How Type Systems Make Designing Easier

Initial concepts for comprehensive type systems surfaced as early as the 1930s, yet they remained the exception. In the days of hot-metal typesetting, handbooks generally recommended creating typeface mixtures from a single type family, a family being understood as including all of a typeface’s weights, such as light, normal, semi-bold, and bold, and including all of the italic weights as well. A well-rounded type family also includes small caps, tabular and old-style figures. These days, the OpenType format allows for further expansion with ligatures, letter variations as well as Cyrillic and Greek character sets. And type families can grow even further as needed. From a historic perspective, Adrian Frutiger was the first to develop an actual building block system. He replaced the often-vague descriptions of stem thickness or tracking used for the 21 finely-coordinated typefaces in his Univers™ family with a logical system of numbers (which never gained wide acceptance). Get more information about Linotype Univers

Unlike in many human families, the members of a type family always harmonize well, since they have many similar characteristics. Boldface is used to set the accents, while italics and small caps help highlight certain portions of text, such as names or terminology. Greater contrast, however, is not possible within a family, which can sometimes become a little boring.

If a typical roman type family joins up with an appropriate sans serif group, or maybe even a slab serif form as well, or some other mix, it’s called a type tribe or, better yet, a type system, and it expands our typesetting capabilities.

The Romulus™ typeface designed by Jan van Kimpen for Monotype and Enschedé in the 1930s was one of the first extended type designs. It included the Roman weights normal, sloped, semi-bold and condensed semi-bold, as well as a Greek alphabet and, oddly enough, a sans serif in four weights, although that last weight was never incorporated into the program. This system was augmented by his Cancelleresca™ Bastarda, a beautiful calligraphic italic typeface.

Combining two styles with Linotype typesetting machines was not unusual in the 1930s. As proof, we have the double matrix (two-letter font) of the narrow Rundfunk Roman (for setting ads) and its complement, the semi-bold Rundfunk Grotesk™ (for display texts), both of which were, of necessity, weight compatible so they could be combined in one matrix. The book “Specimen Book. Linotype Faces”, published in the USA by the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, also contains numerous examples of matrices containing a normal text and a display type, for instance Excelsior with Gothic No. 3 or Excelsior™ with Memphis™ Bold.

In the 1970s, Gerard Unger took developments initiated in the era of hot-metal typesetting and began systematically adapting them to the electronic era. In 1975, he designed a strong roman type called Demos™ for the Hell Digiset typesetter. In 1977, he added the sans serif Praxis™ and, in 1985, the straight italic called Flora™, both of similar appearance.

The true era of type systems, however, began in the 1980s. In 1985, Kris Holmes and Charles Bigelow designed Lucida® Serif and Lucida Sans specifically designed for low-resolution printers and including a screen version. Independently of one another, Kurt Weidemann and Sumner Stone began working in 1984 on the idea of a comprehensive large-scale typeface family. Stone’s typeface includes Roman, Sans Serif and a style called Informal that is similar to a typewriter font. Weidemann’s Corporate type includes Roman (A), Sans Serif (S) and Egyptienne (E). In contrast to the ITC Stone™ font, they are all weight compatible. Since 1989, Corporate has become the inhouse typeface for the multinational Mercedes-Benz company and an integral part of its Corporate Identity. That same year, Otl Aicher designed
Rotis® with its four styles – serif, sans serif and two mixed forms – which appear somewhat “heady” and provoke lively discussions about the font’s legibility.

In the 1990s, the number of type systems comprising two or more styles continually grew. These systems include: Officina® by Erik Spiekermann and Just van Rossum (from 1990), consisting of the duo slab serif and sans serif; Thesis by Lucas de Groot (from 1994); Martin Majoor’s Scala (from 1991); Fred Smejers’ Quadraat (from 1992); ITC Legacy® by Ronald Arnholm (1992); Charlotte™ by Michael Gills (1992); and ITC Humana™, with Script as a third style, designed by Timothy Donaldson (from 1995).

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Related products

Linotype Univers® font family (Platinum Collection)
Rundfunk Antiqua™ font family (Linotype Originals)
Rundfunk Grotesk™ font family (Linotype Originals)
Excelsior® font family (Linotype Originals)
Memphis® font family (Linotype Originals)
Demos® font family (Linotype Originals)
Praxis® font family (Linotype Originals)
ITC Flora® font family (ITC Library)