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The 25 most admired typefaces by typographers, type designers and letterers.
Selecting the right typeface makes all the difference to effective design and communication. But with over 100,000 font families to pick from it can be a daunting task. There are some excellent guides on how to choose a typeface and helpful methods for pairing typefaces but in order to apply these principles it’s important to be familiar with a broad range of quality typefaces.
Wouldn’t it be great to start with a short list of typefaces, hand-picked by designers in the type industry? In each issue of 8 Faces magazine we asked eight leading designers from the fields of typography, lettering and type design itself: If you could use just eight typefaces, which would you choose?
Over four years and across eight issues we interviewed 64 world-renowned designers1, including; Erik Spiekermann, Jessica Hische, Michael Bierut, Nina Stössinger, Mark Simonson & Seb Lester, plus owners of respected type foundries such as, Font Smith, Type Together and Process Type.
We’ve counted the number of times each typeface was selected and found consensus with the top 25. The top 10 designers’ favourite fonts will be quite familiar to many but hopefully the full list will provide a useful stepping stone to exploring many more.
Matthew Carter, 1993. Chosen 11 times. Originally designed for clarity on low resolution screens, for Microsoft, it is the counterpart to Verdana, which also appears in this list. Georgia has a large x-height and ascenders that rise above the cap height. It’s a sturdy yet friendly typeface, with a wonderful flowing italic, that features on millions of websites.
“A gorgeous technical achievement.” Jason Santa Maria
Tobias Frere-Jones, 2000. Chosen 8 times. Famously used for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“Each character just feels ‘normal’ and ‘right’”. H & FJ
3. FF Scala
Martin Majoor, 1990. Chosen 6 times. FontShop International’s ‘first serious text face’.
“Scala and Scala San are just about perfect.” John Boardley
Paul Renner, 1927. Chosen 5 times. This immortal ‘modern’ typeface with its uncompromising shapes has become the benchmark geometric sans for almost 80 years.
“Paul Renner’s Future characterised his time and influenced many other designers. It was a real modern typeface, not based on existing serif typefaces”. Georg Salden
5. Gill Sans
Eric Gill, 1926. Chosen 5 times. A quintessential British design produced under the direction of Stanley Morison at Monotype. It remains one of the most distinctive blends of humanist and geometric shapes.
(Claude Garamond, c. 1480–1561), Several derivatives of the Parisian punch cutter’s design have been chosen, including; ITC Garamond (Tony Stan), Adobe Garamond & Garamond Premier (Robert Slimbach). Chosen 5 times.
“Garamond was quite the master who appreciated restraint as much as elegance. Of the various roman and italic sizes that he cut, I feel his Vraye Parangonne font (about 18 pt.) best captures the essence of his vision. The subtlety of line and detail are simply remarkable.” Robert Slimbach
(William Caslon I, 1722) Carol Twombly, 1990. Chosen 5 times. Gave rise to a printer’s saying ‘When in doubt, use Caslon’. Also a favourite of Benjamin Franklin.
H. Berthold, Berthold Type Foundry, 1898. Chosen 4 times. The first widely used sans serif typeface.
“The original grotesque and still the best.” Vincent Connare
Morris Fuller Benton, 1903. Chosen 4 times. Designed for the American Typefounders Company (ATF). All three weights are bold and narrow. Currently used on YouTube’s homepage logo.
“Very well designed and drawn. It’s a standard that I strive for in my own work” Mark Simonson
John Baskerville, 1757. Chosen 4 times. Baskerville designed his own type to improve his printed works and better the dominant fonts of William Caslon. His typefaces were both admired (notably by Giambattista Bodoni and Benjamin Franklin) and criticised by his competitors.
Baskerville made variations of his typeface for use at different sizes (now referred to as ‘optical sizes’). Some modern interpretations of Baskerville have been reproduced following the designs of a specific size, resulting in several distinct versions.
Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann, 1957. Chosen 4 times. Helvetica needs no introduction as the planet’s most famous typeface—it even inspired a very good film.
“You can say, ‘I love you,’ in Helvetica. And you can say it with Helvetica Extra Light if you want to be really fancy. Or you can say it with the Extra Bold if it’s really intensive and passionate, you know, and it might work.” Massimo Vingelli
William Addison Dwiggins, 1930. Chosen 4 times. Designed out of a dissatisfaction with the san serifs of the time like Futura.
Morris Fuller Benton, 1902. Chosen 4 times. Created for the American Type Founders Company and named after Benjamin Franklin.
14. Meta Serif
Erik Spiekermann, Christian Schwartz and Kris Sowersby, 2007. Chosen 4 times. The serif companion to Eric Spiekermann’s influential sans serif, FF Meta. Also designed to work well with FF Unit and FF Unit Slab.
15. Trade Gothic
Jackson Burke, 1948/1960. Chosen 4 times. Michael Bierut described it as “The ultimate ‘I don’t give a damn” typeface. No style, no nuance, just blunt, in-your-face, straightforward attitude.”
José Scaglione and Veronika Burian, 2009. Chosen 3 times. Adelle is a slab serif typeface conceived for intensive editorial use, mainly in newspapers and magazines but its personality and flexibility make it very adaptable.
“Adelle Sans manages to capture one of the most desired of human emotions: cheerfulness.” Nadine Chahine
Peter Matthias Noordzij, 1990. Chosen 3 times. A humanist rather than geometric slab serif, aiding its legibility.
“A friendly slab serif that’s more contemporary in its structure. Its large, flexible, family that always sets a really nice approachable tone whenever I use it.” Frank Chimero
Carol Twombly, 2000. Chosen 3 times. A “hybrid slab-serif” text face that mixes the legibility of 19th Century designs with 16th century panache.
Albert-Jan Pool, 1995. Chosen 3 times. This clean geometric sans is based on the German standard typeface, DIN 1451, used for official documents and street signs etc. DIN stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung (German Institute of Standardisation). The font was added to the MoMA Design Collection in 2011.
20. Hoefler Text
Jonathan Hoefler, 1991. Chosen 3 times. Designed for Apple to demonstrate advanced type technologies it reintroduced type design traditions once central to fine printing like ligature sets, engraved capitals, ornaments and arabesques.
Fred Smeijers, 1992. Chosen 3 times. An original typeface Combining Renaissance elegance with contemporary ideas on construction and form. Named after Smeijers’ design studio in Arnhem, of the same name.
“In my opinion one of the most significant type designs of the nineties” Yves Peters
Jan Tschichold, 1964. Chosen 3 times. An oldstyle serif typeface based on Garamond. A distinguishing feature of Sabon is the same width occupied by characters in the Roman and Italic styles, and the Regular and Bold weights.
Jonathan Hoefler & Tobias Frere-Jones, 2009. Chosen 3 times. “For everyone who’s ever wished Clarendons had italics”. Three of our interviewees had. A slab serif with copious weights suitable for both text and display. Based on the original Clarendon designs by the Fann Street Foundry in Clerkenwell, London
Matthew Carter, 1996. Chosen 3 times. It was created specifically to address the challenges of on-screen display. Verdana’s large x-height, wide proportions, generous letter-spacing and large counters are key to its legibility at small sizes.
25. Fedra Serif
Peter Bilak, 2003. Chosen 3 times. A highly original text typeface. Shaped by a unique blend of technological considerations while maintaining hand-written forms.
“A beautifully crafted typeface. A very nice, contemporary example of technical quality and carful design.” José Scaglione and Veronika Burian
Kris Sowersby, 2007. Chosen 3 times. Aiming to create a feeling of softness, Feijoa has an almost complete absence of straight lines. Feijoa successfully avoids the sense of coldness that Kris had felt with some previous digital typefaces.
“Those gently curved straights and rounded corners lend the design a beautiful organic, almost calligraphic quality. Yet there is nothing frivolous to the typeface, it all is functional and looks very self-assured.” Yves Peters
Erik Spiekermann,1990. Chosen 3 times. A paired family of serif and sans serif faces, originally designed as a typeface for business correspondence but found a much wider, trendier audience.
Erik Spiekermann, Jessica Hische, Ian Coyle, Jason Santa Maria, Jos Buivenga, Jon Tan, Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals, Martin Majoor, Ale Paul, Stephen Coles, Tim Brown, Nick Sherman, Rich Rutter, Veronika Burian, and José Scaglione, Ellen Lupton, Frank Chimero, Steve Matteson, Mark Caneso, Vincent Connare, Yves Peters, Jason Smith, and Phil Garnham, John Boardley, Craig Mod, Kris Sowersby, Doug Wilson, Nadine Chahine, David Březina, and Silas Dilworth and Neil Summerour, Jonathan Hoefler,Tobias Frere-Jones, Mark Simonson, Trent Walton, Keetra Dean Dixon, Peter Bilak, Gerry Leonidas, and Mark MacKay, Simon Walker, Dan Rhatigan, Seb Lester, Nina Stössinger, Grant Hutchinson, Mike Kus, and Eric Olson and Nicole Dotin, Michael Bierut, Tomáš Brousil, Georg Salden, Hannes von Döhren, Phil Baines, Ken Barber, Rudy VanderLans and Zuzana Licko, Elliot Jay Stocks, Jeremy Leslie, Jan Middendorp, Robert Slimbach, Steven Heller, Fiona Ross, Erica Jung and Ricardo Marcin.↩
Cover graphic, words & data analysis: Jamie Clarke
Image graphics (1-2, 4-21): Stefan Weyer, 8 Faces Magazine.
Correction, 27th November 2014.
Three versions of Baskerville were chosen: Baskerville (twice), Baskerville 1757 and Berthold Baskerville. These have been combined and Baskerville added at number 10.