If Eric Gill’s Joanna® typeface, were a film when it was first designed, it would have been a 16mm, black and white product with scratchy sound. Today, we live in high-resolution digital environment with over a million colors and crystal clear surround sound. The Monotype Studio designers were acutely aware of this dichotomy and accepted the challenge of bringing the Joanna family into the 21st century. The result: Joanna Nova.
More than many other classic typefaces, Joanna has been an evolving design. It was drawn by Gill and first manufactured as fonts of handset metal type by the Caslon foundry in 1931. One of Joanna’s first uses was in Gill's own book, An Essay on Typography, which illuminated the designer's thoughts on typography, typesetting and page design. The original Joanna typeface, however, was only available in two weights and one italic design. These fonts, in just two sizes, were used exclusively by Gill’s letterpress print shop, Hague & Gill.
In 1937, Monotype produced a machine-set version for the exclusive use of J M Dent & Sons who had acquired Hague & Gill and the rights to the Joanna typeface. Decades later, the company later agreed to a general release of the small family of roman and italic designs for commercial use, and licensed it to Monotype. These were announced in the October 1958 issue of The Monotype Recorder.
In 1986, the Monotype Type Drawing Office created semi bold, bold and extra bold weights for the family and re-released the Joanna designs as some of its first digital fonts.
The newest iteration of the Joanna design, Joanna Nova, was drawn by Monotype Studio designer Ben Jones. The new family is based extensively on Gill’s Joanna, but brings the slab serif typeface into the 21st century. Every glyph was redrawn using a variety of reference sources, including Gill’s original sketches and the copper patterns used in Joanna’s initial production.
Born in the United Kingdom, Jones spent his formative years in Switzerland before returning to England to study typography at the University of Reading in 2000. After completing the course, he founded Protimient, a design studio focusing on Web and typeface design. After releasing what he describes as “several resolutely amateur typefaces,” Jones returned to the University of Reading to partake in the school’s Masters in Typeface Design course. As part of his study, he drew the Emrys typeface, which won two awards in the Granshan competition of 2011. Later that same year, Jones joined Monotype, where he works as a font engineer and type designer.
The Joanna Nova family features 18 fonts – more than twice as many as the original Joanna – with a wide range of weights which were not available in the original design. Joanna Nova expands the original design in several ways that open up new typographic possibilities. In addition to the new weights, there is support for Greek and Cyrillic scripts, small caps for all scripts in both upright and italic styles, several numeral options, and a host of context-sensitive ligatures. When Jones set out to design Joanna Nova, he saw that the ‘real Joanna’ was not immediately evident. He remarked, “Some of Gill’s original drawings have a sloped ‘M’; there is also a ‘K’ and ‘R’ with a curled leg and a ‘d’ without then flat bottom. Is that Joanna? Or is it the version used to print Gill’s Essay on Typography? Or is it the digital version with which most people are surely more familiar than any other version? Ultimately, I think, none of these and all of these were ‘Joanna’ because, as with any typeface, it is more the idea or concept behind the typeface that makes it what it is. My approach was to create a version of Joanna that appears in your mind when you think of the typeface.” In his research, Jones noted that although one of the most distinctive aspects of Joanna is the italic design, for reasons unknown many of the characters in the current versions were much more condensed than the originals, making them very difficult to use in small sizes. The italics in Joanna Nova have been reworked to be closer to their original widths drawn by Gill.
Although originally designed as a text typeface for letterpress printing, the Joanna Nova family has been thoroughly updated and made appropriate for a wide variety of 21st century print and interactive applications. From text and display content in Web pages, to the diverse needs of branding and corporate communications, to relatively simple projects like brochures and announcements, few things are outside of Joanna Nova’s range.