Most people probably don’t think about the story behind a font. Even if you’re a designer, you might not be fully aware of the wizards behind the typography that forms our visual world today. Each and every font has its own origin, creator, purpose and evolution. The stories aren’t just font-nerd gold – they offer heaps of inspiration into what works and what doesn’t in the design world. Here are a few of our favourites.
Times New Roman: Victor Lardent
No list of timeless fonts would be complete without Times New Roman. Created in 1931, the font was originally commissioned for The Times, after typeface designer Stanley Morison was less than impressed with the previous font’s lack of readability. To put things right – Stanley helped in-house designer Victor Lardent come up with the TNR we know today to replace it – which is now one of the top copy fonts worldwide.
Why we love it: You’d think we’d all hate it. For one thing, it’s reminiscent of any essay ever written. And it’s extremely overused. Still, each subtle type feature – from the gorgeous ear of the g to the brackets of the h – adds up to make it the greatest copy serif going.
Comic Sans: Vincent Connare
British-American typeface designer Vincent Connare conjured up Comic Sans for Microsoft under their employment in 1994. Its original purpose was to represent the voice of a cartoon dog that popped up to help on one of Microsoft’s programmes. Previously in Times New Roman, Connare realised this didn’t work – instead inventing the fun, comic-like (surprisingly) sans-serif script that became “the most hated and most loved font in the world.”
Why we love it: Love it or hate it – the font was designed for one thing and was a real success. Plus it brings back fond memories. Many a Powerpoint presentation at school or college was made all the more exciting by with the jocular touch of Comic Sans… or was that just us?
Helvetica: Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann
Helvetica was originally created for use on larger signs – it needed to be neutral, clear and easy on the eye. The very first Helvetica was the brainchild of Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann. Designed in 1957 for Haas Type Foundry, the pair used existing fonts – including Akzidenz-Grotesk – as a starting point. Cheeky, but clever.
Why we love it: Helvetica is a celebrity. The font is used all over for its perfect neutrality, from New York’s subway system to British Gas, Nestle to Skype. What’s not to love?
Johnston: Edward Johnston
Edward Johnston created Johnston in 1916 for Transport for London (the origin of the name is entirely baffling, of course). The sans serif font is synonymous with the tube (you’ll see it across all trains, buses and station signage in the city) and has stood the test of time – remaining consistent and versatile enough to keep up with the fashions and technology that have arisen within the last century.
Why we love it: Johnston is 100 years old! Despite seeing it every day, many Londoners and visitors to the capital probably don’t give it the respect it deserves. What’s even cooler is that the font has evolved this year to integrate with modern signage such as hashtags and @ symbols.
Garamond: Claude Garamont
Claude Garamont, commonly known as Claude Garamond, was a Parisian punch-cutter. From 1531 onwards, his Roman fonts became the most influential of the time. Soon, he added his own concepts, which were later acquired by French and German foundries after his death and were eventually revitalised for us as the elegant, refined old-style serif we know and use today.
Why we love it: If a font created over four-and-a-half centuries ago is still used in modern day life – you may recognise it from the Abercombie & Fitch logo – then that’s good enough for us.
Futura: Paul Renner
Designed by Paul Renner in 1927 at the Bauer Type Foundry in Frankfurt, Futura is often mistaken for the first geometric sans-serif font. That title, in fact, belongs to Erbar – a font from the Ludwig & Mayer foundry. But Futura had the advantage of being owned by a larger company – and was the font that stood the test of time. These things happen, guys.
Why we love it: It’s got serious Hollywood appeal, having graced the covers of some of our favourite films – American Beauty, Gravity, Gone Girl and Interstellar to name but a few. It’s also favoured by big-time directors Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick – say no more.
What’s the one thing our font heroes have in common? They saw a problem, or were commissioned to solve a problem. The fonts they created were solutions that competently understood the importance of legibility and usability – and that magic formula is what makes a font a roaring success.