by Ilene Strizver
How would you define a super family? Is it one that’s super-sized, with lots of kids, aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws? Or is it a family with super-powers, in which each member is smarter and more accomplished than the next?
When it comes to type, super families are both super-sized and super-talented: they offer a wide and varied selection of weights and styles that shine as individuals but combine harmoniously when used together. Best of all, these versatile typographic super-heroes aren’t comic book fantasy figures – they’re real.
The designs that make up a typeface super family usually share the same basic foundation and structure, but with different finishing details. Most commonly, a super family will offer related serif and sans designs in a range of weights. ITC Officina and Resavska are good examples of this.
Other super families go beyond a serif-and-sans combination. ITC Legacy started out as a set of related serif and sans designs, but a condensed design has recently been added. Rotis offers a semi serif and semi sans. ITC Stone offers a weight called “informal” in addition to serif and sans, and recently added a humanist design. ITC Humana, a calligraphic design, has a script in addition to its serif and sans.
Some super families take an innovative approach. For instance, Linotype Compatil is a modular type system with four distinct styles, all having the same proportions and spacing: Compatil Exquisit is a Venetian serif, Fact is a humanist sans serif, Letter a slab serif, and Text a transitional serif. ITC Lubalin Graph (which is actually Avant Garde Gothic with slab serifs) has a companion condensed weight instead of a sans serif.
As if the super family concept wasn’t enough, many of these designs are available with small caps and old style figures. Some are OpenType fonts with extended character sets.
Super families are hard to beat when it comes to versatility. If you want to mix typefaces effectively without risking an over-designed look, super families can be a great solution.
- 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, 4th edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.