Best Dictionary typeface???

Double Elephant's picture


I've been doing some research into what's best out there at the moment and thought I'd open it up to discussion
Ideally, the typefaces would be complimenting serif and sans serif in a large variety of weights, including condensed for the sans. They would have international character sets and perhaps phonetic characters.

My current favorite are (together) Mercury and Whitney by Hoefler and Frere-Jones… simply wonderful.

Any suggestions/comments??

hrant's picture

{To Follow}

Nick Shinn's picture

Is dictionary design so ossified that all that needs to be mentioned in the typespec brief is “dictionary design”?

At the very least, the relative merits of condensed, normal and extended might be discussed, in relation to how much cramming is necessary (assuming the product is in print, which is another spec that might be relevant).

Joshua Langman's picture

Something with IPA characters, I would hope, which narrows things down a bit.

George Tulloch's picture

For the record, the new 2nd edition of the Oxford Latin Dictionary (over 2,000 pages, published earlier this year), uses Arno and Myriad. To my eye it looks good.

Karl Stange's picture

Interesting entry by Paul Luna from the Typography at Reading blog about the use of Parable by Christopher Burke in various Oxford dictionaries:

Karl Stange's picture

Not Just a Pretty Face: The Contribution of Typography to Lexicography also by Paul Luna from his Dictionary Design blog, is a much more involved article and goes into quite a lot of detail about the history of typography in dictionary design.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Nick Shinn's Beaufort

Double Elephant's picture

You're right! There aren't many faces with IPA characters…

hrant's picture

Nick, dictionary typography is scarier than you might think. And bilingual dictionaries... wow. It's one of the reasons for Nour&Patria's complexity (although that turned out too bookish for dictionaries).


Nick Shinn's picture

Nonetheless, it does seem a bit vague when asking for typeface recommendations, to merely mention a genre of content, without reference to layout or medium.

Basically, you’re confining yourself to cliché, and thinking inside a very small box.

Double Elephant's picture

Hi Nick,

Ok, I see your point…

Layout would vary but mostly A5/Octavo or smaller.

Dictionaries are always printed on relatively thin, moderately absorbent papers, so the typeface would need to account for some ink squash, maybe with built in ink traps, and pared counter and apertures.

I love the "Extroversion" of Whitney by H&FJ, meaning headwords would be cohesive in a tightly packed environment.

Beyond this, there are all the usual requirements for a small font size and its condensed nature: enlarging the x-height to retain clarity and legibility, and at the same time, ascenders and descenders need to be kept relatively short to facilitate the tight leading required.


Queneau's picture

Stone Sans + Serif is used quite a lot, f.i. in the Roget's Thesaurus. I think it works very well

Nick Shinn's picture

Sounds like the spec for newspaper text faces.
Matched Shinntype sans and serif which fit the bill:

Sense and Pratt

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