What is a contemporary typeface?

Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 42
edited March 30 in History of Typography
The question is rather philosophical (or stupid).

From the history we’ve got a few classes of typefaces: Old Style, Transitional, Geometric, Gothic, etc. I think (and please correct me) that the latest “big class” is Neo-Grotesque, which was developed almost a century ago.

Are there any noticable anatomy features in contemporary design that could form a new class?

Obviously, contemporary design goes to extremes; we have cool technologies, variable fonts and superfamilies. But let’s discuss the anatomy of a modern letter specifically.

Comments

  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,058
    I think the biggest trend of recent decades is to have many more typefaces that have features that cut across traditional categories, but in often varying ways. It is not that there are one or more new categories, it is that the categories just do not apply as well.

    Such typefaces may not be the majority, but they are increasingly common. The recent thread I started on classifying Cambria is a good example—there must be four different categories at least that somebody suggested. http://typedrawers.com/discussion/2617/classifying-cambria
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,080
    Perhaps the whole point of contemporary is that it does not fit a predetermined category name. That is a good thing.
  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 187
    edited March 31
    In my mind present-day typefaces relate to those of previous centuries like the smartphone relates to the telephone, mic, camera, PC , scanner etc.
  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 124
    There is a problem in any field with calling anything Modern or Contemporary and that is that the classification of Modern or Contemporary changes with time.

    So the classification might start out unambiguous but after a few years fashions and styles have changed and so the classification becomes increasingly diverse until it has no real value any more.

    The same thing has happened in Architecture where modern or contemporary architecture now covers a wide range of different styles.  So much so that it has had to be sub divided so that there is now 'Mid Century Modern' which is different from present day 'Modern'.

    It is an easy trap to fall into which is why I think all classifications such as this should be given a name not just called 'Modern' or 'Contemporary' because what is modern or contemporary is a moving target.

    You asked a philosophical question, I gave you a philosophical answer ! :)
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 42
    There is a problem in any field with calling anything Modern or Contemporary and that is that the classification of Modern or Contemporary changes with time.
    Good point, thanks! That’s true, Modern is probably the worst term for any classification. I didn’t mean to use this word as a class name, but as a reference to today’s design in general. :smile:

    I think the biggest trend of recent decades is to have many more typefaces that have features that cut across traditional categories, but in often varying ways. It is not that there are one or more new categories, it is that the categories just do not apply as well.

    Such typefaces may not be the majority, but they are increasingly common. The recent thread I started on classifying Cambria is a good example—there must be four different categories at least that somebody suggested. http://typedrawers.com/discussion/2617/classifying-cambria
    Good example indeed! Are there any other typefaces with similar “problems”?
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,080
    And then there was Transitional ;-)
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,080
    It used to take so much time and resources to produce a typeface that name classifications lasted a while.  Today, faces are added by the thousands in the blink of an eye. We may have to cool our  classificational furnaces for a generation to catch up ;-)
  • There is a style I think of as 'now', though it flows across many styles. That is when a humanist softening is applied to very precise faces. If you look at the work of Fontfabric you'll see a lot of examples of what I am talking about. Like: Panton, Intro, Uni Neue and Uni Sans. So, generally I'm looking at lower contrast forms that would have been 'sharp' in mid-century design, but are given a humanist softening.

    As a sample, here is Avant Guard compared to St. Ryde (with time I could find more text oriented examples)

  • There is a problem in any field with calling anything Modern or Contemporary and that is that the classification of Modern or Contemporary changes with time.

    I have a tough time keeping track, but I believe that Neo-Post-Après-Postmodèrne is the current term.
  • I wonder about what actual innovations are possible in type design these days, rather than thinking about what is to be regarded contemporary. My thoughts may go along the line Th. Phinney has pointed out already, that eclecticism is a major feature in today’s contemporary type design. We see superfamilies in which different type styles are bundled, and there is a continuing effort to explore cross-over-mix possibilities within a given font design. I myself have worked in this direction with great pleasure (and some success). So it seems to me that the main characteristic of our “contemporary” design state is a broadened scope of designs which are based on ideas of mixing and merging different concepts and styles, and by this, to explore the new possibilities this ‘alchemic’ approach may reveal. – All this counts for stylistic aspects of typefaces within a given script system (such as e.g. Latin).
    Maybe a real new callenge of the past 15…20 years was the task to harmonize different scripts (e.g. Latin, Greek, Cyrillic) into one typeface product.
    I find it hard to think of any possible real groundbreaking innovation in the foreseeable future. Maybe its to late to re-invent the wheel (or the fork or the door-handle or the shoe …) I believe that sometimes there is an end to some inventions, from that point only further sophistication and minor variations are possible, but no more real useful innovations.
    But I can also think of a development in which the widely used ideographs and pictographs, which serve all audiences world-wide in a language-independant way, become more influential.


  • It should be kept in mind that all of these terms—old style, transitional, modern, etc.—were invented long after the fact. John Baskerville had no idea that he was “transitional,” only that he was making types that suited his taste and the spirit of his moment. If he had absorbed an influence, it was the lettering styles of the engravers, notably John Pine, who, between 1733 and 1737, produced a two-volume set of Horace’s works that was entirely engraved. It was a sensation in its day. Engraving is a medium that lends itself to clear differences of thin and thick strokes—and all the steps in between. The Fourniers, on the other hand, were influenced by the Romain du Roi.

    The term “transitional” implies that all this was just stepping stone to the “Modern” style of Bodoni and Didot. That’s nonsense. If the term transitional includes types made between the 1740s/1750s (Fournier and Baskerville) and includes Fleischmann, Rosart, Moore, Miller, and Wilson, we get all the way to 1839. A “transition” that lasts nearly a century is no transition, it is a style all its own. And for reasons stated above, the use of "Modern" is a confusing mess.

    Another name for the later style of Bodoni and the Didots is “Neoclassical,” which makes more sense than “Modern” insofar as it places these types in the broader context of art and cultural history. If you look at it that way (I do), then you would find cause to classify everything from Pine through the Scotch romans as Neoclassical. That the British and Lowlands styles, in contrast to the Didoni style, tends to keep its bracketed serifs could be seen as a national preference, subsets of the Neoclassical style. Neoclassical can be as large a tent as “oldstyle” and still be useful.

    But what do you do with the slab serifs and early gothics? Did they stem from the same Neoclassical impulse? Perhaps to an extent, but I would suggest that they were, instead, types that responded to the expanding world of commerce, both national and international. If one needs a larger umbrella for them, perhaps the term “Commercial” would work well.

    What’s my point? I think we’ve been burdened for too long by terminology that reflects 19th-century sensibilities and was never well conceived to begin with. We can do better. 

  • Side question: Do humanist sans go under neo-grotesque?
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,080
    Do humanist sans go under neo-grotesque?

    I would think they are their own category, so no.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,560
    Side question: Do humanist sans go under neo-grotesque?
    Nope. An important feature of the original three neo-grots—Helvetica, Univers, and Folio—is orthogonal terminals; that’s generally not found in the humanist sans genre. Neo-grotesques borrow proportions from neoclassical types rather than the ancient roman forms that inform humanist designs like Syntax. And neo-grotesques tend to have tight spacing for display use, whereas humanist sans tend to be looser due to their roots in signage.
  • So that would certainly imply that Neo-Grotesques are not the latest «big class» to emerge.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,080
    Or just reemerge ;-)

  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,560
    So that would certainly imply that Neo-Grotesques are not the latest «big class» to emerge.
    It depends on how one defines humanist types. If Edward Johnston’s railway letters, Gill Sans, and Kabel are humanist sans types then neo-grotesques are the newest major type category. But if the humanist sans begins with Frutiger and Syntax, it’s the new kid.
  • Are Neo-Grotesques all that different from Akzidenz Grotesk and the likes, though?
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,560
    edited April 4
    Are Neo-Grotesques all that different from Akzidenz Grotesk and the likes, though?
    Helvetica versus Akzidenz isn’t a huge leap. But Univers versus Akzidenz is huge.
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 730
    Are Neo-Grotesques all that different from Akzidenz Grotesk and the likes, though?
    No, they’re pretty similar, which is why “Grotesque” features prominently in the name!
  • Jack JenningsJack Jennings Posts: 152
    Visually similar but certainly not ideologically aligned.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 763
    Where do the industrial/techno designs based on boxes, octagons and superellipses fit in? Like Eurostile...is that considered neogrot?
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 42
    Where do the industrial/techno designs based on boxes, octagons and superellipses fit in? Like Eurostile...is that considered neogrot?

    I think they are just Geometric, aren’t they?


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