The best typefaces from the Google web fonts directory
- Latin Letters, Made in Armenia
- Type Choice, Political Choice
- Our Favorite Typefaces of 2017
The interaction between cultures has increased to unprecedented levels, thanks largely to the commercial web, and multiscript visual communication has become crucial to many designers’ practices as a result. Although this necessarily presents lots of intricate complexities and challenges, it also offers exciting new design opportunities.
Visually translating letterforms from one script into another is one such opportunity. Translation means not only faithfully interpreting the style and aura of the original sample, but also understanding the source while remaining true to the conventions of the destination script.
As typeface designers at London-based typeface-design studio Dalton Maag, where creating multiscript custom typefaces for global brands is an important part of our work, we grapple with multiscript communication often and at scale. In 2018, we had a chance to put our experience into practice in a particularly stimulating context: Armenia.
In Armenia, people don’t write only with the Armenian alphabet. From signs and brands to text messages, content often appears in both Armenian and Latin; Cyrillic also crops up often, on street plates as well as on posters. Cohabitation of scripts is therefore no novelty — this rich landscape provides complex challenges to local graphic designers, especially considering the limited selection of Armenian typefaces.
Many of tomorrow’s Armenian graphic designers come from the ranks of TUMO, an institute that provides teenagers with an education at the intersection of design and technology. A free extracurricular program founded in 2011, TUMO is forming a new generation of designers who will play a key role in shaping the future visual culture of the country.
So when TUMO invited us to give a workshop at its facility in Yerevan, we gladly accepted. For two weeks, four hours a day, we worked with a group of about fifteen students who had little or no experience with type design. Some of them had previously attended workshops led by Khajag Apelian, Gor Jihanian, or Letterjuice. The most experienced students, Mariam Grigoryan and Araz Pogharyan, helped us plan the course.
Our workshop had two main objectives: to gain a better understanding of how Armenian and Latin scripts relate to each other, and to teach the students the basics of Latin typeface design. We decided to work with actual sentences, drawing from the unique tradition of Armenian proverbs with their strongly evocative character. Each student selected an adage and set about rendering it as a piece of digital lettering using the Latin alphabet. For the shapes, we wanted to explore the heritage of Armenian vernacular letters; we had compiled a significant database of samples from the twentieth century (ranging from carved slabs on the buildings of Yerevan to lettering manuals) for the students to use as models.
The first couple of days were dedicated to the exploration of the Latin alphabet. We introduced the students to the fundamentals of broad-nib-pen calligraphy to help them understand Latin letter construction, as well as to the basic optical principles that inform good letter drawing, such as adjustments needed for different sizes. We then introduced the history of the Latin alphabet and the main typographic styles. The schedule was split between short theoretical sessions and longer practical ones that included basic sketching techniques.
On day three, we broached the theme of matching scripts by analyzing differences and similarities between the Latin and Armenian alphabets. We established a set of parameters to facilitate this analysis: alongside formal features like character width and contrast, we included a “Keywords” parameter to encourage students to list some emotional attributes associated with the letters (cf. TypeCooker). To further contextualize this work, we analyzed, as a group, examples of multilingual logotypes found in the streets of Yerevan.
Afterward, each student selected a couple of Armenian lettering references, which they analyzed according to the parameters we defined; they also chose a sentence, taking into account how meaning and letterforms would match. By the fourth day, the students had started sketching their Latin letters, putting to work what they had learned up to that point. The last day of the first week was dedicated to the basic principles informing digital outline drawing, as well as to the introduction of the main functions of the Glyphs font editor. Having laid down solid foundations for the project, we started the second week by digitizing the sketches.
If the first round was a bit rough, each student later managed to achieve a satisfying result after putting in the necessary effort. Refinement is not easy to understand — or to explain. Both of us gave the students extensive individual feedback. We guided them through the steps needed to fine-tune their designs, from consistency of weight and proportions to smoothness of curves to appropriate node placement.
During this second week of work, we did a few collective reviews to sharpen the students’ critical thinking and discuss the common challenges they had been facing. The treatment of capital diagonal letters like A, N, and K was a recurrent issue: since the Armenian uppercase doesn’t have any diagonal strokes, the students had to decide whether to add diagonal strokes to the vocabulary of the Latin forms they were using or avoid such strokes altogether by forcing the lettershapes into verticals and horizontals only. This range of different approaches prompted further discussion about fidelity to the tradition of the destination script (Latin) versus adaptation to that of the source script (Armenian). As a group, we looked at everyone’s Glyphs files on a large screen to go over progress and make final adjustments. We encouraged the students to push their designs further and introduce alternate forms, ranging from conventional to more experimental, sometimes even creating a complete set of alternates.
On the second-to-last day, the students brought the typographic artwork using their letters into Illustrator, and we reviewed the results as a group. This step helped bring to light some issues with the actual letterforms, and occasioned the sort of shuttling between font- and text-editor software so typical of the type designer’s daily practice. Ultimately, it felt rewarding for the students to put the expressive potential of their fonts to use in Illustrator. Avoiding any graphics or photographic elements and focusing solely on the composition and color palette allowed us to evaluate the expressive potential of the lettershapes.
The idea of creating postcards occurred to us after we arrived in Yerevan. The choice of this simple, popular format reinforced the concept that, beyond designing letters, each project was about making a particular Armenian story portable and potentially accessible to a global audience.
We anticipated that the students’ lack of familiarity with the history of Latin type design (in addition to working with rather extravagant Armenian letters as a model) could be an asset, helping them bring a fresh perspective to Latin letterforms. When pointing out and discussing design issues, the students surprised us more than once with unexpected solutions. We strove to highlight such aspects in the final public presentation, which is the culmination of every workshop at TUMO. This is the occasion for students to showcase their output, presenting their projects on a large screen in front of an audience: from their references to the final result, with a journey through their sketches. The audience was made up of friends, curious students, parents, and TUMO staff; the room was packed and a little intimidating. Each student explained their design process with enthusiasm and confidence. It was truly inspiring to watch.
It’s important to mention that the references chosen by the students mostly came from the four main Armenian lettering manuals of the late Soviet era — especially the most recent one, that of Fred Africkian, published in 1984. This provided an unforeseen homage to his body of work, which deserves further exposure. Indeed, we hope the fruits of our workshop help give these manuals, which can still readily be found at flea markets, the recognition they deserve. We also paid tribute to Armenia’s rich stone-carving tradition, both through photographic references and through a student visit to Artur Melqonyan’s studio.
Taking inspiration from such references, we wanted to heighten the students’ awareness of the rich local lettering heritage. Connecting it to everyday sayings allowed the students to tell a story in the context of Armenian identity — a story connecting letterforms to language, and design to culture.
In addition to learning new tools that we hope will prove relevant in their future design practice, the students developed their ability to harmonize different scripts. That’s an important skill set to have in the unique visual terrain of their homeland, but it’s also equally relevant elsewhere, as the global appetite for the design of multiscript typefaces and visual identities continues to grow.
Working on such timely and significant design problems with this young audience made for a remarkable experience. We hope this article encourages others to invest their time in similar contexts, and provides an inspiring teaching method. And we very much look forward to seeing not only how these talented students grow as designers, but also what they bring to the global design scene in the coming years.
We would like to thank all of our wonderful students: Alieta Danielyan, Ani Vahramyan, Christine Proshyan, Ellen Demiryan, Gurgen Afrikyan, Hasmik Andreasyan, Hovhannes Hovhannisyan, Milena Nahapetyan, Naneh Harutyunyan, Natalya Grigoryan, Ovsanna Gasumyan, Ruslan Tumanyan, Yulia Hovsepyan; the Tumo team, Mariana, Astghik, George and Aram for their precious input and constant support and kindness, our great and talented assistants Mariam Grigoryan and Araz Pogharyan; Gor Jihanian, Khajag Apelian, Elena Papassissa, and Hrant Papazian for their invaluable advice and help; and, finally, Dalton Maag for the support.
A while ago, an attempt to stifle a difficult conversation made me realize that there are no utopias, not even the community where I had come to feel at home: the type world.
On May 25th, 2018, the revered (at least by me) Dutch Type Library posted a progress report on DTL Prokyon Cyrillic — an extension of the successful, well-drawn DTL Prokyon, designed by Erhard Kaiser. This prompted Erik van Blokland to ask: “Still the same designer?”
The ensuing exchange of tweets confused me a little, but eventually I came to understand: Kaiser is a public supporter of the openly anti-Islamic organization LEGIDA (Leipzig against the Islamization of the Occident)1, and there was video evidence to prove it: a clip of him reciting a nationalist poem — which I didn’t understand because of the language barrier, but which was good enough for me, since it was posted from LEGIDA’s official YouTube channel. The clip has since been deleted, though footage of Kaiser reciting the poem appears elsewhere, and you can catch him delivering an address at another LEGIDA event in 2015.
On September 6th, 2018, DTL posted a flyer that linked to the Plantin Institute of Technology’s Expert class Type design exhibition. The flyer made prominent use of DTL Prokyon. This led to another, blunter question — this time from Indra Kupferschmid: “[D]o you really prefer to promote and use the typeface of an openly fascist, racist hate speech campaigner over any of the other DTL fonts, or your students’ work?”
It was a good question. I thought it merited a response, so I stuck around for one. And immediately, in the most despairingly typical fashion, came the “What about X?” questions — X being Eric Gill, in this case. Eric Gill, for the uninitiated, was both a highly accomplished type designer and a rapist who molested his two daughters in their teenage years.
Those reactions were predictable enough, but there followed a bit of talk (in German, translated by my browser) about making this a private conversation. Some asked if a person’s political views should be a factor in choosing a typeface: there was, or at least should be, no politics in design, the argument went. It wasn’t just one person saying this; influential industry leaders echoed this line of reasoning. Industry leaders who have publicly called out bad kerning on logos were asking for this conversation, which deserved public dialogue much more urgently, to be held in private.
That made me uneasy.
I am a young black man living in a postcolonial, racially stratified, Caribbean country; I spend most of my days on guard against, and actively victimized by, fascism. I am far removed (physically) from the cosmopolitan centers of type design, but I was made to feel a sense of place in that world as soon as I decided to take it. While at Type@Cooper, I’d call my partner after a sixteen-hour day and tell her: “You know, these are really nice folks, these type people.” And I still feel that way. I’ve found mentorship, advice, and constructive criticism from people I didn’t even think answered emails. Through avenues like Twitter and Typedrawers, I’ve found a way into a community — and I cherish that.
It seems that we, as a global society, have long acknowledged that diversity is a good thing in principle and in practice. What really pushes conversations about diversity to the fore, however, are its real-world, monetary implications. I’m not critical of the reasons for more discussions about these matters; I’m just happy to be drawing type in 2019. But the response by so many esteemed professionals in my chosen field to an issue that has concrete ramifications for someone like me was deeply unnerving.
I believe that the type industry, as a whole, is moving in a positive direction: Alphabettes, for example, prioritizes underrepresented groups for their crits, and many type conferences now get tickets sponsored by foundries or individuals specifically trying to bring fresh faces onto the scene. It’s beautiful. But I find it troubling when this progress is undermined by willful ignorance; it’s possible to have internalized biases, but it’s also possible to move past them. Using a typeface designed by a fascist undermines the hard work of those attempting to open the type industry to more than privileged white people.
In case it needs to be said: yes, it is wrong to promote, reward, and give voice to fascists in any way. I wouldn’t spend money at a Trump hotel, even if I could afford it. Type design is not a celebrity field, but the reality is that the proliferation of a type designer’s work comes through its use. Giving voice to people who give their voices to hatred is at best normalization and, at worst, endorsement. You don’t agree with Kaiser’s beliefs but you’re using his fonts? Well, then, maybe you don’t disagree enough. Fascism kills. It especially kills people who look like me.
I’m not advocating only for my sake — I’m lucky to have people who I believe will continue to nurture my development in my new life with letters — but for other underrepresented people like me who may be considering entering what is already a technically and mentally demanding profession. The quiet act of knowingly using a typeface designed by a supporter of fascism, and then vigorously defending that position, speaks to determined, privileged ignorance, and poses additional challenges to entry. It could even be enough to keep someone from wanting to fulfill their potential with type. In an environment where there are so many high-quality fonts produced every day, selecting a particular typeface becomes more and more an active choice. Typeface selection isn’t just about aesthetics, or features. It’s also about context and source — especially now. In other words, you don’t have to use a typeface designed by a fascist. You choose to.
The reality is this: if type design, like any other industry, wants to open itself to inclusiveness and diversity, that means necessarily distancing itself from forces that undermine those values. The tolerance paradox states that if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant will eventually be seized or destroyed by the intolerant. I don’t think type design in 2019 is going to suffer from a fascist uprising, thanks largely to people who are working hard to break down barriers to the discipline. But it will ultimately suffer if it gives way to the naive assumption that everyone deserves to have their voice heard. The opening of some doors requires the closing of others.
Welcome to our twelfth annual celebration of new type design. These are not necessarily the “best” typefaces, nor the most popular or top-selling (the big retailers already have that covered). What can be said is that each of these 2017 releases inspired at least one admirer among our distinguished group of designers, educators, and enthusiasts to take time away from their day jobs and pen their personal praises. That’s more than can be said for nearly any typeface, no matter how often it’s seen or used.
For some contributors, the choice is prompted by innovation. Benedikt Bramböck marvels at the ingenuity of BC Brief’s deceptively minimal two-point structure, Dyana Weissman honors Minérale’s rejection of conventional notions about the placement of mass, Marta Bernstein digs SangBleu’s rethinking of the traditional type family, and Maurice Meilleur — a connoisseur of modular and parametric type — expounds on the complexity of Calcula.
Other writers, especially those who are type designers themselves, select for sheer quality of craftsmanship, recognizing an exemplary effort from firsthand experience. These collegial compliments are more than heartwarming — they can teach us all about what makes great type great, whether it’s James Edmondson on the spacing of Pilot, Sibylle Hagmann on the revival decisions made in Mazagan, or Ellmer Stefan on the epic achievement that is Halyard.
And sometimes, a Favorite Typeface is simply about delight, the joy of novel lettershapes. Jean-Baptiste Levée admires the intestinal circumvolutions of Digestive, Paul Shaw is refreshed by Brutal, and María Ramos appreciates the way Nickel combines a chunky body with pinprick serifs.
Reflecting our new era of global type production, last year produced an unprecedented number of multiscript selections, and this trend continued in 2017 with 29LT Bukra and Riwaya (Arabic), Graphik Arabic, ALS Lamon (Cyrillic), Soyuz Grotesk (Cyrillic), and Ashoka Odia (an Indic script). See many more non-Latin typefaces in the notable releases, suggested by a panel of multiscript experts.
I am very grateful to the contributors for their patience and generous spirit. It’s not easy to write about type, but in a world where millions of font users are faced with hundreds of thousands of choices, a few words from the wise go a long way.
—Stephen Coles, Editor
Thanks to my coeditor Caren Litherland, and to Florian Hardwig for adding missing links and specimens. The typefaces used for this year’s nameplate, headlines, and text are provided by Type Network. They include Pilot by Aleksandra Samuļenkova, Aglet Slab by Jesse Ragan, and Guyot Text by Ramiro Espinoza. Contemporary Sans by Ludwig Übele continues to serve the small bits. The “Favorite Typefaces of 2017” graphic is set in Respira Black and Halyard.