by Ilene Strizver
It may seem like typeface families have been around forever, helping us organize our type libraries and create documents with consistent, harmonious typography. Truth is, the idea of a typeface family only dates back to around the turn of the century. Considering that type has been with us for over five hundred years, typeface families are a relatively new concept.
The person generally credited with coming up with the idea of typeface families is Morris Fuller Benton (1872 – 1948), who served as director of typeface development for American Type Face Corporation. Benton’s premise was that the typefaces in a family all maintain the basic characteristics of the parent design, but with individual design variances. The Cheltenham, Century, Cloister and Stymie typeface families are just a few of the designs for which Benton was directly responsible.
Benton’s original idea has been modified and expanded several times in the intervening years. Type families have become larger, more diverse, and better thought-out.
Planning By the Numbers
In 1957, Swiss designer Adrian Frutiger created a new kind of family, providing a full range of completely compatible variants planned in an orderly fashion. Frutiger felt that the traditional system of providing names (bold, semi-bold, semi-bold condensed, and so on) was confusing and outdated. Instead, he proposed what he believed was a logical and systematic number scheme. In Frutiger’s system, each typeface was given a two-digit suffix. The first digit classified the alphabet weight, with the figure 3 indicating the lightest weights in the family and the figure 8 the boldest. The second digit identified the typeface proportion: higher numbers were used for condensed designs and lower numbers for expanded designs. In addition, if the second number was odd, the typeface was a roman design; if it was even, the typeface was italic. Thus, Univers 39 is a very light condensed roman, while Univers 56 is a medium-weight italic of normal proportions.
Extended Type Families
There are typeface families which are made up of different family groups. Alinea and ITC Legacy are perfect examples. Alinea has three family groups: serif, sans, and incised. ITC Legacy has sans serif and serif family groups. The basic designs have the same cap heights, lowercase x-heights, stem weights, and general proportions. Each typeface has been designed to stand on its own as a useful communications tool, but is also part of a large integrated family that can be mixed easily with other members of the family. They can be used together with the confidence that they work well together, offering options for subtle variations in headlines, text, subheads, captions and other typographic applications.
ITC Bodoni has yet a different kind of family. It is comprised of three size-sensitive variants which are named Six, Twelve and Seventy-Two. These were designed to imitate the subtle yet critical differences in the progressively sized metal punches that Giambattista Bodoni created for his original type. His refinements allowed for the optical distortions that occur as a font is set at different sizes. The numerical names indicate the point size around which each variant should be set, but of course, there are no hard and fast rules. Another type family that uses this same model is Throhand.
Below is a sampling of just a few of the extended type families available from Monotype Imaging and ITC:
ITC Bodoni Six, Twelve, Seventy-Two & Ornaments
Charlotte & Charlotte Sans
ITC Founder’s Caslon Twelve, Thirty, Forty-Two & Poster
ITC Humana Serif, Sans & Script
ITC Legacy Serif & Sans
- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.