down

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Workhorses. They’re not your show ponies and they won’t win you any races. They’re more about the hard yards; the heavy labour, bearing the load. Whether it’s tackling long form body copy or setting a header, most designers have that one workhorse font that never lets them down.

We asked five studios to give us the down-low on their go-to typefaces.

Bird – Brandon Grotesque

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As far as typefaces go, Brandon Grotesque is just a toddler. Designed in 2009/10 by Hannes von Döhren, in the last couple of years it’s become a Bird family favourite. Why? Well, like any good workhorse font, it’s reliable. We know what we’re getting, no surprises, but we’re adequately satisfied each time. Like a packet of original flavoured chips. But the good ones. Kettle or something.

Brandon Grotesque reflects the studio’s design style and our penchant for geometric forms and functionality. It has a good range of weights, so it’s well-suited to a wide variety of usages. Not only have we used it in work for clients, but we’ve taken it onboard for our studio branding. It works for headers, it makes for easy-on-the-eye body copy, and its restrained forms and small x-height add a touch of elegance. Because sometimes we like to be just a little bit fancy.

Studio Brave – Adobe Garamond Pro

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We strongly believe a typeface is job dependent. To have a preconceived typeface selected prior to a job can sometimes lead to a narrowed outcome. However, we do have a core group of typefaces that are reliable and we feel comfortable to use regularly. A recent project where we took this practice was the Cecconi’s cookbook. The book was a memoir from Olimpia Bortolotto, a compilation of the family’s history and a selection of the restaurant’s favourite recipes.

To illustrate the unity between the various themes we used the classic typeface Adobe Garamond Pro, complemented by the more contemporary Knockout. The modern Garamond is based on the typefaces produced by the French printer Claude Garamont, dating back as far as the 16th century. Garamond offered a typeface that had a stronger contrast between the vertical strokes and lighter serifs allowing it space to breathe, creating rhythm and making it perfectly suited for books and publications in smaller formats.

Studio Constantine – Akzidenz Grotesk

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We use a lot of grotesque and geometric typefaces in our work. For us, classic and contemporary faces (we use both) need to walk a line between utility and personality. Akzidenz Grotesk does this better than most. Unlike later neo-grotesques that ironed out all the idiosyncrasies, Akzidenz still shows a human hand in its construction. It is unashamedly quirky and, given a little space to breath, can look absolutely contemporary. Add to that a great range of weights and widths, and some lovely numerals, and you have a workhorse; pretty good for a 116(ish)-year-old typeface.

Studio Fellow – Calibre

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While both Gotham and Gotham Rounded have gotten Studio Fellow out of more binds than I can count, it’s a very common typographic answer and may be heading down the same ubiquitous road as Helvetica.

Enter Calibre. According to its designer, Kris Sowersby, Calibre is a geometric neo-grotesque. It’s a geometrically-based sans serif, yet hovers closer to a more humanist aesthetic. It looks classic in thin and thick, and friendly in bold. Most characteristics are very similar to other sans faces, but the lowercase ‘a’ really sets it apart. It’s unusual, interesting, and Sowersby’s optical adjustments give it a lot of character (see what I did there?). Body copy might look great in Gotham but it eats up space on a page like no one’s business. Calibre, while maintaining a clearly different aesthetic, renders beautiful body copy with less footprint. It also works extremely well in bold uppercase, which is why we chose it for both the Villa Penelopy and Playfit brand identities, and is versatile enough to be used as body copy as well.

The Letter D – Univers

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My earliest memory of Adrian Frutiger’s ‘Univers’ was when a colleague at my first job gave me a copy of Emil Ruder’s Typographie – possibly because I needed some graphic guidance after completing a degree in industrial design. The book was set completely in Univers, and the content planted the seed for a self-sustained discovery of typography texts, many of which were set in Univers. It’s one of few sans serifs that can handle long-form copy with a subtle sense of sophistication – from scientific reports to theatre programs. And its full range of weights and widths (no mean feat for a face drawn in 1957) enable a diverse headline/display ability unmatched in many modern day typefaces.

When I needed a dynamic face to set the diverse content in this year’s AIA Regional Architecture Awards book, I turned to my trusty steed. With its proportions based on modern architecture, Univers seemed a fitting response and, as always, handled the task with aplomb.

 

Image by Magdalena Ksiezak

  • http://ffburo.com Tony Cormack

    Nice round up of 5 classics right there – Akzidenz is the go to @FFBuro for sure.

  • andrew barnum

    Nice to see this type edit. Yes to univers, calibre, garamond, akzidenz. Good to back Kim Sowersby. National anyone?

    • http://nhallam.com/ Nick Hallam

      I was in love with National a couple of years ago. Did all the Positive Posters branding in it, but now…not so much :(

      • andrew barnum

        Did we just lose affection for National? Usurped by this year’s model? Do even great fonts have shorter shelf lives these days?

        • http://nhallam.com/ Nick Hallam

          That’s a really interesting question Andrew. Gotham seems to be holding on and Proxima Nova appears to be being used heavily at the moment. I wonder if the fast moving, digital world is having any affect on type face trends…

          • andrew barnum

            Thanks Nick. Digital has brought more fashion into font use. And due to this I’m more and more defaulting to fonts that carry less cultural identity or come pre-loaded with personality. More like reliable nutritious vegetables versus this week’s sassy flava. I believe National fits here.

          • http://nhallam.com/ Nick Hallam

            That makes sense. On National though, since using it heavily for one project, I’ve always found it difficult to go back to, especially the heavier weights, but I’m not sure that is unique to National. We used Proxima Nova and Open Sans at The Loop and I have equally as much trouble ‘re-using’ them now.

          • andrew barnum

            Maybe type design and usage has become more like evolution. Like software versions. Once a new font has been used, explored and culturalised, there is only forward… to the next fonts species.

          • http://nhallam.com/ Nick Hallam

            I like this discussion. Its interesting to consider the affect the medium has on the quality and value of the product (font). A beautiful font printed on paper feels very different to the same font displayed on an iPad. It feels more considered maybe. Does digital cheapen the content? The font? The image? Therefore we move forward more quickly…?

          • andrew barnum

            Me too Nick. Digital may cheapen the resolution of craft of the visual content, but increasingly the communication experience is being broadened from iphone to ipad to larger screen and of course print which is increasingly more reflective and contains more time and opportunity for thoughtful texture and reflection. We continue to evolve and invent solutions for communication problems as they arise from user-need. Whether quick information platforms or more considered media. Something like Medium (https://medium.com) or Quartz (http://qz.com) sit somewhere in the middle. Now, we evolve and respond every day.

          • http://nhallam.com/ Nick Hallam

            It’s certainly an interesting time to be a designer.

          • andrew barnum

            Agreed Nick, tomorrow’s another day to evolve…

  • Univers

    Univers rules them all! Of course we would say that though. At the risk of being heckled, what about Helvetica? Take any weight. Any cut. Never lets you down.

    Online, we’re digging Archivo Narrow, and at small sizes online Arial is hard to beat because the bitmaps and hinting are designed for that and generally render acceptably on a huge range of devices. I know designers are not meant to like Arial, and we don’t like it, we just rely on it. Sometimes.

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