Categorize type?

baskervillebold's picture

I'm always curious about how other graphic and type designers categorize their fonts within their type management apps. I have worked with people in the past who organize sets by client or project. That always seemed like a pain to me. I use basic set categories:

- Graphic
- Handwriting
- Serif
- San Serif
- Script
- Vintage

If I wanted to to take it to the next step are there any additional categories that I could include? What do you do?

Basic question I know...but I thought I would throw it out there.

FeeltheKern's picture

I think it's just whatever works for you: the more you use it, the more it will become refined.

I do wish that there was an industry standard for categorizing fonts, and this tag would be embedded in the font file. When you dragged your font into your app, it would automatically file itself in the correct category(s).

Has anyone else thought about this for the next version of OpenType? I think all of us can think of a time when we've spent an hour looking for a typeface we could see in our brain, but couldn't find in our library.

fontplayer's picture

Grunge, techno or futuristic, calligraphy or brush, and blackletter, are a few suggestions that might help organization.

baskervillebold's picture

FeeltheKern, I like the info embedding idea. Similar to adding description meta data to an image.

I was looking on FontShop's a category called "Slab". How do you classify a slab font? Some look similar to serifs others had a slight san serif feel.

pattyfab's picture

My categories are:

check these out (fonts I want to use soon)
expert collections/OT
house industries
no idea (defies category)
retro (50s ish))

and sometimes I'll make a temporary set for a particular job, while I'm figuring it out.

A lot of typophiles organize by foundry - this wouldn't work for me. Emigre and House have very distinct characters and I am very familiar with their fonts, so I do have those two, but in general I need more descriptive categories.

Hope this helps.

Nick Shinn's picture

I do it alphabetically, by typeface name.

David Rault's picture

I never needed a classification, I also put them altogether alphabetically. in my researches and my thoughts, I always use the categories / hierarchy based on the historical classification of maximilien vox, with a subdivision of the Lineale family (sans serif) as proposed by lewis blackwell. it is as follows:

- manuaires (types which imitates the early ucial monks handwriting, where each letter is separated)
- humanes (early types of Jenson et al, strongly influenced by calligraphy)
- garaldes (classic types of Garamond et al, with an inclined axis)
- reales (transitional types, baskerville etc, vertical axis)
- didones (Bodoni style, strong contrast, horizontal serif, vertical axis)
- mecanes (slab serif, sometimes wrongly called egyptian, very bold)
- incises (flare types such as optima or penumbra)
- lineales grotesques (early sans serif, akzidenz et al)
- lineales humanistiques (sans serif with roman proportions and structure, gill sans etc)
- lineales geometriques (geometric sans, futura etc)
- lineales modernes (swiss rebirth of sans serif in the sixties, helvetica, univers etc)
- lineales contemporaines (contemporary works in the sans serif theme, vista, ff cocon, etc)
- fraktures (british and german types wrongly called gothic)
- scriptes (imitating the linked calligraphy)

this classification bears the advantage of being validated by Atypi in 1962, and it is widely used and quite useful.


Florian Hardwig's picture

A lot of typophiles organize by foundry - this wouldn’t work for me.

I do both:
I have two superordinate folders (in Linotype FEX, that is):
‘by source’ and ‘by style’

  • First of all, all new fonts always go into their group within the former, according to their origin:
    ‘Adobe CS2 (bundled)’, ‘House Industries’, ‘ (freebie)’ &c.
    This reflects the naturally developing Finder structure (purchases, downloads) – and thus, it’s no extra work.
  • these groups then get labeled with a colour: Green for ‘commercial license, no restrictions’, yellow for ‘only non-commercial use’, blue for ‘freebie’ &c.

That way, I always know where I got them from and what I am allowed to do with them.

In a second step, I sort them by style:

  • I copy selected fonts into categories, similar to those mentioned by David or Patty above

The advantage is: while a font always has only one origin, it can have multiple styles; e.g. it can be ‘Display’ and ‘Retro’ and ‘Mecane’ and ‘Very fat’ …
No problem, just do multiple copies in the ‘Style’ folder!

I do it alphabetically, by typeface name.

This is a thing I never understood (they did it in University too, ordered even like a telephone book, grouping fonts that have nothing in common: ‘A–C’, ‘D–F’, …): This is a something the application additionally offers anyway, isn’t it?
If I am looking for a font starting with ‘Soft…’, I’d type ‘soft’ into the search field.


paul d hunt's picture

I kinda hate categorization. my dream method would be to have explorer software that lets you add your own tags to typefaces ala flickr or, then you could do a search for something like "baroque script bold" and get back specific typefaces. i wish iTunes had a tagging system as well instead of stupdid, simplistic categories.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Yeah, Paul, that’s my dream, too. ;°)
Actually, you can do it: FEX’s ‘information’ window takes multiple comments. One could go through all fonts and tag them that way: ‘baroque, script, bold, language-coverage:ce, x-height:xl, client:XYZ, osf’.
But of course, that’s a PITA, as you cannot export/exchange those self-made tags.
I’d love the Linotype people to integrate a simpler tagging functionality, and then one would be able to download and assign tag sets from the foundries, or from Typophile.

crossgrove's picture

Notice how many people have replied that essentially their system has to make sense to them. With this as background, how would an industry standard work? What would the categories be based on, who would decide the tags? Would you go along with someone else's system?

For instance, fonts that straddle categories would need to belong to both (or all). What is the standard "first place to look" if a design is a geometric sans AND a script at the same time? This is not a rhetorical question, look at Mark Simonson's Coquette.

If you disagree with my, or anyone's classifications, then that kind of wrecks the idea of a standard; everyone has their own perceptions and ways of associating typefaces with each other or with concepts like "elegant", or "casual" or "square". We see the differences of opinion here every day. One person's "square" is another person's "geometric".

The tag cloud in Flickr gives an interesting way to conceive of different but related items. FontShop also put out a poster showing their types all arranged in a sort of cloud, with proximity based on similarity. In this way they are unlinked from "classifications" and linked instead to associations, either conceptual or visual.

Dan Gayle's picture

It's unfortunate, because most of that information WAS given a code a long, long time ago. If I'm not correct, that what all of that FOND info was for, but it was never adopted by everyone. It's also hard to understand.

The guys at Extensis said at Typecon that they actually go through MANUALLY and categorize as many typefaces as they can for their databases used in their software. That does allow for auto categorization, just off of the sweat of their brow and at their discretion.

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