Custom type for publishing

Finding the perfect typeface for a project involves a lot of effort, time and research. There are plenty of options available on the market nowadays, in a range of prices and styles. The right choice depends on the needs of the project, its size and concept and sometimes the best option is having something designed from scratch. It is not only a matter of originality and authenticity but it can also save the client a lot of money.

Typefaces may be created for many reasons, for example, for a specific kind of media, be focused on large headlines or small texts or be specific to a language, and they are also really important for branding. If the project has any requirements that are not met by any option available, customizing a typeface is a solution. Customized fonts can include modifications on existing ones or be created entirely from scratch. Their licences can be adapted to the project’s needs: they may be exclusive, which means that you have the control over the typeface; it will be designed and available only for you. They can also be exclusive for only a certain period of time, for example, you can use a specific font for 5 years for titles in a magazine and after this period the type foundry can sell it on to other clients. Finally, the licences can be non-exclusive, which means that it will be created for your project needs but will be available to other clients to buy it too.

Optimised for maximum readability in a minimum of space

Bell Centennial is a typeface designed in 1976 for the American telephone company Bell. It was designed specifically for their telephone directories, needing to be extremely legible. The author, Matthew Carter, is a British type designer who designed many of the well-known fonts popularized by Microsoft and Apple, like Verdana and Georgia. A New Yorker profile described him as ‘the most widely read man in the world’ measured by the amount of text set in his fonts.

Bell Centennial saved the company lots of money. Due to its design, It enabled them to fit more content on a single page and was optimised to be printed in small sizes in low-quality papers. The “ink-traps” helped to avoid having ink accumulate in the corners of letters, making it legible in very small sizes.

Another example is Lexicon, designed specifically for dictionaries by the Dutch type designer Bram de Does in 1995. De Does was contacted by the designer of Van Dale’s Dictionary of the Dutch Language, who wanted to test his previous release, Trinité, on the new dictionary in a very small size. He decided that it would be better to design a new typeface to meet its specific needs. It was drawn by hand and reduced to check if it would be an effective font in its intended size.

Newspapers and magazines

The design of typefaces for magazines and newspapers require a range of sizes, unlike telephone directories or dictionaries. It is a matter of thinking of a system of fonts working together to keep consistency, identity and hierarchy.

Le Monde collection was designed in 1994 by Jean François Porchez for the French newspaper. It is basically a redesign of a historical typeface Times New Roman, consisting of 5 interrelated families: Le Monde Journal – intended to be used in small sizes, Le Monde Sans – a sans-serif option, Le Monde Livre – to be used on headlines, Le Monde Livre Classic – to be used on headlines, but with more extravagant features and Le Monde Courrier – a rounded slab serif intended to be a bit more informal. Each of them has a role in the design of the newspaper, working together to keep it consistent.

Vanity Fair magazine was going through a redesign in 2013 and one part of this process was to have a new typeface to replace the various Didots (a typeface named after its creator, Pierre Didot, created in the period of 1784–1811) that the magazine had long been using. The type foundry Commercial Type developed Le Jeune, early called VF Didot. Their inspiration was the French Modern era of the nineteen century, and after some research they launched the typeface in four different families: Le Jeune Hairline, a display version with high contrast, to be used on headlines above 200 points, Le Jeune Poster, also for headlines but more flexible, with less contrast, to be used from 46 to 96 points, Le Jeune Deck, to be used from 18 to 40 points and Le Jeune Text, more robust than the others to be used on body copy on sizes below 16 points. All the families have different weights and their respective italics.

Although there are plenty of options out there, when it comes to custom typefaces worth looking at the work of Commercial Type and Font Bureau which have an extensive portfolio of fonts designed specifically for publications like Esquire, Rolling Stone, GQ amongst others.

Other platforms

BBC recently commissioned a new typeface for their communication. They are not giving up Gill Sans on their logo, but BBC Reith will be used on everything else. It was developed by Dalton Maag and was designed to improve legibility on screens. BBC’s main typeface was Gill Sans. however, due to technical limitations, they were using Neue Helvetica, Avenir and Arial, amongst others. The in-house style may save a lot of money on licensing, and help to keep their visual communication consistent across all media. They are gradually implementing the new font, having started with a complete redesign of the BBC Sport.

The publication’s voice

There are many steps to take into consideration when developing a new project or redesigning it. The typography should reflect the design decisions and reinforce the branding. In the ideal world, if a random page is ripped off on the floor, even without any apparent brand, it should be recognizable, because it is the publication’s voice. In a very competitive area, typography is a way to find an identity.

Renata Masini