Too much type?

Since the advent of OpenType, typeface families have been growing ever larger. Do we need all this choice?

In last month’s CR, we previewed two new typefaces: Benton Sans, which boasts a staggering 128 different styles, and Adios, which contains a total of 1,470 glyphs. We asked type designer David Quay of The Foundry if such enormous font families are really necessary, or do they have an obesity problem?

Developing typefaces, writes Quay, is a protracted, intricate activity. It takes time for a typeface to earn back the investment involved in its long development. As with other foundries, The Foundry spends a great proportion of time developing OpenType formats of our existing typeface library. This involves designing the many extra glyphs required by the new format; creating hundreds of kerning pairs; developing language versions; and, of course, extensive testing of each font in Mac and pc operating systems, in a range of current software appli­cations. This is time-consuming and sometimes tedious work and when we have proudly finished a font, it then stands the chance of getting illegally copied. So I can assure you that, even if font families are getting fatter, font foundries are not.

When we started designing and producing fonts 21 years ago as The Foundry, we were very restricted by the number of glyphs that could be included in one font. Old-style figures, small capitals and some ligatures, for example, all had to have their own expert set as a separate font. A type­face with swash caps would have needed yet another font.

With the advent of OpenType, it’s now possible to have all these glyphs and more in one font. With the demand for typefaces in language versions like Eastern and Central European, Turkish etc, as well as non-Latin ones such as Greek and Cyrillic, this brings the total number of necessary glyphs in one font to many hundreds.

Also, the use of OpenType has brought back some of the beautiful features of metal type that we often decry the loss of. This adds further to the number of glyphs but, with the combination of OpenType fonts and InDesign it’s now possible to produce really great typography. There is no excuse for the proliferation of inferior type that we have seen in recent times. Typographers create fi, fl ligatures, apostrophes, quote marks, an en-rule, small caps and old-style figures, but many designers are ignorant of their use or simply don’t know how to access them on a keyboard. Some designers aren’t even aware of the use of an en-rule between dates and instead use a hyphen, or will use minutes and seconds (primes) instead of proper quote marks.

We create typefaces where a small range of weights in a particular family work together and compliment each other, making the designer’s job easier. To offer 128 different permu­tations of a typeface is some­what over the top, but so is having multiple versions of Garamond, when one or two good ones would be enough. Such superfluous versions of existing faces are, to me, far more problematic than the enlarged families that are now becoming commonplace. The recent re-release of Univers with added weights, for example, seems pointless when the original worked so well. And why add old-style figures; surely this goes against its original modernist concept? Can you imagine Helvetica with old-style figures and small caps? The new Univers smacks of a market­ing exercise: bigger and better!

The latest version of Sabon, Sabon Pro, also seems to have lost all the subtlety of the original. This trend for going a ‘little bit too far’ from the original is often an excuse for a designer to make yet another version, claiming it to be more original than before: in no time, we have a prolifer­ation of versions! Where a typeface clearly works, let’s just stick to the original, even in this digital age. All this choice will simply confuse.

David Quay is co-founder of The Foundry,

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