What are the great conceptual fonts?

What is a conceptual font? For me it's a font that exists because of a strong idea. Some examples:

Westminster: Machine-readable numbers (MICR) adapted to the Latin alphabet.
Helvetica Now: Helvetica recreated for today's technology.
Comic Neue: The font that saved Comic Sans.

What I love about them is they market themselves. They're something people talk about. They're viral. 

What other examples are there?




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  • Legato
    https://typographica.org/on-typography/our-favorite-typefaces-of-2004/#FFLegatoReview

    BTW I don't think the most "conceptual" ones market themselves; most people buy into trends, and conceptual speculation is inherently not trendy.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,014
    edited October 21
    I don't know if Berne Nadall's Caslon Antique was the first distressed retro typeface but it has endured for 116 years.



    In 1973, Vic Carless' Shatter used a simulated optical effect on the already famous Helvetica. Shatter won the Letraset international typeface competition and was added to their catalog. While there were antiqued and textured typefaces before that, this was the first typeface with a distortion effect.



  • What about Univers?
  • what is a “great conceptual font” by definition?
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,701
    edited October 21
    @Andreas Stötzner One that intentionally introduces a new concept, versus mimicking trends/precedent (infilling).
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 632
    edited October 21
    What about Univers?
    Yes, that would be a "conceptual font", given how originally it was designed to use a numerical scheme for its weights. Of course, that ended up not catching on, so much so that it was soon discarded.
    Bernie Nadall's Fifteenth Century, on the other hand, after becoming misnamed Caslon Antique, has tended to be deprecated among type designers, somewhat like Comic Sans and Papyrus.
  • Who doesn't remember Tarmsaft? All their fonts were named after vulgar curse words but in Swedish so when American designers spec'd them out for projects we were inadvertently spreading filth - http://tarmsaft.se

    Not conceptual in the aesthetic sense, but definitely the first time I'd ever become aware of a premise of using fonts to spread a concept.
  • I still have no idea what a 'conceptual font' is. Would Wang & Wasco's Mythos be a conceptual font?
  • @Craig Rozynski If you're going to name Helvetica Now you should name Halyard which came out more than a year earlier as a "helvetica killer" in three opticals (also, Text, Micro, and Display).  I can't prove that they took their lead from us but it certainly looks like their design was informed by what we did.  When it was first released I felt like Voldemort had just picked Harry Potter. If you doubt me compare the lower case 'e' in the display opticals of Helvetica Now and Halyard to the one in Helvetica. 
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,701
    edited October 21
    @André G. Isaak Does it harbor an intention to introduce a new concept to type design? (I don't think so.)
  • @André G. Isaak Very much the same here... In contrast (pardon the pun) to Legato.
  • On a completely unrelated note, does anyone know who was responsible for renaming "Fifteenth Century"? Antique, perhaps, but there's nothing Caslonesque about it.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,560
    edited October 22
    I can’t say whether they are “great” or not, but many of my original typeface designs are based on formal design concepts. For instance:

    Panoptica is “unicase + monowidth”

    Bodoni Egyptian: historical fiction
    (Ronald Arnholm’s Legacy Sans was an earlier exponent of this kind of concept.)

    Handsome is a script typeface which I “wrote” in Fontographer with a stylus and tablet as a no-width path, which was then stroked at different weights. 

    Phiz Particles is a “distressed” family, algorithmically generated from repetitive graphic elements.

    **

    Caflisch Script is a great conceptual typeface, using OpenType to code the “joining rules” of calligraphy to create “dynamic ligatures”, and also developed in conjunction with InDesign, in order to make it happen seamlessly, automatically. However, it is not an especially popular typeface, and popularity is perhaps a requirement of greatness.

  • Craig RozynskiCraig Rozynski Posts: 24
    edited October 22
    what is a “great conceptual font” by definition?
    and @André G. Isaak

     It's not my place to give a definitive answer, but to me a conceptual font is one that goes beyond aesthetics and is based on an idea.

    It could be a small idea, like a sci-fi font that's serifed; or a big idea, like a font that redefines how we perceive the Latin alphabet.

    A 'great' one is... almost certainly subjective :smile:
  • @Craig Rozynski If you're going to name Helvetica Now you should name Halyard which came out more than a year earlier as a "helvetica killer" in three opticals (also, Text, Micro, and Display).  I can't prove that they took their lead from us but it certainly looks like their design was informed by what we did.  When it was first released I felt like Voldemort had just picked Harry Potter. If you doubt me compare the lower case 'e' in the display opticals of Helvetica Now and Halyard to the one in Helvetica. 
    Let me add salt to the wound @JoyceKetterer and say I had not heard of Halyard. Thanks for enlightening me, it's fantastic.
  • @Craig Rozynski oh, that's fine.  Monotype tends to suck all the air out of the room.  
  • I will add Beowolf, the "original RandomFont" by Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum designed in 1989.

    I've also always been very fond of Ryan Bugden's Memoire which was intended to degrade with every use—reminiscent of how memory deteriorates over time.
  • @Matthew Smith I love the Memoire concept. I'd love to see that applied to the web. The buttons most clicked are more worn, for example.
  • Miles NewlynMiles Newlyn Posts: 145
    edited October 26
    The Romain du Roi is the great conceptual design.
    Gerstner 
    Crouwel's New Alphabet

  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,953
    All typefaces have some kind of idea in their genesis and execution, so I think the original post might define ‘conceptual’ too broadly. For me, conceptual typeface design involves a concept that neither originates in the existing canon of typographic forms nor in extra-design externals such as marketing or technology. So, taking the examples from the original post, I would not consider Helvetica Now or Comic Neue to be examples of conceptual type design. I'm not familiar with the history of the Westminster font, but it seems to me that only the first typeface in this style could be considered conceptual; subsequent typefaces are derivative of the applied concept.

    I would say that conceptual type design involves thinking about type forms in new ways, and then applying those concepts. In that respect, I think Miles is right that the Romain du Roi is a great example of conceptual typeface design (even if the design as represented in the famous engraved plates is not what was eventually cut in the punches, the latter inheriting more from the existing canon).
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,266
    I think of Univers as conceptual more for the system progression unification and design as a true "Family" than for the glyph design.
  • If anything, I'd put Comic Sans in that list. It was utterly revolutionary for its time! Comic Neue is a step back in my opinion — it looks sterile and unbalanced. Toshi's Comic Code is a much nicer implementation, albeit limited by its monowidth requirement. If Toshi drew a proportional version, it would probably take the world by storm.
  • @DanRhatigan Yes, it's amazing! I actually tried to convince him to make all the possible combinations, so people could embed "secret" messages inside the (larger) text. But it's a LOT more work of course...
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,560
    edited October 30
    In conceptual art, the idea is more important than the execution.
    Applying the same distinction to fonts may not work quite so well, but at least, if the basic idea of the font, its sine qua non, can be described in words, then that makes it a conceptual design. So, sorry, Comic Sans!

    Reliq—the “variable agitation” concept.
    Caslon’s first sans, and their “Italian” reversed-stress didone.

  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,014
    Westminster is such a good example. In the 1950's, engineers created magnetic ink digits so machines and humans could both read it. And then in the 1960's Leo Maggs extrapolated that into an alphabet which brought the machine specific quirks into display type. Not only did it inspire more MICR E-13B themed typefaces but it also affected the non-techno display styles with its weird thick and thin choices. Check out Williamson Template, Amelia, Niebolo Lady Carole, Hinge Integrated and my Permanence (based on the Future Shock book cover lettering).
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,560
    Whole lot of conceptual designs in the early days of digital, especially from Emigre and FontFont. Extra points if the name nails the concept—Fudoni! 
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,560
    Mistral, with the glyph that can represent several characters.
    Now that’s a concept!
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