Chris Moorehead RGD shares his Top 5 favourite typefaces
07/12/18

We asked Christopher Moorehead RGD, Director of Information Design at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, to share a list of his favourite typefaces, and this is what he had to say...

 

In my current role, I work primarily within the fields of information design, data visualization, and information architecture. As a result, my team is often seriously constrained in our choice of typefaces, particularly with respect to interactive visualizations — we must content ourselves with a limited selection of platform-agnostic system typefaces. Despite this, I consider myself to be first and foremost a type nerd. It was my interest in typography that led me to design school, and I taught typography (at all levels) for many years at OCAD University. Type, whether structured or deconstructed, has always held a particular fascination for me.

 

Selecting my Top Five typefaces therefore proved to be an exceptionally difficult task — “choosing between the children”, so to speak! While I tend to stick with a limited selection of typefaces that I can use well, this list tends to fluctuate. There are, however, a number of classic, “go to” typefaces that never leave my list. These include the following:

 

Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk


Wolfgang Weingart, 1977

This is probably the typeface I use the most, when I have a choice — it was released by the Berthold Type Foundry in 1898, and is the basis for both Univers and Helvetica. However, it has a more organic quality than either. It's also the favourite typeface of iconic German/Swiss typographer Wolfgang Weingart, who I was fortunate enough to have as a typography instructor during the summer of 2007 at the Basel School of Design. Eschewing computers, Professor Weingart had our class design posters by cutting up specimen sheets of Akzidenz Grotesk, and laying out the strips of type on large sheets of paper. When he was satisfied with our creations, he would indicate his approval with the simple and rather abrupt exhortation “Tape it!” — that is, tape the cut specimen strips to the paper to make the layout permanent. To this day, I consider “Tape it!” to be the highest possible form of design praise.


FF DIN


Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein, 2016

This is a multi-weight version of DIN 1451, designed in 1931 and adopted for use by the German Institute for Standardization (Deutsches Institut für Normung, hence the acronym DIN) in 1936. Designed for easy production, DIN 1451 was intended to be used for signage, engineering drawings, and technical documentation. FF DIN is an updated and expanded version of DIN 1451 designed in 1995 by Dutch type designer Albert-Jan Pool. The magnificent FF version has a complete set of weights, as well as alternative character sets. I use FF DIN frequently, which I attribute to being an engineer (my original profession before attending design school), as well as being half German.

 

While most frequently seen on traffic signs (particularly in Germany), FF DIN can be used very successfully in editorial design. My favourite book cover designers, Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein (spouses as well as design collaborators), often use it in their work, where its geometric perfection lends itself well to their deconstructed, layered and projected approach to typography. (Readers may be familiar with Mitch, as he was a speaker at this year’s RGD DesignThinkers conference.)


Clarendon


Reid Miles, 1957

Probably one of the most instantly recognizable typefaces, the Egyptian (slab serif) Clarendon was designed by Robert Besley (later to become Lord Mayor of London), and released by London's Fann Street Foundry in 1845. Originally intended as a bold display face for newspapers and advertising, the design (named for the Clarendon Press in Oxford) later became popular for body copy, and its success spawned numerous imitators. Falling out of favour by the early 20th century, Clarendon was revived in 1953 by Edouard Hoffmann and Hermann Eidenbenz at the Haas type foundry, with an increased number of weights.

 

I have always loved using Clarendon as body copy — it really adds character and visual interest to the text, and its large x-height makes it readable even at very small sizes. Clarendon was also a frequently used typeface of one of my favourite designers, the legendary Reid Miles, who designed nearly 500 album covers for jazz label Blue Note between 1955 and 1967, and, in doing so, pushed typography to the forefront of album cover design.


Baskerville


Michael Beirut and Jessica Svendsen, 2013

John Baskerville designed his eponymous typeface in the mid-1750s. In his own era and country, the typeface was not well regarded — though that likely had had more to do with disapproval of its creator’s “scandalous” behaviour (at least by the standards of the day) than with any actual defects in the design. Baskerville’s typeface was, however, greatly admired outside of England, and its more notable fans included Giambattista Bodoni and Benjamin Franklin.

 

Today, Baskerville is considered to be the greatest of the Transitional typefaces, and is widely used, particularly in book publishing. It is my opinion that the true beauty of Baskerville can only be seen on a full page of type, where its very high level of readability becomes immediately apparent.

 

Canadians may be more familiar with Baskerville than they realize, as a modified version of Baskerville is used by the Government of Canada in its wordmark. Originally designed at McLaren Advertising (alternatively credited to Jim Donoahue and Ralph Tibbles) for the Canadian Government Travel Bureau in 1965, the design was adopted as the global identifier of the Government of Canada in 1980, and is still used today.

 

 

Roboto


Christian Robertson, 2011

I’ve always believed that you get what you pay for with respect to typefaces. Free typefaces rarely have expert character sets or well-constructed kerning tables, and very often the type designer has not done the "heavy lifting” required in terms of set widths and optical compensation. There are, however, some notable exceptions: the typefaces designed by Matthew Carter (especially Georgia) for Microsoft in the early 1990s, and, more recently, several of the typefaces designed for Google. Of these, my favourite is Roboto, a Neo-grotesque sans serif typeface designed by Christian Robertson, and developed by Google originally as the system font for its Android mobile operating system. Originally derided as a “Frankenfont”, it underwent significant revisions in 2014, and its use has since been expanded throughout the Google universe, most recently as the default typeface for the latest version of Gmail.

 

One of the great advantages to using Roboto is that it works equally well in print and on screens of all sizes. This, combined with a large x-height and highly legible numeral set, makes it my team’s typeface of choice when designing financial reports. (The fact that our clients can install it on their systems without licensing fees doesn’t hurt, either!) Roboto is certainly not without its flaws — for example, the numeral 1 almost always requires manual kerning. However, in data visualization, every type choice is a compromise — and, for our requirements, Roboto is a compromise that works.
 

 

To submit a Top 5 list, contact kim@rgd.ca