Hypatia: how many typefaces?

Nick Shinn's picture


At first glance, it appears to be (at least) two typefaces.

Because if it (not to mention Chalet, Lisboa, Eunoia &c.) is just one typeface with variants, then surely Akzidenz Grotesk, Helvetica, and Arial are also just one typeface.

Is there any commonality of meaning to the term "typeface", or is the matter entirely determined by the publisher?

canderson's picture


Although it is a bit off topic, I found this diagram from Adobe's website strangely amusing. It reminds me of the sort of simplifications that occur in Economics--like where an nation is assumed to produce only "guns" and "butter". If Akzidenz Grotesk, Helvetica, and Arial are single typeface I would assume they have less "Flavor" and more "Utility."

Chalet definitely pushes the limits of what normally one would think of as a family, although like Hypatia it is on the frontier. A sort of optimum where flavor and utility are maximized.
I don't mean to hijack the thread. I think I tend to use the term "typeface" more for individual weights, and "family" for these newer editions with many variants.

paul d hunt's picture

like all terms, "typeface" only contains whatever meaning the reader associates with it. that said, i usually understand a typeface to be an alphabet embodies some idea or concept.

If Not4George's picture

From Wikipedia:

In typography, a typeface is a coordinated set of glyphs designed with stylistic unity. A typeface usually comprises an alphabet of letters, numerals, and punctuation marks; it may also include ideograms and symbols, or consist entirely of them, for example, mathematical or map-making symbols. The term typeface is often conflated with font, a term which, historically, had a number of distinct meanings before the advent of desktop publishing; these terms are now effectively synonymous when discussing digital typography. A helpful and still valid distinction between font and typeface is a font's status as a discrete commodity with legal restrictions, while typeface designates a visual appearance or style not immediately reducible to any one foundry's production or proprietary control.

This concurs with what I was taught in school. I suppose that qualifies Hypatia as a typeface.

William Berkson's picture

>It’s (at least) two typefaces.

I feel like Nick's comment is pretty much on target. I dislike the first alphabet in Nick's showing, as for me the humanist a and g don't go happily with the hooked serifs--and I don't much like the a and g anyway. The second line is ok, but I'd much rather have Avenir if I wanted to go that way. But the first alphabet, with the a e y replaced with the geometric variants--one of the options in the PDF--to me is fresh and interesting, and a nice look.

Just one person's subjective reaction, but I think it reflects an unusually big stylistic variation among alternates.

Nick Shinn's picture

But the first alphabet, with the a e y replaced with the geometric variants—one of the options in the PDF—to me is fresh and interesting, and a nice look.

I'd interpret this as illustrating a design feature of the face--that the typographer can choose a preference from Stylistic Sets that "mix and match" thematic qualities.

A bit like Multiple Masters, except that the type designer defines the axes (themes) around which variance occurs -- not using the "default" family axes of weight, horizontal scaling, and slant. The designer also defines the instances, the alternates are not incrementally adjustable.

One of Hypatia's axes is quite straightforward, which is serifs. There's no fully serifed version, but users can vary the amount of semi-serifed characters, as in William's example.

Another axis, which opposes humanist and geometric letterforms, is a similar kind of concept to the Chalet subgenres: general physical qualities like proportion, x-height, and stroke weight remain constant, but there are alternate letterforms.

Instead of creating kinship by close physical appearance, these typefaces create family through cultural properties, establishing a cultural axis of design which relates letterforms of quite disparate appearance. With Chalet it's the high-style aura of fashion icon Rene Chalet. With Hypatia, as it says in the promotion, it's a 1920s/30s state of mind, with Modern and Moderne engaged in a discourse on glamour and austerity.

Well anyway, that's the kind of meaning I thought to find in this typeface, suggested by the stylistic sets. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction Bill, and thanks for the face of course, Thomas.

marcox's picture

"...with Modern and Moderne engaged in a discourse on glamour and austerity."

Nick, you certainly know how to turn a phrase!

Nick Shinn's picture

a discourse on glamour and austerity

Those are jazz-era memes.
A post-modern take on Hypatia might deconstruct the functionality of formalism, asserting that it symbolizes functionality more than actually being functional -- so that ironically the Modern version may well be less "readable" than the Moderne.

paul d hunt's picture

responding to the original title: not only is Hypatia not a typeface, it's not a sans: it's a some-serifs.

Dan Gayle's picture

How many typefaces?
What's the difference between having 10+ stylistics sets that happen to substitute alternate glyphs, and just having alternate glyphs?

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