This was a great year for type.
Apple got a bit more serious about their font choices in iBooks. Adobe acquired Typekit. Hoefler & Frere-Jones set to slabbing Gotham for President Obama’s second presidential run. Individual foundries stepped into a new level of webfont prowess. Codex magazine was released. 8 Faces continued its solid run. Typekit partnered with WordPress to add a “customize” feature for type choice, and they made sure to steer the average blogger toward appropriate typefaces for their needs. Matthew Carter’s seminal web typefaces, Verdana and Georgia, received solid updates. Gerard Unger partnered with Type Together. Many familiar families received updates or had more styles and weights added. And some newcomers were given a chance to shine. Here are the typefaces I think are really worth a serious look — my favorite typefaces from 2011.
Ideal Sans by Hoefler & Frere-Jones
You can’t make a best-of list and not include one of the greatest foundries today. Ideal Sans puts the anthropomorphic back in humanist sans. Angles, curves, pointed terminals, and flares are the name of the game here. This to me is one of their most energetic faces to date. Let me see if I can explain why. H&F-J remind me a lot of how Steve Jobs is remembered: as those who tweak what is familiar or lacking and turn it into something that feels almost necessary. They reinvigorate stale or stalled categories to give them new life. Gotham, Vitesse, Sentinel, and Tungsten aren’t show-stoppers, but they feel brand new and are done with such excellence that you can’t help but be drawn to them. They are certainly good. But compared to them, Ideal Sans is not an inspired tweak or even a drastic improvement, it feels like a new path has been forged.
Ideal Sans Sample
Soleil by Wolfgang Homola at Type Together
Not since Gotham’s appearance has a more rational, familiar, and pleasing face shone its geometric tranquility. Where other geometric faces lean toward the austere or distasteful, Soleil gives slight hints of a real personality. For example, the friendly lowercase f, the curved and open c, the large x-height, and the & seem to bring what could have been the love child of Futura and Gotham into our current times. Two words of caution, though — there are no italics and the O seems excessively spaced. (Try it in an all caps sentence without spaces.) The first, I am sure, will be remedied soon enough; the second you can easily take care of on your own.
Pluto by Hannes von Döhren at HVD Fonts
Exhaustive doesn’t even begin to explain this type family: there are 16 upright weights and 16 italic weights. Pluto feels like a playful mix of Gill Sans/Mr. Eaves and a bit of Coquette and Bree, but with a touch more cheekiness, a wide stance for each character, and a goliath x-height. All that adds up to a big personality even when set at 9 or 10 pts. There is no skimming past the words Pluto voices.
Georgia Pro or 2.0 or whatever it’s now called by Matthew Carter
Is it just me or does Georgia’s new caps look a bit more aggressive? Either way, I like it.
Pollen by Eduardo Berliner at Type Together
Calligraphy meets regularity; feminine softness melding with vibrant writing speed. Pollen is equal parts vigorous and sensuous, and the italics only accentuate the speed. If this is possible, it feels like a mix of confidence and demurring or gentility at once. The & is gorgeous and the tails on the descenders, especially the italics, curve and flare just as hoped. I’m just waiting for the day when a women’s line makes this award-winning typeface their own (and partners with Type Together to expand its weights beyond the three it now has).
Pollen Descender and & Sample
Pollen Paragraph Sample
FF Spinoza by Max Phillips at FontFont
Eleven years in the making, Spinoza is worth the wait. Heavy serifs, sharp and deep cuts (top of r and h and bottom of e and c), and high contrast are its distinctive characteristics. Together these characteristics give it a strong horizontal line and an intense clarity that will hold up under the worst printing circumstances. I am drawn to the modified ball on the c, the black version of the c, and the lovely sweep of the italic y. The dot over the i goes from a squircle in the roman to almost brush-like in the italic, emphasizing the line speed quite effectively. Spinoza is perfectly aligned with the great trend of distinctive typefaces that have character and indestructibility. Among the newer offerings are Karmina, Malabar, Harfang, and Vesper — all great choices.
FF Spinoza Large Sample
FF Spinoza Advertising Sample
Abril by Type Together
Type Together creates excellent, new typefaces in the editorial category. Some of their families are used for display sizes, but mostly they’re intended for dense amounts of text in publications like newspapers, magazines, and websites. Abril actually has two faces within the family, a display and a text version. The text version is based on scotch roman and slab serif models while the display is based on Didone; that makes the text darker and with less contrast than the display, which is exactly what each needs. At first they may look practically identical, but the details will not escape the careful observer and lover of type. It is these details that smooth the transition from one family to the other as well as distinguishes them. And I just love those modified ball terminals. Hope you were able to get the free display weight of Abril a little while ago.
Abril Differences Sample
Bree Serif (brand new) by Type Together
Bree was an immediate, unmitigated hit. It was simple, friendly, and had a great personality — not to mention the alternate glyphs that introduced degrees of regularity. Billed as the serif cousin to Bree, Bree Serif is still friendly but more mature. And the regular weight is free. Free to download right now. Who takes a runaway hit and releases a new version for free when they could easily make a buck on it? Pretty cool. Bree Serif was released right before Christmas. And a very merry one to you.
Bree Serif Sample
Decorative & Script
Reina (PDF) by Maximiliano Sproviero at Lian Types
Latin America is known for its painterly and script typefaces. Reina is one of the most exhaustive I’ve seen in this category — there’s basically four versions of every character, from no-frills to swashtastic. If you do nothing else today, get the PDF and use it as your manifesto for typographic beauty and for excess. Simply gorgeous, but by no means simple. And Sproviero is only in his late twenties. I can’t wait to see what else he comes out with.
Reina Numerals Sample
Burgues Script OT by Sudtipos
The Sudtipos foundry is well-known for their expressive, exhaustive script designs. Burgues Script is no surprise in that respect; it fits right in with their reputation of excellence. Like Reina, what sets it apart is the breadth of characters and swash options. I rarely look further than Sudtipos for my script needs.
Burgues Script Sample
Ambicase Fatface by Craig Eliason for Teeline Font at FontShop
Few typefaces seem destined for drop caps situations like Ambicase Fatface is. This family is a refined version of Ambicase Modern and is intended for use at monstrous sizes. There is no lowercase because each character combines both the upper- and lowercase into one character (look at the A, E, and G). It’s a great mixture with all the OpenType features you could want.
Ambicase Fatface Sample
2010: Better Late Than Never
Since I didn’t put this list together last year, I thought I’d throw in a few of last year’s exceptional lot. This includes updates as well as brand new faces.
Maiola Book weight by Type Together
Maiola isn’t new, but weights were added so it gets a nice shout-out. It carries tension in each curve and doesn’t let up through the straight lines. Much of this is owed to the hard breaks and sharp angles placed throughout each glyph. These contours make the face feel as if it was etched rather than typed. It feels more human, like it went through a rough journey instead of just appearing fully formed. I visualize a stone carver chipping away at a cement block from the outside in, never having a smooth surface upon completion but always arriving at the satisfaction of being done. Maiola shows that each variation, however, is perfectly in place and at home — resolved in the best way possible without losing one bit of expressiveness.
Harfang by André Simard at PSY/OPS
Harfang is an aggressive face with a vertical stress. The huge x-height and short descenders and ascenders allow it to be densely set. Taken together, these aspects make it a very compact family with a dark overall color on the page. It also makes for a distinctive logo typeface; I was able to accomplish this with a client this year, and they were very happy with how it turned out.
Calluna Sans by Jos Buevinga at exljbris
A great addition to a fantastic serif. Familiar, clear, readable for long text. You can’t ask for much more.
Calluna Sans Sample
Aniuk by Typejockeys
This gets my award for the most distinct face of its release year. It’s friendly. It’s odd. It’s got sharp corners that contrast with sweeping curves. And that lowercase y is daring in its several forms. It would go perfectly with an organic product line as well as a line of children’s products or services. Let Aniuk push you into categories of boldness and fun.
Adelle by Type Together (thin weights added in ’11)
Since its release, Adelle has been the go-to typeface for those wanting to define “new news” for their audience, and Type Together knows how to please. They expanded the family by adding weights this year. Now you can present your huge headlines in the thinnest weights while keeping your rock-solid credibility.
Tiina by Valentin Brustaux at OurType
Here’s a good site with great photos of Tiina in use. Based on the teachings of the Dutch graphic designer and professor of typeface design Gerrit Noordzij, Brustaux created Tiina with the intention of creating a specific rhythm throughout entire blocks of text. Every vertical stem contains a gentle wave, even the lowercase a which has a small dip right above the foot serif. In fact, the designer apparently based most of the alphabet on the lowercase e and n so the rhythm was preserved. With a massive x-height and short descenders, this family can speak loudly even in extremely small sizes. The high quality of OurType foundry ensures it will be an absolutely gorgeous text face. If fine book typography (print or letterpress) is your goal, Tiina would be a fantastic replacement for Perpetua or Joanna.
Tiina Sample 1
Tiina Sample 2
Tiina Sample 3
Tiina Sample 4
That completes my list of favorite typefaces from 2011 (and 2010). I hope you find your next go-to face in this grouping. What are your favorites from the last year?