Spring 2008


Elegant, chunky, laugh-out-loud, nervy, bookish, perfumed . . . our informal jury puts type into words

Writing about type can be as rewarding – and difficult – as writing about music. The terms we use vary from the poetic to the functional, from engineering to art. Insiders and outsiders, users and specialists all have different perspectives. To assemble Eye’s first multi-author type critique we sought a variety of opinionated, informed voices, united in their appreciation for typeface design.

Of all the writers’ approaches, Deborah Littlejohn’s was the most complex: she contacted 95 fellow designers by email, asking them to rank and rate a (slightly longer) list of typefaces, and compiled a fascinating (if non-scientific) survey, paying attention to preferences by gender, and what she terms the ‘likeability factor’, testing her own opinions with those of her peers.

‘Like’, however, was too mild a word for editorial art director John Belknap, who wrote: ‘Lust. There’s no other word to describe how a designer feels on seeing a great typeface for the first time . . . caress it into shapes, blow it up, show off its curves and graces, colour it, flaunt it. Yeah!’

Unfortunately Belknap was called away before he could tackle the complete list, so publishing art director Mark Thomson stepped in at the last minute to add some poetic, precise commentary. Petra Cerne Oven added a distinctly Central European slant to the proceedings.

And the brief descriptions at the start of each section are by Jan Middendorp, who also helped assemble the shortlist. In the main, the typefaces chosen for discussion have been released during the past five or six years. Most have been around long enough to have shown how they perform outside specimen sheets and websites, and to make a claim on our hearts, minds and type budgets, whether for highly specialised display or quietly supportive body text. Or something else entirely, as in Elettriche by Alessandro Leonardi (vividly described by Belknap as a ‘mad geek’ typographer). Littlejohn also trawled the Web for anecdotes and commentary, finding a designer blogger (Zara) in the US who wanted a Bello tattoo ‘on her butt’, adding, ‘don’t forget the swashes.’

Such typefaces, like tunes, like people, provoke responses, both emotional and intellectual, that can be tricky to articulate. But that’s no reason not to try, and our panel was rarely short of words. J.L.W