What are the great conceptual fonts?

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  • 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. 
    Great answer
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,701
    edited November 2
    @Nick Shinn Does Mistral do that? Intentionally? BTW now you've made me think of "Sum of the Parts" by Frere-Jones, which uses just six (?) shapes for everything...
    https://fontsinuse.com/typefaces/85027/sum-of-the-parts
  • Mistral had a glyph that was marked on the sort both as p and f, but could also serve as l and other things like s (or long ſ). Bruce Kennett discusses this detail in his Excoffon talk held at The Cooper Union, see the video from 29′ 11″. This feature was advertised in specimens. The given examples include the use as a slash in c/o and in double letters (ff, pp, ss).
  • Adam JagoszAdam Jagosz Posts: 630
    edited November 3
    [edit: the reply form should be hidden on all pages of a thread except the last one!]
    Wikipedia says "The face has several specially-designed ligatures (which have not been duplicated in digital versions).", but looking at the link above I assume there exists a digital version that has those, and/or the extra replacement glyph? Is it available anywhere? If not, then it's one example of those great fonts that were never updated across the board because of ignorance... Laziness? Legal issues? Hmm, probably backwards compatibility. A couple dozen .doc files from previous century holding everyone back from enjoying the whole pie. Why not release Mistral Pro though, or whatever?
  • I think (I could be wrong) that Comic Sans was designed for, and included with, Microsoft Comic Chat. (The horrific IRC client which, at least, gave us JerkCity.) So it was intended precisely as a font for comic lettering. Its use as a handwriting font came in only after users “discovered” it available on the system.
  • On a completely unrelated note, does anyone know who was responsible for renaming "Fifteenth Century"? Antique, perhaps, but there's nothing Caslonesque about it.
    Possibly BB&S, the original foundry who, according to McGrew, at one point listed it as "XIV Century". It is listed by him in a group of fonts he described as "Caslons in name only.".

  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,953
    As I recall from conversation with Vinnie, Comic Sans was originally intended for the short-lived Microsoft Bob, but ended up not being used in that product.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,560
    edited November 3
    To give a post-modern interpretation: Comic Sans may be considered a conceptual font not because it was conceived as such by its designer, but because of how people have used it.

    For instance, it became popular with scientists for slide-shows, because it had some affinity to their blackboard chalk writing, demonstrating that they weren’t trying too hard to impress readers with finely polished typographic presentation, but through the logic of their formulae.

    Also, it was discovered that it is really very readable and legible, on the low-res, nascent WWW.

    The concept may be described as: “pseudo comic-book lettering optimizes informal readability”. Perhaps that was Mr Connare’s intent all along! Not a “great” concept per se, but through massive bundling and notoriety, it has become a “great conceptual font”. So perhaps we should refine the search to Great High-Concept Typeface, to highlight the quality of the designer’s original concept more.

  • Matthijs HerzbergMatthijs Herzberg Posts: 52
    edited November 4
    BC Brief by Briefcase uses a maximum of 2 points per letter (some special characters have 3), and looks surprisingly good within that parameter. Wacky perhaps, but very clever.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,560
    Right. The concept I was referring to is that in the OT version the “joining rules” of the classic cancellascara calligraphic style (with which Mr Slimbach was very familiar) were coded to work automatically in a specially configured layout application, rather than requiring manual insertion of glyphs occupying the wrong character slots in auxiliary “expert” fonts. The congruence is uncanny, as if the old rules were a form of coding already, just not expressed in computer language. That really opened things up—for Zapfino, Dear Sarah, etc.

    So, Caflisch Script was not perhaps a high concept typeface, but the OT version was very much a high concept font.

    Nice work, Christopher!

    BTW, which was the first pre-OT digital cursive script typeface to utilize an “expert” font to produce alternate, calligraphically-appropriate dynamic ligaturing? Was it Caflisch Script?


  • Great question, and I’m not sure. (I’ll bet others around here would know.) I think you’re referring to something beyond a big set of formal ligatures (e.g. Poetica), that is a more deliberate attempt to mimic natural handwriting?

    Incidentally, there was an internal project to develop a GX version of Caflisch Script — which obviously was unreleased.
  • Does anything mimic handwriting better than Metafont?
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 632
    edited November 5
    Mistral had a glyph that was marked on the sort both as p and f, but could also serve as l and other things like s (or long ſ). Bruce Kennett discusses this detail in his Excoffon talk held at The Cooper Union, see the video from 29′ 11″. This feature was advertised in specimens. The given examples include the use as a slash in c/o and in double letters (ff, pp, ss).

    Thank you for the information and the link to the specimen; this is something I was not aware of, as it's generally lost in digital versions as far as I know.

    As I recall from conversation with Vinnie, Comic Sans was originally intended for the short-lived Microsoft Bob, but ended up not being used in that product.

    Although I have not had the honor of speaking to Vincent Connare, the designer of Comic Sans, this is what I believed as well, having encountered that statement in a number of references.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,064
    I commissioned Decovar Alpha and Amstelvar Alpha from Font Bureau in 2016 as concept fonts
  • Lance Hidy’s Penumbra, in its original Multiple Master form (released by Adobe in 1994), is a prime example of a “concept font.” It was the first—and only—MM font that deployed a style variation slider, from full serif to sans serif. Later, after the Multiple Master program was retired as a consumer product, Penumbra was released in four static variations (serif, half serif, flare serif, and sans serif) in four weights. The underlying design, which Hidy described as the “offspring of Trajan + Futura,” is, itself, a very high concept. There is an excellent article about the creation of Penumbra, by its designer, in the book The Eternal Letter, edited by Paul Shaw, which I produced for The MIT Press (2014). 

    This brings to mind two other concept fonts inspired by the Classical Roman letter, both of which add lowercase letters (therein the "concept"): Sumner Stone’s Popvlvs and Thomas Lincoln’s sans serif Roma. Both were released in 2011.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,560
    edited November 7
    As already mentioned, Reliq was another MM typeface with a style axis.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,953
    Quite a few of the Emigre types can be classed as conceptual, but I might give special mention to Zuzana Licko's Base 9 and Base 12 families. Not sure if they were the first designs to base proportions and spacing of vector outline types on bitmap patterns, but I remember first encountering them in the 1990s—when someone, rather missing the point, asked me to re-space some text set in Base 9 so it didn't look so weird: why choose this typeface if you didn't want it to look weird?—and thinking to myself ‘Why would someone make this?’, which is a pretty good question for a conceptual typeface to prompt.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,560
    If this were Facebook, the challenge would be to post one’s “top ten” list.
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