A Meditation on Arno

Because Arno was designed relatively recently, in 2007, while I'm sure I've seen this beautiful typeface, even accompanied by its name, I hadn't been particularly aware of it, until my curiosity was piqued by its mention in a thread here.
It is described as drawing its inspiration both from Venetian typefaces (which I understand, perhaps not quite correctly, to mean those of Nicholas Jenson) and Aldines.
That's certainly a good choice; many fine typefaces were inspired by Jenson, such as the Doves type and Centaur, and the roman of Aldus Manutilus, although it gave rise to fewer direct imitations, was highly influential on the romans that came later.
Since many type designers tried their hand at least on one Jenson, this style apparently being regarded in some sense as the pinnacle of the art, perhaps the only thing that should have surprised me about Robert Slimbach's choice to soften and modernize the Jenson by admitting an influence from the Aldine is why it took so long for someone to try this.
But my initial reaction was different. My initial reaction was that this was a bold and adventurous choice; if one's goal were to create a dignified, prestigious oldstyle... that would still be a huge popular success... then, shouldn't one aim more closely to the mainstream?
So I wondered why he hadn't chosen the Aldines and the Garaldes, like Garamond, as his starting point instead.
And that started another chain of thought.
My own taste runs to "invisible" type in the "crystal goblet" sense - in that, if I felt myself to be able to engage in type design, this is the kind of type I might try to design, feeling the world has a need for it. While I would probably admit many influences - such as Caslon, corrected for a heavier ink impression, and early Scotch Romans - if one wishes to describe the area of design space I'm thinking of as simply a blend of two typefaces, I'd say Baskerville and Century Expanded.
Perhaps 300 years from now, when the popularity of Times Roman has run its course, some type designer will become immortal by exploring the design space between Caslon and Times Roman.


  • By 2007, Slimbach already had designed Adobe Garamond (1989), Adobe Jenson (1996) and Garamond Premier (2005), all of them very close to the original sources, in addition to Minion (1990), a personal take on late Renaissance typefaces. So in my humble opinion it is not very surprising that he later tried his own blend between Venetians and Aldines with Arno.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,073
    Ah. This I had not realized. But the first thing I did after reading your post was to find out that it was not he, but rather Carol Twombly, to whom fell the thankless task of designing Adobe Caslon.
  • I am a big fan of Arno. I use it for the body text in my c.v.

    Adobe Text is Slimbach’s take on the Dutch-English Oldstyle type, sort of in the space of Kis/Janson/Caslon.
  • Arno is my default text font, which is why I used it as an example in that previous thread.

    I’m a bit perplexed about your type classification scheme. You seem to use 'Aldine' and 'Garalde' to refer to separate entities. I'd always thought 'Garalde' was simply a blend of 'Garamond' and 'Aldus' so I'm curious what you take to be the distinction between an Aldine and a Garalde, or are you simply using 'Garalde' to refer to Garamonds and Garamond-like types?
  • Agree: “Garalde” means everything in the Aldus-to-Garamond space. Aldine is a subset of Garalde.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,073
    I didn't realize that, I was using Garalde to refer to types similar to Garamond.
  • Yes, Alde Manuce (the French equivalent of "Aldus Manutius") is the "...alde" in "Garalde" in Maximilien Vox's coinage. 
  • If the late, great James Brown was the “hardest working man in show business,” then Robert Slimbach must be the “hardest working man in type design.” He may well be the most underrated, too. Like Brown, he works the details tirelessly until they look right to his eye. He’s been fortunate to have worked in a large company pretty much undisturbed, with an excellent support staff. There’s nothing lazy about him. If he has a flaw, it’s that beauty comes to him easily, sometimes too easily. Arno is a case in point. To my eye, the roman is a complete success, but the italic may be a just a bit too pretty in the text and small text sizes, calling too much attention to itself. 

    But such things are a matter of taste, which changes according to the purpose a type is put to. Take a look, for example, at Robert’s Cronos, a highly modulated sans serif. In its smallest rendering, the “caption” size, it has superb readability, with details that are a big help to reading; yet in the sizes intended for larger setting, the same details can have too much personality for many purposes. Be that as it may, the thoroughness of it all is truly impressive. 

    I had the privilege of being Robert’s principal consultant on Myriad Hebrew and it was fascinating to see him become accustomed to a script he didn’t know. (Because of legal restrictions, I was not permitted to draw examples, but had to, instead, describe them in words—an interesting exercise.) My Israeli friends thought it was too plain, but I think its plainness is a virtue. It is, after all, a companion to Myriad, which is a deliberate study in plainness.

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,073
    From your post, I looked around for information on Myriad, at least partly designed by Carol Twombly as well. In one place, I saw it described as "the new Helvetica". I found that strange. I could see myself using Myriad instead of Gill Sans, but never as a substitute for Helvetica.
  • I think calling a typeface "the new Helvetica" doesn't mean as a substitute, but more like "the new top sans serif font".
  • The psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist just published a new two-volume hardcover magnum opus, The Matter With Things, designed and typeset in Arno by none other than Bringhurst. It’s pricey but worth owning if you love Arno. That 5!

    His previous volume The Master and His Emissary was typeset in Minion by quite other than Bringhurst. Its reviews frequently lament the small text size, thin margins and long lines. It’s almost as if those complaints drove him to seek Bringhurst for the newer book. I hope to finish it first before proceeding to The Matter With Things.
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