Period typefaces for body text

Orange Skirt's picture

Hello! I've got a bit of dilemma on my hands. I'm currently the design editor of my university's student newspaper and for April 1st we're doing a joke issue with the theme "time warp." Each page will be from a certain period in time, with the first page being the beginning of the universe (the leading cover choice right now is a blank page) and the last page will the end of it. All pages will be themed, with some modeled after illuminated manuscripts and others 1920s newspapers, for example.

Now, I'm incredibly excited for this project, but the fonts have got me tripped up, specifically at the very beginning (cavemen and the discovery of fire) and the end (the far, far future). Anything after the start of movable type I'm fine with, obviously, because I can start to use Garamond and the like. But I'd like some ideas for the type before typography and into the future.

The main stickler here is readability - I can't do cave paintings (beyond as illustrations) for the beginning because the articles have to be readable. I've offered to hand write them, but that was shot down. I've suggested telling a story in symbols and having a fake researcher's note to the side as a translation, but that was also shot down as not keeping with the theme of the issue (which, loosely, is how a newspaper written from back them would have looked) and as being "too high concept." So, a font, or at least a style of type is needed that goes with cave paintings.

I'm also having the same problem for the future. (I think the times right now are 3000 ACE, and 3,000,000 ACE, but it's not nailed down.) Just like how I can't use symbols or hieroglyphs, I can't use fonts like New Alphabet because they can't be read easily. So far, I've gotten the suggestion of Kettler and my boss seems okay with it. But that may only be because I told him it was okay at small sizes and as body text. A cliched version of the future will probably be what we go with because that will be most recognizable as "future" in the context of the issue.

There's also the issue of using faces suitable as body text. For example, the editorial page is going to fall in Roman times, and the masthead will be a play of Trajan's column. Trajan should be fine for names and the like, but setting the accompanying article in an all-caps face would be too much. So maybe Optima would be better? I've also got a few blackletter choices going (from the suggestions in The Elements of Typographic Style) that I hope to convince my boss are also readable.

I'd like to stay "accurate" since the rest of paper will be (not going to use Baskerville until after 1757!) but accuracy is not possible before the written word. I'm grateful for any suggestions thrown my way!

riccard0's picture

I think you could find something of interest here:

http://www.stonetypefoundry.com/alphabetfarmjour.html

oldnick's picture

the editorial page is going to fall in Roman times, and the masthead will be a play of Trajan's column. Trajan should be fine for names and the like, but setting the accompanying article in an all-caps face would be too much.

Lowercase, a.k.a. miniscules, are a much later innovation. An all-caps typeface can work for body copy if you air it out, i.e., add extra leading.

And pre-Common Era, are you going to set your articles in Greek or Phoenician or Cuneiform?

paul d hunt's picture

maybe choose Biome for a future font? with it being released in 2010, that's about as far as we can reach into the future for type.

http://biometype.com/

Orange Skirt's picture

> http://www.stonetypefoundry.com/alphabetfarmjour.html

I'm rather liking ITC Stone II. Thanks for the suggestion!

> And pre-Common Era, are you going to set your articles in Greek or Phoenician or Cuneiform?

I'd like to use something like heiroglyphs or cuneiform, but can't. Everything must be readable and in English.

dtw's picture

That's a helluva period between the start-of-the-universe and arrival-of-human-beings that's going to be interesting to render in readable English!
What font would the first generation of star birth be reported in? Or the formation of the Earth. Hmm...

:-)

russellm's picture

You could just print solid black pages for the first 100,000,000,000 years.

For Ancient Egypt, you can use Papyrus.

(… Kidding! Don't use Papyrus. Don't even suggest it. Someone you answer to will think it is perfect. :o)

Chris_gh91's picture

> I'd like to use something like heiroglyphs or cuneiform, but can't. Everything must be readable and in English.

You could be compromising your design by saying that.
You can always have a Hieroglyphs/Cuneiform alphabet in the corner with the English letters under it, or as like a half page in the middle of the spread with the alphabet so it doesn't get in the way of the design...
Then the page with be more interactive with the reader, maybe sparking more interest than normal? (just don't write too much).

oldnick's picture

You can always have a Hieroglyphs/Cuneiform alphabet in the corner with the English letters under it

Make 'em work for it, like when I was a kid: collect cereal boxtops and send them in for a Secret Decoder Ring...

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