Weight & Proportion
Weight, proportion and texture are three main characteristics that distinguish typefaces from one another. Stroke widths range from very light to extremely heavy; letter shapes range from very condensed to exceptionally wide. Some typefaces also have distinctive surface textures.
Many attempts have been made to standardize weight and proportion terminology for typeface designs. However, none has gained universal acceptance. Commonly used names progress as follow: thin, light, book (as the name implies, a good weight for setting continuous text), medium, demi bold (sometimes just “demi”), bold, extra bold, and black and ultra. To add to the confusion, the medium weight of a typeface is sometimes referred to as Roman or even only as its family name, such as “Baskerville.” Other descriptive names run the weight gamut from hairline and slim, to fat, elephant and massive.
Typeface designer, Adrian Frutiger proposed a solution to resolve the confusion over weight names. In the mid-1950s, he developed a numerical system to distinguish typeface weights and proportions. (See Univers Family Page for more details.) Despite its logic, Frutiger’s numerical system has not caught on. Even the Neue Helvetica typeface family, which adheres to Frutiger’s system, uses both the numeral value and the naming convention: for example, Neue Helvetica 56 Italic and Neue Helvetica 55 Roman. With the advent of digital fonts and the proliferation of new typeface designs, the concept of a universal naming system for typeface weights has become an impossibility.
Proportion refers to the width of a character in relation to its height. Generally, the narrowest proportion is described as ultra compressed. Descriptive width names then usually progress to extra compressed, compressed, condensed, regular and extended. While a typeface may offer several degrees of typeface compression, it is rare to have more than one width of expansion.
Surface texture is another variant of typeface design. Just a few of the almost limitless surface textures are outline designs, typestyles with the appearance of three dimensionality, incised, stenciled, and Inlined.
- Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs. He is also responsible for editorial content for the company’s type libraries and Web sites.
- Prior to working for Monotype, Mr. Haley was Principal of Resolution, a consulting firm with expertise in fonts, font technology, type and typographic communication. He was also executive vice president of International Typeface Corporation.
- Mr. Haley is ex officio Chairman of the Board of the Society of Typographic Aficionados, and past President of the New York Type Directors Club. He is highly regarded as an educator and is a frequently requested speaker at national computer and design conferences.
- Mr. Haley is also a prolific writer, with five books on type and graphic communication and hundreds of articles for graphic design publications to his credit.