If you could only use 5 typefaces...

keith_tam's picture

I posted this topic over at the AIGA typography board a month ago, and surprise surprise, no one replied to it! It

John Hudson's picture

Five? That seems rather a lot.

Some of the finest private press publishers of limited edition letterpress books have limited themselves to a single typeface. Wolfgang Tiessen has used Caslon exclusively for many years.

Isaac's picture

1. univers 55
2. univers 56
3. univers 57
4. univers 85
5. univers 63

massimo vignelli, indeed.

jfp's picture

Adobe Sans and Adobe Serif are enough for me.

glutton's picture

I try to limit myself to Linotype's Mo' Funky Fresh

trae's picture

At first I thought "just five?" I often try to amuse myself with trying to narrow it down to ten.

Garamond
Goudy
Helvetica (which one? which one? aaagh, can I have them all?)
Franklin Gothic, I think, oh...
Clarendon

This is always an interesting topic but I've been afraid to ask since I'm sure it's been gone over many times. In all seriousness, which five (or more or fewer) should no one be without?

porky's picture

In no particular order:

Gill Sans (sue me)
Perpetua
Helvetica Neue (again, sue me)
Verdana (for screen)
Sabon (and Sabon Next if I'm being cheeky)

Bald Condensed's picture

Massimo Vignelli hasn't got a clue. But then again I used to work for FontShop. =D

Jean-Fran

Bald Condensed's picture

BTW John and Isaac, don't let me be misunderstood: I recognize there are brilliant designers who could do with only one. I totally admire the understated and "pure" typography practised by some. It's not that I'm trying to promote "use as many fonts as possible and then add some more" here, I'm just reacting against one of those "Vignelli cringe quotes".

Keith, I think they're just scared witless of saying something that goes against one of the Great American Icons over at AIGA's. They really need to lighten up and stop taking themselves too seriously. :-)

Orwell warned us for this, but would we listen? :-)

porky's picture

It occurred to me that Keith asked why. So:

Gill Sans - the typeface that first make me want to enquire further into typography. To be precise, the uppercase G. People say its overused. Never. Misused, perhaps. ;)

Perpetua's proportions work so well with Gill Sans, and to my mind is a wonderful marriage. The italics are compact and beautiful.

Verdana looks great on screen, both aliased and antialiased, and its all down to its spacing. If you must read on screen, there is no finer read than 11pt verdana on a 72dpi screen.

Sabon (and Sabon Next) are wonderfully legible and utterly handsome. The ligatures, swashes and alternatives add a depth and richness that many others fail to provide.

As for Helvetica Neue - everyone needs a workhorse for information graphics ;)

Sorry for not answering correctly first time round.

hrant's picture

JF: funny!

> I'm trying real hard to stay polite.

I'm not. Massimo can eat me.

hhp

keith_tam's picture

As you probably realized, I asked this question with tounge in cheek! Thanks for your resplies

Isaac's picture

yves, i'm not one of those brilliant ones.
i was kind of reacting against massimo myself,
in my own little way. but jfp forgot the essential
companion to his choices - comic sans.
(you all knew i was going to say that, right?)

Miss Tiffany's picture

1. Perpetua (Because I love his Florentine R)
2. ITC Bodoni (6, 12, 72) - Because I support Massimo Vignelli's school of thought.
3. Anisette (entire family including Anisette Petite) - Because of it's simplicity and it's ability to be both masculine and feminine.
4. Neutraface - Because it is arrogantly clean.
5. Eldorado - Because it is Dwiggins.

But, this is next to impossible to judge. Because I could easily add Futura Serie BQ, Gill Sans, Helvetica Neue, Ariston, Gerstner Original, Berthold Garamont Amsterdam, Parisine ... and on and on and on and on ...

Although I do agree that having a top 5 list is next to impossible. Unless you happen to work as an in-house designer for a company that has a style sheet already set in place. (I seem to recall only have a few faces to choose from at MSLO.) However, I'm very old-school and proud of it. I happen to appreciate very much the staunchly pristine work done by Massimo Vignelli (and those from the so-called New York School). But then again, I'm also one of those people that thinks it is necessary to learn the rules so that when you do break them you understand why. I guess I'm boring.

What about foundries. This is a dream. What if we had our pick of type libraries. Which would you pick?

hrant's picture

> I support Massimo Vignelli's school of thought.

Is that why you've bought the entire Emigre library? :-)

hhp

Miss Tiffany's picture

Is that why you've bought the entire Emigre library? :-)

I didn't say he was the only one I support. :^)

cheshiredave's picture

As likely the only person here who has the same birthday as Massimo, I feel entitled to say I think the whole notion of limiting oneself to five typefaces is utter nonsense. I am constantly amazed that more designers don't share my very strong feeling that the content ought to heavily influence the design. Now, it may be that Massimo simply doesn't take projects that don't scream out for one of his fraternal quintuplets, but then, that would be pretty lazy.

I go through phases wherein I'm more inclined to try a particular couple of faces first (or, like playing too much with a new toy, I overuse cool new fonts I've just bought), but lordy -- to restrict oneself like that just boggles my mind.

And finally, I will say that I appreciate John Hudson's comment about letterpress publishers. I can understand that a letterpress craftsperson could focus solely on one face, trying for all time to perfect the use of such face. Still, that is a radically different sort of design than what I and Massimo, my fellow birthday-boy, practice.

Now, a list of top-five foundries, on the other hand...

trae's picture

Points taken... restrictions mean not always finding the face that fits the project like a glove. Not to mention being a bit of a disservice, I guess...
I go through so many phases (last year I hated serifs; this month I'm fascinated by slab serifs) that I have no room to talk. The default font I use for memos and whatnot changes so often it makes Madonna look like the definition of permanence.

However, the "desert island" kind of question is always interesting. Plus, as every kitchen or tool kit should be stocked with certain items, shouldn't a font set?

Miss Tiffany's picture

Or you could look at it as did Mark Twain --- "If every tool in your toolbox is a hammer, you tend to look at all projects as a nail."

Recognize that one Joe? :^)

Bald Condensed's picture

Dave, you nailed it on the head there, and I do share your very strong feeling that the content ought to heavily influence the design (cut and paste makes me type faster ;) ). The work of David Carson amongst others made me realize that the first thing you need to do when starting a design is to analyze the cultural and other demographics of your target audience (whenever possible). The main reason why he got away with those difficult to read lay-outs is because his target audience was motivated. They didn't mind to put in the extra effort to decipher his pages because it just looked so friggin' good and they were interested in the content. I like to see that as "tribal design", where a certain style with its specific codes, symbols etc. is recognized by its target audience as being "authentic". (I fear this might not be entirely clear but my English is failing me here).

As how I try to imply this way of working: for example the design with 7 or 8 typefaces to a page I was talking about in the Matchmaking... thread was for an informative magazine aimed at parents with teenage kids, but it was implied in the brief that the magazine should be attractive and inviting to the teenagers as well so they would pick it up too. So my reader demographic was split into two definite chunks of teens and thirty-somethings. This made me approach the typography and colour scheme in a totally different way than the magazine for human resources managers that was entirely set in FF Info and FF Meta.

These are the kind of challenges that make this graphic design thing so interesting. And I must say I can get sooo bored by these highbrow hotshot designers who persist in setting everything in Neue Helvetica 55 9/12. The quote I really like about Schmelvetica is "When in doubt, set in Helvetica. You're never right, but at least you're never wrong."

Oh, and before y'all start yelling at me: I do occasionally use Helvetica. All I need is a very, very good reason and a watertight rationale.

P.S. Isaac I thought I noticed a hint of sarcasm in your first post. :-) And frankly, no, I didn't expect that funny bit about Comic Sans. LOL

cheshiredave's picture

Tracy makes a good analogy between fonts and kitchen tools (they're not gadgets, dammit!), at least in my life. So let's see:

My good nonstick skillet is Futura.
My pretty-good nonstick skillet is Akzidenz Grotesk.
My big cast-iron skillet is Jim Parkinson's Modesto. My little one is Cooper Black.
My best knife is Adobe Garamond.
My jelly-roll pans are all versions of Helvetica: the lovely two Calphalons are Neue; the Chicago Metallic is the extended Adobe set; the overrated Williams-Sonoma, which I use only at last resort, is Arial.
My Cuisinart is Gill Sans.
My cutting board is Rosewood.
I have too many spatulas to count.

trae's picture

oh thank you (after I struck myself with the hammer)... was so afraid that I wasn't articulating...

Tight deadline, glaring partner, nothing is 'speaking to me,' little creative latitude, client expects a certain look and feel... well, I've got a handful of best friends.

Garamond and Helvetica, Batman and Robin.

The funny thing is, too many times (when I haven't known what's right, right away), after being given all the time in the world to ponder, muse and shop and experiment... a good old standby like Helvetica or Garamond (what do you mean I can't edit this copy down?) turned out to have been the right choice all along. Even after I've discarded such fonts as being too obvious or too easy or too boring. I love those guys.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Tracy. I like your concept comparison with the kitchen. I didn't even see you remark before sending mine. :

hrant's picture

> The main reason why he got away with those difficult to read lay-outs is because his target audience was motivated.

I think it was because they didn't read.

hhp

michael_cina's picture

1 Helvetica Neue
2 Bell Centennial
3 Tyfa
4 Frutiger
5 Serif/Text face, would have to think about that one for a bit.

Guess that would be it, hard one but think Bodoni, Helvetica, Times Roman, Century and Futura would be great to work with if I had to for the rest of my life.

Massimo is very "black and white" and it is easy to see how he can say this. He pulls it off very well and gotta give him full respect on his work to date. I think people today use too many fonts or maybe they don't spend time nuff with one font to get used to its form.

Bald Condensed's picture

I think it was because they didn't read.

Ouch, Hrant, I'd rather you put a smiley next to that -gratuitous- remark. But then again I'd expect nothing less from our grumpy old uncle. ;p

I did read. All of it. I have the original run of Ray Gun, and am very interested in all kinds of music, alternative and mainstream (hence my "5 artists" remark earlier on), so I was motivated and interested. Carson's designs were perfectly suited for his target audience of angry alterno kids who were bored with Corporateling Stone Magazine. No-one can argue they didn't deserve their own forum. And some of the things he did were genius on a conceptual level. I mean: "Article continued on cover"? The Brian Ferry interview set in Zapf Dingbats? The doubled Cocteau Twins spread? What an eye openers! This made you think, and best of all it went on and on. And to top it all most of it was simply gorgeous!

It's maybe because I'm a kid of the Nineties and I'm less aware of notorious predecessors of Brody and Carson, but what the heck. These guys taught me one of the most valuable lessons in graphic design: don't copy, but analyze how one comes to a particular end result and try to integrate the thought process in your work, not the style.

porky's picture

A list of foundries?

Carter & Cone
Porchez Typofonderie
Linotype
Hoefler Type Foundry
Fountain

trae's picture

Five foundries is generous... I could live happily with Linotype alone but... maybe House Industries for dessert.

Tiffany, cooking's probably a better comparison than construction... our bread and butter projects target not-so-cool demographics... you know, client mandates may include starbursts. The sort of people whose love of Spumoni you just can't break.

keith_tam's picture

Yes, five foundries is really generous!

(not in any particular order)
FontShop

kvdl's picture

Has Ensched

Bald Condensed's picture

Nice post, Yves. Question about Proforma: whenever I use it
I find it's too spindly and sharp. Do you use heavier weights
for text? I'd actually like to see it run through a letterpress.


Stephen, I didn't forget you, I just couldn't get to it yet. Sorryabouthat :/

I only recognized how good a general workhorse Proforma was when I saw the Medium weight being used as body copy face in Eye magazine. I used to use the Book, but you're right about it being a bit sharp, though personally it never bothered me. I like crispness in my body copy, and the fact that the characters have so many straight lines in them make Proforma a very interesting design.
And you can do lovely things with the Extra Light at large sizes... yummy.

Stephen Coles's picture

Nice post, Yves. Question about Proforma: whenever I use it
I find it's too spindly and sharp. Do you use heavier weights
for text? I'd actually like to see it run through a letterpress.

Stephen Coles's picture

I could survive on just three: Lineto, PsyOps and Storm.
Underused, high quality, and there's a typeface or
family in each of these libraries to fill any need.

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