what is a good modern looking font to sue for a modern up to date dictionary?

MrKerner's picture


I am creating a new modern/quirky dictionary and I wondered if a modern looking sans serif font would work well rather than the serif type that is usually used on dictionaries for the main text.

I wonder if any on here knew of any good types.

I am basically trying to combine (stylish/modern/cool/classy/sleek/sophisticated/) with the idea of the dictionary.

I hope you can help!

this was one example I thought of: http://www.hypefortype.com/nuorder.html

or maybe not, you might have better types

Chris Dean's picture

Can you describe the context in greater detail so that people can provide you with informed recommendations as opposed to subjective aesthetic opinions? For example, are you creating an academic dictionary for a specific discipline? A new Urban Dictionary? A full on Oxford English Dictionary? Online? Print? I believe that good design is about fitness for purpose as opposed to intuitive guesswork.

Is this for personal, professional, or academic work?

MrKerner's picture


It would be professional yes, something i'm making for a brand i'm looking at.

I am selecting certain words out that describe/sum up the values of a certain brand.

I will only be changing the example of the words in context basically writing funny examples for each of the words I have selected.

So it's a combination of academic and comedy. I'm using words from the Oxford dictionary that won't change (not stupid words like Urban dictionary) but maybe the funny element (although not crude) like urban dictionary for the examples.

It would be print (mini booklet), with the idea to expand possible it to online/digital

The brand itself is a bit of a rebellious brand (covers a wide range of areas in the market); known to do things slightly different, but at the same time, it's modern, classy, innovative, and caring I think.

Chris Dean's picture

A bit clearer, but I’m not sure I’m on the same page yet (pun intended). I understand:

a) You have a client
b) you are making a printed promotional piece for them of sorts, which consists of words selected from the OED, but with funny twists
c) You are not actually setting an entire dictionary
d) And the company is rebellious, slightly differemt, modern, classy, innovative, and caring.

From what you have posted here, I think you are free to set the type as you see fit given you don’t need to concern yourself with the pragmatics of size, thin paper, economy of space &c like a real dictionary. It just needs to look like dictionary text so people get the visual reference. You might be able to use slightly more contemporary, hip, trendy &c fonts, but stray to far from the norm, and people will probably think “what’s up with this weird type that looks something like a dictionary?” You are already making it clever, different &c by changing the language.

That aside, what exactly does this company (brand) do? Are they a band? A clothing store? A blog? A software company? A design firm? Perfume? This is a critical piece of information. Those adjectives can be applied to anything.

And what is the budget for this job?

Chris Dean's picture

Oh, and you have posted this in the wrong area. The “Critique > San Serif” board is where you would post the design of a san serif font you have designed and ask for feedback. Notice how you haven’t been getting any feedback? Questions like this should be on the General Discussion board. I will move it for you.

In addition, you will find that you get better feedback if you show and tell people what you have already tried. There is a tendency for many new members to simply ask the group to do their home/work for them, right down to the Google search. I once saw a post from a student asking Typophile “I need to write a paper about this Baskerville guy. Can anyone tell me a bit about him?” He didn’t get much feedback ;)

JamesM's picture

> I will only be changing the example of the words ...
> I'm using words from the Oxford dictionary that won't change

The Oxford dictionary is copyrighted. If you're copying definitions and just changing examples, you'd probably be violating copyright.

From their website: "...no materials may otherwise be copied, modified, published... or otherwise distributed without our prior written permission..."

jonathanhughes's picture

He's only using words from the Oxford dictionary, not the definitions. They certainly can't copyright the words they define, otherwise we'd all be in a lot of trouble.

JamesM's picture

If he's writing his own definitions then obviously he's fine, but I'm not sure from his description of the project.

MrKerner's picture

Wasn't sure where to post it so chose Sans Serif more or less at random, but thanks for moving it to it's correct place.

The brand is a multinational company that covers entertainment to travel business areas. I could mention the name but i'm not going to haha!

I'm not copying the Oxford dictionary directly, just looking at their definitions of words as they are surely the best to look for the correct definition for words.
Maybe i'll just get the rough jist of the definition by combining other dictionary/online definitions of the same word and type that out, if having a direct copy of Oxfords would be an issue; good point though - i'll be careful with the copyright issue.

"It just needs to look like dictionary text so people get the visual reference"

I agree. I went with a serif at first but wondered if it looked too boring and old; maybe there are modern serifs as well as Sans Serifs that get the dictionary reference across well.

I was looking at Didot as the main font at first, but my typography knowledge isn't very strong, that's why I wondered if you could suggest suitable types that I would then choose from.

"You are already making it clever, different &c by changing the language."

yep, good point. I didn't want it to be let down by a rubbish type i'd choose, because of my rubbish typography knowledge. I'll play around with layout - probably won't have it exactly like a dictionary layout as that would be boring.

I might be able to have more than one type in the book as well.

altsan's picture

Personally I'd only use Didot as a text face if I hated my readers.

If you want a didone-esque face (something with both crisp contrast and decent heft, say) then something like Adobe Utopia would probably work better. For something a little warmer and more organic, Comenius might do (though perhaps it's not as modern as you would like).

I don't know what you mean exactly by "cool" and "modern". However, I'll name a couple of faces which I think are distinctively quirky while still looking nicely readable in small close-set text:

Delete's picture

Dictionary fonts are generally condensed with large x height and reduced contrast. Didot would be the opposite of these. One modern font you might consider is Premiéra.

MrKerner's picture

Maybe "cool" and "modern" are not the best descriptions

stylish/classy/sleek/sophisticated might be better although keep the others as well

I can definitely see the similarities and little oddities between those types you found ones

Scala looks quite spidery not sure I like it

Chaparral Pro is nice

Premiéra looks quite nice too

relato is kind of nice, but an archaic look (might be good for smaller text- looks dictionary-like)

Both cartier and deepdene look archaic like relato

Is Serif best - are there Sans Serif than can be recommended? Although more Serifs are welcome

Té Rowan's picture

Found a copy of the "Oxford Progressive Colour Dictionary"; maybe the one I used in school. The blurb says: "Set in Monotype Univers and Plantin" – Univers (bold weight) for the terms and definition numbering, Plantin (regular weight) for the rest.

No idea if that particular combo suits you, but bold-sans-v-regular-serif may work.

MrKerner's picture

does the copyright issue apply to all dictionaries, whether than be online or printed, or does it only apply to Oxford dictionary?

i.e what about: http://www.thefreedictionary.com

if I was to include the definition of the word, is there a way round the copyright, e,g if I combine different definitions from may sources to make my own new definition?

Sylph's picture

Le Monde Sans by Porchez Typofonderie?

JamesM's picture

> does the copyright issue apply to all dictionaries

Creating a dictionary is an enormous amount of work, so I would assume every dictionary is copyrighted unless you find one that clearly states that it's not.

> what about: http://www.thefreedictionary.com

Their "Terms of Use" page says: "...TheFreeDictionary © 2012 by Farlex, Inc. ... Material contained in the Content may not be duplicated or redistributed without the prior written consent of Farlex..."

MrKerner's picture

@Sylph that's a nice typeface!

MrKerner's picture

@JamesM do you know of any dictionaries that don't state copyright?

Delete's picture

For readability, also consider Foundry Form Sans

Michel Boyer's picture

You could consider the Wiktionary

Wiktionary is a wiki, which means that you can edit it, and all the content is dual-licensed under both the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License as well as the GNU Free Documentation License.

JamesM's picture

> @JamesM do you know of any dictionaries that don't state copyright?

Sorry I don't. Perhaps the reference department at your local library would know.

Michel's suggestion of Wiktionary sounds like a good possibility, but be sure to read their terms carefully, especially anything that mentions re-use for commercial purposes.

Why not just have your project's copywriter create his/her own definitions for the words? Or just come up with a different approach for your project?

MrKerner's picture

@Michael is wiktionary fine to use without fear of copyright issues?

@james I did consider creating my own definitions - I guess along the same meaning, but slightly tweaked - maybe in a funny way or serious - that would remove copyright issues

Also by commercial, does that still include if my work is only going to staff ONLY and not the public?

Sylph's picture

@Sylph that's a nice typeface!

Isn't it? I am absolutely in love. Wonderful!

Michel Boyer's picture

is wiktionary fine to use without fear of copyright issues?

You always need to read the copyright, the same way you read the EULA before licensing a font. I see that the links in the block quote that I copy-pasted are incomplete. If you click on Wiktionary, you get the links in the third paragraph. For the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, it is written

If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same, similar or a compatible license.

For the GNU General Public License, I presume similar restrictions apply. You need to read.

JamesM's picture

> Also by commercial, does that still include if my work
> is only going to staff ONLY and not the public?

When I said "commercial" I meant a project you're making money doing. Sometimes when someone posts something on the internet and says you're free to copy it, there may be some conditions, like maybe you have to include a link back to the source, or you can't use it for commercial purposes, or whatever. I'm just saying to read the terms.

DTY's picture

There are, of course, plenty of dictionaries that are old enough for copyright to have expired. I'm not sure Samuel Johnson et al. count as stylish/modern/cool/etc. but there's plenty of material to play with in clever ways.

MrKerner's picture

@DTY the dictionary content doesn't have to be cool etc, just wanting to find certain words I can grab the meanings of. Seems it's not as straightforward to do that though.

Nice idea though to look at older dictionaries, thanks

@jamesm I won't be making money from it and I don't know anyone else who will, so does that change copyright issues?

Isn't there just a way to mention where the definitions were sourced from such as at the front of my book?

JamesM's picture

> @jamesm I won't be making money from it and I don't
> know anyone else who will, so does that change copyright issues?

I'm still not clear on exactly what you're doing and what your relationship is to your client.

How many definitions will you be using? Is this a school project, or did some company hire you to do this, or are you an employee of this company and they asked you to develop this as part of your job, or what?

MrKerner's picture

@james it's a student brief (shoudl have mentioned that earlier), with the possibility that if good enough might be selected to be used by the brand - not guaranteed though

It's for staff at the brand though so wouldn't be for the public

I was doing definitions in 6 sections with about 10 words in each so maybe 60 words/definitions

JamesM's picture

> it's a student brief

I doubt if any dictionary would care that you used some of their definitions in a student project. Just make sure you give proper credit so your professor knows where they came from.

> ...[but] might be selected to be used by the brand

If it actually ends up being used by the brand, that's different. I see 2 possible approaches: 1) Find definitions that aren't copyrighted (or write your own), or 2) include a note stating that if it's actually used, they may need to write new definitions to avoid copyright violation (they'd probably hire a freelance copywriter).

Andreas Stötzner's picture

> I wonder if any on here knew of any good types.

not that I would be aware of it.

MrKerner's picture

thanks, probably won't get selected ha

I'll make sure to give proper credit and include a note if necessary.

If I attempted to right new definitions myself, i'm wondering how I would approach that.

MrKerner's picture

thanks, I had used a variety of fonts to make for an interesting dictionary

I have also edited some of the definitions myself, so not to copyright.

Another question though...

I have a folder on my mac now full of maybe 60 fonts I have collected over a period and to install them , I have to 'install font' for each individual one - I wondered if there is a way to install them all in one go rather than doing it one by one every time?

Chris Dean's picture

@MrKerner: Where do you study?

MrKerner's picture

@Chris Dean

in England ;)

Deus Lux's picture

Personally, I'd sue Arial.

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