Nationality of Typefaces

CBAGW315's picture

I have recently decided to start working on a typeface reference book. I would like some feedback on how many typeface nationalities (German, Swiss, Dutch, etc.) there are in the world and how/what are the many typeface moods or expressions you think there are. I have looked at several typeface reference books and concluded that organization needs help-this is huge especially when I am trying to decide on a typeface for a design.
Thanks for your help!

Nick Shinn's picture

To what nationality would you ascribe today's Featured Face (FF Oneleigh)? Designed by a Canadian born in England, an homage to American historicist types of the 1920s (Cooper & Goudy), published by a German company.

CBAGW315's picture

I would say the nationality is American, because the designer designed the typeface for the American usage (like Goudy Old Style)-the nationality heavily depends on what style or audience the designer is seeking.

Nick Shinn's picture

I don't really work that way on retail faces: I develop an idea that interests me, and put the resulting typeface on the market (internationally) and see if anyone will license it.
There's a bit of Koch and Weiss (Germans) in there too, and perhaps some Monotype Garamond -- historicism was an international movement. And a little of me?

ebensorkin's picture

The notion of "nationality" in typeface design is a bankrupt one. There are of course trends historically speaking and these are worth looking at and thinking about. But there is no essential "this-ness" or "that-ness" in a type.

nina's picture

"there is no essential "this-ness" or "that-ness" in a type"
…there doesn't need to be, a priori, but types can very well be strongly informed by, and infused with, «this-ness» or «that-ness» given their context.

I would think that in a Globalized Latin-script context, questions of specific national/cultural influence might become largely negligible, as it's all sort-of washing out and blending together into a transnational mega-context;* but then again, these are the contexts were specifically local/national culture has become less vital or identity-defining overall, also outside of type. But I don't think this can be claimed generally. Think only of Ireland! Also, I would assume that for instance in more marginalized societies / [visual] cultures, local/regional/national visual traditions/specifics have a more crucial role in defining identity, hence are more at the core of people's consciousness, hence designers' consciousness, hence also their output.

* Although I would still argue there is, for example, something like a specifically «Swiss style» in type design today (not to be confused with the historical Swiss Style), showing in the offerings of say Lineto or Optimo.

quadibloc's picture

While most typefaces might not be particularly tied to one particular country, for Bodoni to be French, Caslon and Baskerville English, Weiss Roman German, isn't too much of a stretch either.

From its name, I carelessly assumed that Oneleigh, if it had any national characteristics, might have been intended to be Irish.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

I want to second what Nina stated at the beginning: YES IT CAN ;-) – but it is not inevitably an aspect of every type.

Just a few random thoughts.

While type gets globalized like anything else typographic nationalisms get rediscovered and re-estimated as resources of originality and inspiration.

Compare Gill Sans to Futura (both created at the same time) and you have samples *par excellence* for English and German type flavour.
Compare ITC Garamond to Stempel Garamond and …

Nowadays, I feel many many – too many? – new text faces are born and bread Dutch. Not that they were made by Dutch. But many designers seem to prefer a certain dutchness in their type, be it consciously or not.

And Bodoni might have been Italian.

Nick Shinn's picture

From its name, I carelessly assumed that Oneleigh, if it had any national characteristics, might have been intended to be Irish.

It was named after an old house in a tale by Lord Dunsany, an Irishman, but I always imagined the house to be like Snowshill Manor in the English Cotswold hills.

eliason's picture

By the way, the companion website to my 2008 exhibition on this subject is still live:
Face the Nation: How National Identity Shaped Modern Typeface Design, 1900-1960

dezcom's picture

Back even in the 1970s (and even 80s), it took some time and a well established foundry for a typeface to even be seen internationally. Today, we see new fonts released almost hourly from all over the World. We see each others work in progress constantly via internet sites such as this one. International Type design students study together at places like Reading and are taught by people who have names like, Unger Leonidas, Zhukov, Milo, Chahine, and Kobayashi. It is quite clear that now what used to be an international smorgasbord of national styles, has become a well-simmered soup of intermingled flavors of the world.
Although I am living in America, I am far more likely to be discussing type with people from The Netherlands, Germany, or India than I am with another America. The old national boundaries may still have a bit of meaning in the insane world of politics, religion, and economics but in the type world, we are all just colleagues in the borderless world of the internet.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

we are all just colleagues in the borderless world of the internet.

Yes, but traditions have played their part in typography ever since and will do so in the future. This is actually not a matter of national boundaries but of national and regional traditions.

When I travel to a place where I have never been before very few things excite me so much as spoting styles and traditions peculiar to that place.

nina's picture

"we are all just colleagues in the borderless world of the internet"
Yes we are. But that doesn't mean we are all influenced by the same things. We don't see the same type treatments every day, we're not exposed to the same kind of æsthetics, our signs look different, our shop lettering, our streets, our graffiti, the fliers in our mailboxes, the ads in our papers, the papers themselves. We don't work from the same historical background, we didn't grow up reading the same books in the same fonts, at school we weren't taught the same things from the same models, when you were perhaps taught Dwiggins I was looking at Frutiger. And so on. I believe these differences, this variety is a thing to cherish and sustain. It saddens me if, upon traveling to a new, excitingly unfamiliar place, I find that their airport signage looks the same as mine, and their road signs feel just like I was back home.
While it's massively useful, and sometimes enlightening, to be able to harness the possibilities of working (and networking) globally and learning from people in a different cultural context, there still is both beauty and relevance in the local; the context that surrounds us each day, that each of us is rooted in and that is rooted inside us in turn. I don't think these 2 perspectives have to be mutually exclusive.

(Craig: Thanks for the link!)

geraintf's picture

there was, incidentally, a similar debate at the end of what was termed 'the international style' ie the modern movement of architecture. in the early 1980s kenneth frampton proposed something called 'critical regionalism': an architecture, which although broadly affiliated with modernism, was responsive and able to contribute to a regional context, be it local building materials, construction techniques, in short the local vernacular.

dezcom's picture

"...we didn't grow up reading the same books in the same fonts, at school we weren't taught the same things from the same models, when you were perhaps taught Dwiggins I was looking at Frutiger. ..."

I understand your logic, Nina, but I was taught much more about European typography than American. Granted, it was the heyday of the Swiss/German modernist era when I studied typography. There were several American design schools including mine that were taught mostly by Europeans. The actual and embarrassing truth is that I had no idea who Dwiggins was untill I went to TypeCon in New York 5 years ago and heard several presentations on Dwiggins from Typophile regulars like Kent Lew and Tiffany (and read her thesis). I was introduced to typography in the college classroom in 1963 by Fred Amery (a Brittish typographer) , Had fleeting conversations with Jack Stauffacher {An American) who ran the schools Laboratory Press; there were two type families only available for text setting as foundry type or Monotype, Baskerville and the entire Univers family; guest lecturers were several times by Herman Zapf. My sophomore year was taught by two Germans from the Ulm School, Gui Bonnsieppe and Martin Krampen. Junior and senior year were taught by Ken Hiebert, an American who had just come from 8 years of study with Emil Ruder and Armin Hoffman in Basle. Ken brought in guest lecturers like Wolfgang Weingart and Karl Gerstner. My first job out of Vietnam was at the Westinghouse Corporate Design Center where I worked for Peter Megert, a Swiss designer fresh from Bern who was apprenticed to Mueller-Brockman. In graduate school at OSU, the typography teacher was Willi Kunz and the rest of the design faculty at the time were either trained in Ulm or the Royal College of Art. etc, ...

Yes, I am an all-american-boy and make no claim to be otherwise but that does not always mean what you might expect. I had better now go back and find out who those American guys were back then. I do remember something about a Kelscott Press, though :-)

paul d hunt's picture

But there is no essential "this-ness" or "that-ness" in a type.

Just 'cause you (don't) feel it doesn't mean it's (not) there.

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