When exploring how new fonts work together, we always find ourselves talking about dinner. The world of cuisine offers so many natural parallels for typography, and a robust vocabulary that we’re quick to borrow: What does this font taste like? Is it a garnish, or the entrée itself? Is it adding heat, or sweetness, or spice? What might it go with? Food and dining offer indispensable reference points, which by analogy can make it easier to communicate what we see in a piece of design. One designer to another, we’ve described fonts as “somewhere between the small batch bourbon made in Brooklyn, and the one your granddad drank,” or “the menu for an oyster bar, but reimagined without a New England accent.”
If the type is right, you’ll know what you’re getting into.
Add wine to the mix, and whole new dimensions open up. There’s the balance of old and new, and the stance that every winemaker takes toward tradition. A label communicates at once whether a wine is trading on its heritage, or interpreting it in a new way; perhaps it’s standing apart from convention, or thumbing its nose at history. Wine labels succeed when they play with the instantly recognizable tropes and clichés of typography, from the engraved foofaraw of an old Bordeaux, to the haute modernism of a New World white. As with all packaging, if the type is right, you’ll know what you’re getting into.
For Discover.typography, we challenged ourselves to see just what kinds of flavors we could coax out of unexpected pairings. Could a pair of brutalist sans serifs be paired with a pattern of renaissance arabesques, to evoke the kind of bottle that your favorite Italian restaurateur brings out at the end of a gathering? Could we project a flavor using just one font, or crashing six families together? Could we take typefaces that we’ve never seen used on wine bottles, and use them to evoke recognizable flavors? You’ll find twenty-two different studies for typographic wine labels today at Discover.typography. Cheers! —JH
Designers are trained to believe that similar typefaces should never be used together. But breaking this cardinal rule can sometimes be the perfect way to create ordered, elegant typography.
by Jonathan Hoefler
As powerful as typography can be in setting a reader’s expectations, it’s often the dialogue between typefaces that most effectively communicates how information is meant to be understood. Dictionaries use bold Antiques and delicate Ionics to distinguish their headwords and definitions; wayfinding systems use different fonts to identify routes and destinations. Find the most monotonous piece of design you can, and it’s still likely that its logo, headlines, and text are wearing different typographic dress.
It’s therefore customary for designers to reach for palpably different typefaces when assembling a palette. If not, why use more than one font in the first place? It’s hard to imagine the design that truly needs both Univers and Helvetica, and designers who mix both fonts indiscriminately do so at their own peril. Think of a trustworthy website, whose login page is one day mysteriously rendered in Times Roman. Even the most visually indifferent readers feel these disruptions.
But just as the most stylish person you know can pull off wearing four different kinds of check, or live in a room painted six different shades of orange, there are techniques for successfully bringing together typography’s first cousins, its doppelgangers, and its long-lost twins. Here are three types of font pairings that are traditionally scorned, but when used with purpose, can be supremely successful. We’ll be retiring that old chestnut “don’t use fonts that are too similar” in favor of a more constructive philosophy: “make each font’s purpose clear, and use every one consistently.”
1. Two Fonts in the Same Category
Designers contemplating two different fonts of the same general style often limit their choices to designs that have distinct personalities and pronounced characteristics. No one would consider “two serifs” likely to clash if one were tall and lithe, and the other a stocky text face. But few would consider pairing two different Old Style faces, let alone two Dutch Old Styles with the same large x-height and dark strokes, and many similar details. Quarto and Mercury are two such typefaces, and while their differences are clear enough to the typographer, we should assume that the vagaries of serifs and ball terminals are lost on the average reader.
Curiously, it’s this very ambiguity that suggests a union of the two typefaces, in which each is free to assume the role for which it’s best qualified. Quarto is a display face, with the snug fit, delicate hairlines, and discreet serifs that recommend it specifically to headline sizes. The Mercury family contains two kinds of faces for smaller sizes, each with the generous fit, thicker hairlines, and clearer gestures necessary for reproduction at text sizes: Mercury Text was designed for print, and Mercury ScreenSmart was designed and engineered for the screen.
On their website, filmmakers Not To Scale pair Quarto and Mercury ScreenSmart beautifully, by assigning each font a specific and exclusive range of sizes. Quarto is restricted to headlines, with Mercury ScreenSmart supplying everything else. The relationship between these two designs is further articulated by the designers’ use of Quarto’s heaviest weight and Mercury’s lightest, and by routinely pairing one font’s roman with the other’s italic — something the designers archly do in both directions.
WHY IT WORKS: Related typefaces can be successfully used together if each inhabits its own altitude, one at text sizes and the other at display. For this to work, each typeface must have the visual characteristics appropriate for its size range, with the hairlines, proportions, and fit that are tuned for either text or headlines. For large sizes, look for serif fonts with Fine, Display, or Titling in their names, as well as sans- and slab serifs with extreme weights such as Hairline or Ultra. For small sizes, look for print fonts named Text, and webfonts that are specifically built for small pixel sizes, such as the ScreenSmart collection.
TIP: Explore the contents of the text and headline faces you choose, reviewing both their styles and their character sets. Display faces often have a broader range of weights to choose from, offering subtle shadings that come alive at large sizes. Text faces often contain features such as small caps, tabular figures, fractions, or symbols, which can help both articulate and decorate text at small sizes.
2. Fonts with Similar Drafting Styles
Typefaces that have similar mannerisms, if they’re intended for the same range of sizes, can make truly ponderous companions. Sometimes such fonts are the work of the same type designer, who exhibits a strong personal style; other times the resemblence is coincidental. The following two typefaces are each the product of a radically different brief: Ideal Sans is a sans serif that renders a Humanist framework with handmade gestures, and Operator is meditation on the technical aesthetic of the typewriter. Yet both faces meet at some unforeseen crossroads, sharing the same motifs of angled stroke endings and asymmetrical curves, similarities that would seem to disqualify them from ever being used together.
For the publication of his longform essay The First Roman Fonts, author and publisher John Boardley chose this very pairing for his website, I Love Typography. Both faces, in their ScreenSmart versions, are used at small sizes, Ideal Sans for text, and Operator for the supporting footnotes and commentary. That both fonts were designed and engineered for small sizes might make either one a good choice to satisfy both functions, but Boardley’s selection of different fonts for different textual roles helps formalize the site’s distinction between text and annotation.
On the site, each typeface serves a function that’s sympathetic with its origins. Ideal Sans, with its large vocabulary of organic shapes, produces the kind of complex texture traditionally associated with seriffed text faces. Operator, with its roots in typewriting, can effect an authorial, academic voice, the perfect choice for the commentary that surrounds the text itself.
WHY IT WORKS: Instead of dividing the typography by type size, these typefaces have been assigned different semantic functions. The choice of typeface is prompted by the structure of the content itself, with each selection informed by both the fonts’ abilities and their intentions. Spending time with the fonts’ character sets revealed that their superficial resemblence goes no deeper than a handful of letters in a few core styles, and uncovered some useful textures in the auxiliary styles, such as these very different forms of italic.
TIP: Remember that even fonts that share the same visual cues can have wildly different proportions, which affect the leading, column width, and tracking they require. Compared with Ideal Sans, Operator has narrower letters, a larger x-height, and dramatically shorter ascenders, descenders, and caps, which together invite much tighter settings. Varying these parameters can help play up the differences or similarities between the two typefaces.
3. Two Revivals of the Same Source
To many designers, historical revivals are the core of the typographic canon. Those who depend on these classics are tasked with the duty of presiding over many different revivals of the same original, and choosing a single correct version for every project. (To see something beautifully set in Adobe Garamond, with a late addition hastily added in itc Garamond, produces a special kind of dissonance. Typography is that art in which the tiniest errors are always the most conspicuous.)
Many consider the idea that revivals aim to be definitive — that history is heading toward one ultimate Garamond revival — to be outmoded. Instead, contemporary designers often approach historical material in a more interpretive way, finding qualities in historical artifacts that resonate with ideas and requirements of their own. Some of the most interesting contemporary typefaces are those that are grounded in historical forms, but are less “recreations” of old typefaces than “occasioned by” them. This invites the possibility that a type designer might revisit the same historical source many times during his or her career, and produce many different interpretations that have both differences and similarities. Sometimes these designs will conflict with one another, other times they’ll be compatible. Most often, they’ll do both.
An example from our library is the pairing of Champion Gothic with Knockout, two divergent type families created years apart, and both inspired by the same historical source. Champion Gothic was my first typeface, designed in 1990, and intended to be a modern interpretation of nineteenth century American wood types. Designed for Sports Illustrated, its sentimentality is checked by the needs of an energetic editorial art department, and its design shaped by a magazine format that required five closely-related condensed faces plus one heavy outlier.
A few years later, I revisited these typefaces with different goals in mind, thinking about how this material might be rationalized into a larger grid of both widths and weights, to ultimately produce the 32-member Knockout family. Above are nine of Knockout’s styles, alongside all six of Champion’s, showing the common ancestor that both fonts share.
Just as a designer might pick the most appropriate Garamond revival for a project, most designers can evaluate Champion and Knockout’s merits and decide which fits the project at hand. But some designers use styles from both families together, and sometimes to great effect: the example below is a favorite, pairing two styles of Knockout with Champion Gothic Heavyweight.
WHY IT WORKS: When working with two different families built on the same historical ground, look for points of overlap and differentiation beween them. If both families have the same range of styles, and include the same kinds of features and character sets, stick with the one that feels best for the project. But if there are outliers in one family that aren’t represented in the other, try using them together. This design works because its central style, Champion Gothic Heavyweight, is the farthest afield from the styles in Knockout, not only in weight and width, but in character. Similarly, the two weights of Knockout used here are ones that have no analogue in Champion, whose weights never go this wide, this narrow, or this light.
TIP: Look first to the extreme ends of a family to see what makes it unique. Many historical revivals take on the challenge of adapting traditional models to new purposes, often including the weights, widths, or optical sizes for which the original source wasn’t intended. Also spend some time with both fonts’ character sets, looking for any points of departure. Subtle adjustments like the alternate Rin the top line here serve to heighten the differences between this font and its neighbors, further ensuring that these closely related designs never clash. —JH
It’s lovely to seeDiscover.typography recognized by the Innovation by Design Awards. While the story of H&Co is usually the story of our fonts, less visible is the project of working with the fonts, and creating the kinds of experiences in which we can share what we find so exciting about type in the first place.
Thank you to Fast Company for highlighting an innovative piece of technology that’s been one of our most satisfying creative outlets. And thank you to the development team at H&Co, the eleven designers, developers, engineers, and project managers who work so hard to ensure that Discover.typography continues to fully capture, and fully express, everything that we love about type on the web. —JH
It’s surprising how much writing that isn’t about design turns out to be about design. For years, I’ve been squirreling away sentiments that resonate with me, scribbling them into sketchbooks or thumbing them into many generations of smartphone. Their sources vary: a hard-boiled mystery that I read on vacation, an in-flight magazine interview with a restaurateur, a book about viniculture, Twitter. One is attributable to a cartoon character. CEO Marissa Mayer adroitly captured what connects geeks and designers, and Jay-Z perfectly articulated something I’ve always felt about typeface design. Taken together, they’re ultimately about the same things: the role of design, the creative process, entrepreneurship, and the significance of tradition and style. These are all things central to life at H&Co, both to us and our clients, and to lovers of typography everywhere. I thought you might enjoy them. —JH
Some new features at Discover.typography make it easier than ever to spot fonts in the wild.
Among the contributors to Discover.typography are a couple of serious campers, a few people who enjoy a good hike, and at least one fledgling birdwatcher. At least one of us may have been involved in scouting as a kid, where the pursuit of such outdoorsy merit badges as Indian Lore, Basketry and Leatherwork pointed damningly to a future as the proprietor of a type foundry. But even for an indoorsy designer-to-be, there was much to love about camping: compact kits where things cleverly nested together, secret codes involving flashing lights or colored flags, the iconography of uniform badges, and multi-functional Swiss Army knives that prepared gutsy woodsmen for fixing eyeglasses or opening bottles of wine on the frontier. There was also the night sky, the joy of telling a chestnut tree by its leaves or a cottontail rabbit by its tracks, and the discovered pleasures of both camaraderie and solitude. It was with all this reverie in mind that we set to work on Trail Mix, a meditation on the outdoor life, in type.
The new controller.
Trail Mix includes a couple of unexpected type treatments for the web, from type wrapping a three-dimensional object, to letters rendered in embroidery. But the most significant change is to the controller, which identifies which fonts are used in each piece of art. Now you’ll see more detailed information about the fonts that go into our work — for example, not just that we used “Gotham,” but which specific styles we chose from the Gotham Narrow 1 package. We’ve also made the controller and the artwork mutually interactive, so you can select a font’s name to see where it appears in the art, and vice versa. And as always, there are a couple of easter eggs in store for the eagle-eyed, Eagle Scouts among you. Be prepared. —JH
Whether they’re typeface designers, graphic designers, web developers, or part of our business group, nobody at H&Co is immune to the charms of found typography, and we’re all compulsive sharers. Recently, our chief operating officer paid a visit to the garage to have her car serviced, and returned with a souvenir that made us smile: a paper tag left dangling from the rear view mirror, designer unknown, indifferently printed with a giant number in four inch block type. It prompted a conversation about the pleasures of anonymous typography, and how even the humblest bits of ephemera can suggest visual strategies for solving far more complex design challenges. So for those who take pleasure in life’s little typographic moments, we’re pleased to share a few of ours, today on Discover.typography. —JH
If you’ve ever dated a graphic designer, this has likely happened to you. You’re seated comfortably at a charming restaurant, presented with menus, and you watch as your companion scans up and down the entrées. Menus are flipped over, brows furrow; eyeglasses are lifted as eyes squint at the details. You catch an occasional “huh” that suggests the discerning judgment of the true connoisseur, and think you’re in for a treat. “See anything you like?” you ask innocently. “I like the italic small caps on the wine list,” comes the response, “but they used Arial for the bottom two lines.” It’s amazing we get invited anywhere.
Lunchtime at H&Co tends to provoke these conversations, and with no civilians in attendance, we’re free to nerd out. We’ve been thinking a lot recently about the different typographic idioms that restaurants use to telegraph what’s in store — how the folksy barbecue joint distinguishes itself from the faux French bistro, or the more-Brooklyn-than-Brooklyn sandwich shop — and have been looking for ways to help designers communicate a restaurant’s culture without resorting to shopworn clichés. No wood type with the pulled pork, or belle epoque frippery with the poached eggs: you can definitely use modern, relevant, and satisfying typography, and still set the right tone.
You’ll find a few of our suggestions at What’s Cooking, a collection of thirteen typographic menus (plus a few amuse-bouches), today at Discover.typography. These autumnal settings are a follow-up to Save the Date, our summertime celebration of the invitations that turn into cherished keepsakes once the first chill of fall enters the air. We hope you’ll enjoy them both. —JH
A font’s shapes might be designed, but its personality is discovered. It’s only in its natural habitat, surrounded by other typefaces, that a font truly develops a unique voice. For the designers at Hoefler & Co., designing with a font — even while it’s still being drawn — is a vital part of the creative process: seeing how a font performs, especially in the company of other typefaces, helps us better understand its character, articulate its purpose, and perfect its voice.
Starting today, we’re going to be sharing some of these explorations on a new site at Discover.typography.com. You’ll find typography that’s inspired by the things that delight us, and typography that reveals the techniques we’ve learned for achieving different moods. Discover.typography is a new way to experience type, an environment that makes it easy to identify typefaces, see them up close, and get to know their many subtleties. Check it out, on your phone, tablet, or computer, and let us know what you think! —JH
Every font shown on this site is accompanied by a set of suggested pairings. These are all personal selections (would that they could be automated!) and we’re often asked about our methodology for deciding what fonts go together. The truth is that these are intuitive choices: since we design all the fonts ourselves, we’re intimately familiar with their visual, functional, cultural and historical qualities, and just have a general sense of “what goes.” And yet there are always surprises: I’d never have guessed that the geometric sans serif Gotham had any affinity for the humanist sans Whitney, nor that Vitesse and Archer — two slabs serifs with dramatically different personalities — could get along so well.
Lately I’ve been wondering if it might be possible to abstract from these examples some generalities about font pairings, and have come up with a couple of thoughts. Curiously, everything seems to revolve around a single idea about how fonts relate: you’ll find the whole story below. —JH