About Typeface Families
Modern Type Families
When typefaces were first invented, the notion of having a family of type hadn’t occurred to anyone. All fonts were simply roman designs. In the early 16th century, cursive – or italic (named after Italy, where the idea was popularized) – type was introduced. There were still no typeface families; romans were one style of type and italics were another – much like serif and sans serif.
In the late 1700s, foundries began to release fonts in families – pairing roman and italic designs that matched each other in style. Later the concept of typeface weights and proportions was added to the typeface family mix. In the 20th century, type families were enlarged even further with the introduction of different designs such as condensed, expanded and outlined.
The person generally credited with conceiving the modern idea of a typeface family is Morris Fuller Benton, director of typeface development for American Type Founders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Benton’s premise was that typefaces within a family would share the basic characteristics of the parent design, but with individual variances. The Cheltenham, Century, Cloister, and Stymie typeface families are just a few of the designs developed under Benton’s watchful eye.
Benton’s original vision has been expanded several times over the decades; type families have become larger, more diverse and better thought-out.
Planning by the Numbers
In 1957, the Swiss type designer Adrian Frutiger designed a new kind of type family. Because he felt that the traditional system of providing names – “bold,” “semi-bold,” “semi-bold condensed” and so on – was confusing and outdated, he proposed a logical, systematic numbering scheme. In Frutiger’s system, each typeface was given a two-digit suffix. The first digit classified the alphabet weight, with 3 indicating the lightest weight in the family and 9 the boldest. The second digit identified the typeface proportion, with higher numbers 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. Neue Helvetica and Serifa are two other type families that use this numbering system.
Extended Type Families
Some typeface families are made up of two or more sub-families. ITC Stone is a good example. Its sub-groups consist of Serif, Sans, Humanistic and Informal. Each design has roman and italic versions in three weights for a total of 24 individual typefaces. The four designs share the same cap height, lowercase x-height, stem weight and general proportions. Each typeface, however, is designed to stand on its own as a useful, distinctive communication tool. Thesis and ITC Legacy are two other popular typeface families that are made up of sub-families.
Another kind of type family has different designs for use at different sizes. ITC Bodoni is such a family. It’s comprised of three size-sensitive variants, named Six, Twelve, and Seventy-Two. These were designed to emulate the differences in the progressively-sized metal punches that Giambattista Bodoni created for his original fonts. The numerical designation indicates the optimum point size at which each design should be set – but, as with most typographic decisions, there are no hard and fast rules. FB Californian and ITC Founders Caslon are two newer size-specific typeface families.
- 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.