Time connotations in a display face - suggestions?

Moniker42's picture


I've been commissioned to design a diary for a university. HFJ "Mercury" reminds me of old timetables a wee bit, so that's my current candidate for the body text, but I still need a display face for headers and maybe 20pt-size-ish dates.

So can anyone think of a display face that has connotations of time, timekeeping, or numbers? Please nothing that is overtly specific to a specific technology like a font where each character is a digital watch or anything like that :)

cerulean's picture

A very condensed didone, Onyx for example, would have time connotations because of the resemblance to typical roman numerals on clocks.

hrant's picture

Universities are full of young people. The old timetable look will fly right over their heads. So it might have to end up being more hip than you -or I- would like. Unless the customer base for this is the parents. :-)


Joshua Langman's picture

As a young person in college (also a Typophile, so maybe I don't count), I think anything that has a retro or pastiche or scrapbooky or "steam punk" look is in fact very hip right now, and I think old timetables fall into all of those categories.

I agree with the condensed didone idea, though many clocks that use arabic numerals use a fat face. As far as timetables go, something like Trade Gothic would be standard, but wouldn't have that connotation out of context. Maybe also Roman inscriptional capitals, inline or not, as reminiscent of the carved numbers on sundials, etc.

Té Rowan's picture

Would looking at what's used on timetables and schedules in the vicinity help any? Say, at any bus or rail companies?

Nick Shinn's picture

One of the things that attracted me to reviving the Scotch Modern was its magnificent figures, the five in particular. The italic figures are quite exotic, and match well with swash capitals.

Moniker42's picture

@cerulean @hhp & Joshua Langman
The roman numerals old clockface idea is nice, but I don't think it smacks of a clock unless I actually use roman numerals. I don't think I'd want to do that, as (a) it looks a wee bit pretentious (b) international students might not get it (c) dates are generally always in arabic numbers, at least in the UK.

@Joshua Langman
Hm. Aptly named, but not aptly styled.

@Té Rowan
Timetables in the vicinity are boring. Boring, boring, boring! Some worker at the local council doing it in Microsoft Word. Then again I do live in Glasgow, perhaps some research into London timetable design history is in order. I might never get the project done if I start that though.

@Nick Shinn
Oof, that is really nice. Tiny budget probably won't stretch to a new font. I might have a go at playing with Computer Modern, which in a roundabout way seems appropriate when a lot of students will be seeing articles written in LaTeX. I could show them a classy, InDesign-ed up use of their research paper typeface ;)

Moniker42's picture

OK, idea.

What's everyone's favourite script 'face that you would see as the logo of a handryer in the bathroom of a 1950s diner, or a classic American car?

riccard0's picture


But, I wonder, there's no official university typeface to use in some way?

hrant's picture

Here's another idea, working off of something Joshua said: what about making it old-looking by having everything look weathered? Rough-looking rule lines, Founder's Caslon*, etc. But also maybe contrast that somehow.



Moniker42's picture

@riccard0 the style guide in a nutshell is "use Helvetica and leave plenty of whitespace around the logo" which is boring! And in any case does not apply to something published by the Student Association.

@hhp ooo that is a nice thought. It's a shame the paper is quite a white, modern copier paper type of paper. Would definitely go with that if it wasn't such modern paper. Will have a play with this when I get home tonight to InDesign ...

Té Rowan's picture

It may be just me, but I can't quite think of a diary as a Desmond Bagley.

Actually, I was thinking of juxtapositions or general impressions, not just fonts. One might be able to take a snippet from a bus table, combine it with a small bit of layout from a rail table, stir in some university material, add some whole grain and eye of mutt...

...and once you regained consciousness after the resulting inevitable explosion, you might have your very own Innes.

hrant's picture

You could put down a texture of errant pixels (or if you have color, a faint mottled yellow/sepia tone) on the whole page to make it look older.


Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Only thing I might suggest is using the old fashioned time punctuation.
12'05", instead of 12:05

Joshua Langman's picture

Yes! Inky rules, nicked letters, old letterpress — this kind of design is loads of fun to do. Play around with Adobe Wood Type (free with InDesign), or check out the Walden Type Foundry for some cheap distressed type and rules (as, for instance, below, though this is more western than you want).

How many copies? Could you tea-stain them by hand? If you have a color printer, could you print a light shade of yellow or a scanned image of old paper in the background?

Could you print something you make with all those free old-fashioned Adobe wood type fonts and then photocopy-degrade it until it looks like overinked metal type?

Are you still looking for font suggestions are are you stuck with what you have?

Actually, "time" to me suggests type carved into cold, monumental stone, with sharp shadows. What if you took Trajan or something and placed it over a stone background and played with the InDesign effects to emboss it?

"Time" is sich an impersonal concept. What kind of time are we talking about here? Time in relation to what?

Moniker42's picture

I am on point of principle opposed to emboss effects, and Trajan, and to combine the two would be sacrilege. Maybe it's just because I grew up with WordArt.

Unfortunately this is b&w and no chance of alternate paper stocks. Copier paper greyscale it is, though it will have a full colour and full bleed card cover. So there's room for establishing a style there before continuing it in black and white throughout. I love the idea of tea-staining each diary but that would be laborious for six thousand copies or thereabouts, and I doubt the university admin would let it fly.

@Ryan not many times will be listed at display size, mostly dates appearing as "15" and "May 2012" with everything else at 10pt body text size.

@hhp Tres interesting. Can you say more about what you mean by errant pixels? Could always go in the opposite direction and be futuristic! Lots of free amateur fonts made of blocks and pixels. Maybe even go all the way into the Twilight Zone... http://www.dafont.com/black-spiral.font

Moniker42's picture

P.S. I love this forum. Joint-best online community I've ever been involved in and it's so good to have an open-ended brainstorm like this as I start a project...

hrant's picture

I mean have a light, random-looking distribution of pixels (make them big enough to actually render out, but not bigger) over the whole page. If any patterns are discernible use a different one for each page. As a source you might grab a stochastic screen rendering and use Photoshop to threshold out most of it.

Left: 1-bit stochastic sample.
Middle: Gaussian blur.
Right: Threshold.


JamesM's picture

If the pages are designed to look old, what time period would be appropriate? Some of these suggestions imply pages that look extremely old (wood type, etc), but the original poster mentioned "a 1950s diner" which is obviously much more recent.

> Unfortunately this is b&w and no chance
> of alternate paper stocks.

If buying paper stock that already looks old (such as parchment paper) isn't an option, you can create that look via artwork. Old paper darkens from the outside edges in. You can create this look using photoshop (there are tutorials on the internet), or you can purchase ready-made artwork for a few bucks at stock photography sites like iStockPhoto.com.

The example above (which is color but could easily be converted to black and white) looks very old. If you're simulating paper from the 1950s, the effect would need to be much more subtle, with paper the looks good except for a slight darkening near the paper edges.

However be sure that you can print from edge to edge. If the effect stops short of the paper's edge it'll ruin the effect.

Joshua Langman's picture

You can always trim them manually. Yes, even if there are thousands of copies. Get a couple of willing volunteers and a paper cutter.

(Everyone will think it's unnecessary work until they look at one that's been trimmed to full bleed and suddenly wonder how it looks so good.)

JamesM's picture

That's a good point, they can be trimmed to make the image bleed off the edge. But I'd be wary of having volunteers trim pages with old-fashioned paper cutters as you're likely to get inexact trims and uneven margins. But if the print shop has precision equipment designed for high-volume cutting, you're more likely to get professional results.

Moniker42's picture

Ah, they're being cut to full bleed already by the printers. I'm probably going to end up being really boring and using Mercury throughout. Here's my draft of the diary pages themselves (though there is a lot of copy on life at university to go at the back where the real typography comes in, I guess)

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