The best typefaces from the Google web fonts directory
- Type Choice, Political Choice
- Our Favorite Typefaces of 2017
- Aglet Slab
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.
Aglet Slab is part of a powerful trio of typefaces that XYZ Type launched with last year. Along with Export and Cortado, Aglet Slab hints at what we can expect from the partnership of Ben Kiel and Jesse Ragan.
Aglet is one of those faces that grows on you over time. At first, it grabs your attention in a casual way — but once you really get to work with it, its personality shines through and you find yourself admiring all of its details. The alternating angles and levels of roundness work like a charm. Not only do they give the forms an active and friendly feel, but they also make the words simply move and take your eyes along with them.
It is a versatile typeface that includes sets of figures, numerals, and highly useful alternates, but one of the features that gets to my heart is that the lovely set of symbols is also designed to match each weight. That makes it easy to combine them with the letterforms in a cohesive way.
Unconsciously hypnotized by Aglet Slab, out of curiosity I tested it in a project for which I had initially wanted to choose a Humanist sans. To my surprise, it made sense right away. I got very excited about this match, and the client was also sold immediately.
Someone recently asked me if rounded typefaces were still in fashion. It’s hard not to think of them as being very current when looking at Aglet Slab in all its glory. Hey Jesse, I’m looking forward to some new family members!