About Face

The Trend of Reviving Typography

Designing a typeface is merely one aspect of a type designer’s skill set. Knowing when to revive an existing typeface, however, occurs for many different reasons. During the short span of typographic history, we’ve seen a trend of revisions to classics such as Caslon, Helvetica, Universal and Garamond. Nevertheless, the revival of typeface design continues to shape modern faces, whether the typeface is seldom known or has become a household name.

Ivo Gabrowitsh and Christoph Koeberlin recently interviewed Verena Gerlach on “I Love Typography” about the extension of her FF Karbid typeface family. After more than a decade, Gerlach revived Karbid upon realizing that it served unsuitable for body text. In addition, the original FF Karbid family was missing italic and oblique styles and a light weight for all styles. While adding a revised FF Karbid text, Gerlach also realized that a slab serif (inspired by Memphis) would also compliment the revised family. FF Karbid has now grown from two families with five styles to four families with forty styles– a massive undertaking, due to keen awareness from years of book design experience.

Upon determining the design of their own typeface, Archer, Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones studied archival press sheets in search of unique, time-tested features while blending modern, geometric ball terminals. In certain instances, this process leads to a typeface that stands the test of time. At the same rate, the rising popularity of Helvetica, DIN or Gotham, inevitably leads to many lame knockoffs or illegal downloads.

Revisiting original works of early nineteenth-century press sheets, examining type cast metal and digitally redesigning modern typefaces is a series of fundamental research methods for type designers. Successfully merging old styles with new trends, however, is a multifarious endeavor that typically isn’t inherent with beginning type designers. However created, the popularity of a successful typeface brings about another dimension to the trend of revision: the need to expand or revise because of demand.

Gotham, for example, was first released in 2000 by Hoefler & Frere-Jones (H&FJ). While H&FJ is credited as the creator (and without appearing completely biased myself), they never claim to be the originator behind its success. Historical research strikes again. During the mid-twentieth century, engineers and draftsmen provided structural and definitive lettering to architectural designs. The trend influenced business signage that was typically hand painted (the source for designing Gotham).

In its first decade alone, Gotham has already graced hundreds of package designs, posters, ads, labels, instruction manuals, you name it– it’s everywhere (and overexposed). Due to its popularity, H&FJ quickly expanded Gotham by adding fourty-four new styles to the existing set: Narrow, Extra Narrow and Condensed. In addition, Gotham Rounded was added in 2005, making Gotham a prolific workhorse.

As is the case with H&FJ, expanding an existing type family to prolific proportions may arrive due to a gain in popularity and public demand. At the same rate, revision exists for lesser-known flavors because of technical improvements. With a growing number of typographic designers entering a new decade, the trend for revising typography is a rapid succession, especially for modern type families.

Works Cited:

Design My Life. “Bauhaus Typography.” Accessed 24 Jan. 2012. http://www.designmylife.org/?p=1720

Gabrowitsch, Ivo and Koeberlin, Christoph. “An Interview with Verena Gerlach.” I Love Typography. Accessed 24, Jan. 2012. http://ilovetypography.com/2011/12/14/an-interview-with-font-designer-verena-gerlach/

Hoefler & Frere-Jones (H&FJ). “Archer- Overview.” Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Accessed 24, Jan. 2012. http://www.typography.com/fonts/font_overview.php?productLineID=100033

Hoefler & Frere-Jones (H&FJ). “Gotham Rounded- Overview.” Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Accessed 24, Jan. 2012. http://www.typography.com/fonts/font_overview.php?productLineID=100030&itemID=200064&cpuCount=

I Love Typography. “A Brief History of Type.” Accessed 24 Jan. 2012. http://ilovetypography.com/2008/05/30/a-brief-history-of-type-part-4/

MyFonts. “Memphis- Overview.” Accessed 24 Jan. 2012. http://new.myfonts.com/fonts/urw/memphis/

Typographica. “Gotham Rounded: Cut Corners By Popular Demand.” Accessed 24 Jan. 2012. http://typographica.org/2007/on-typography/gotham-rounded-corners-cut-by-popular-demand/

Typophile. “Garamond.” Accessed 24 Jan. 2012. http://typophile.com/node/12481

Typophile. “Revision of Caslon From.” Accessed 24 Jan. 2012. http://typophile.com/node/12782/revisions/12782/view

Typophile. “Revision of Helvetica From.” Accessed 24 Jan. 2012. http://typophile.com/node/13514/revisions/80589/view

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