Research Point – Three typefaces

“Choose three typefaces you currently have available to investigate further. Who designed them? Where and how have they been used? What are their visual qualities?…And how might you use them in the future?”

The obvious place to begin is with my system fonts. But it’s quite hard for a baby designer like me to know what advice to follow when it comes to system fonts. Its not hard to detect a dollop of snobbery in these matters. Here’s an extensive list of ‘ones to avoid’ curtesy of an experienced type designer:


OK, it doesn’t take long to learn that the likes of Comic Sans and Papyrus are widely despised. Curlz and Bradley have appeared so many times… Yet I’m surprised by Zapfino; its also relatively common, but often in ads you can tell have been professionally designed.

I’m prepared to ignore this and make my first typeface Zapfino. So there.



Designed in 1998 by Hermann Zapf for the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, Zapfino is based on a typeface that Zapf first designed in 1944. It wasn’t until digital capabilities emerged that such a complex project became possible. He was approached at first by a young graduate, David Siegel, who urged him to develop it. This prompted Zapf to dig out some calligraphy he’d penned decades before. Here’s the result.

I think its a very elegant script, with a marked slant, high ascenders and descenders, with a large number of extra glyphs, and alternate letterforms including ligatures. I can’t understand how you can knock this typeface. Hats off to Professor Zapf – to me, its gorgeous!

As mentioned previously, I’ve seen Zapfino appear when elegance is called for, to convey a high quality, ‘classy’ feel to a company. Its sits well with restaurants, artisan crafts and bespoke services. Here’s an example:



I have seen Zapfino as a suggested alternative to using Scriptina Pro (as the latter has been used so extensively, its now on the ‘meh’ list for many designers) Thats a shame, its also lovely, but you kind of see what people mean:




This sans-serif typeface was designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1988

I think its beautifully crisp and tidy, but ‘friendly’, due to the round dot/tittle and the slight variations in line thickness. On researching this, I gather it is a geometric humanist font. Its reminiscent of Futura, as its very upright, but with a few softening quirks.

I’ve discovered its a lot easier to find examples of Helvetica than Avenir! Here’s Helvetica making an appearance to a variety of smart design projects:


This is our builder’s advert.  He’s been plastering our walls recently and it turns out he’s interested in graphic design, so we’ve had some nice chats! He’s friends with a couple who are are professional designers – I forgot to ask, but I’m guessing this is their work.


Who else uses Helvetica? B and Q. And so on….

I do try to stay away from wiki whenever possible, but for this exercise, it was a good source of information. I’ve learnt that Avenir has been used by organisations such as the city of Amsterdam, Wake Forest University and the Eurovision Song Contest no less! Its strikes me as a very simple clear typeface that can be used for clarity and simplicity.

So where the hell is it? OK on looking through various magazines, I found one example, here’s Avenir:




Although it is classed as ‘modern’, the term is relative; Didot was developed in Paris in the late 1700 – early 1800s, by the Didot family, notably brothers Firmin and Pierre Didot. Characteristics of modern typefaces include the variation between thin and thick strokes, and the horizontal serifs.

If you look at Baskerville, you can see that Didot is a more modern version of a similar idea. Its interesting – I’ve picked a second very upright typeface, but this time its a serif. I can see that the angle of the axis is vertical, and as with Avenir, the bar is horizontal.

Most famous usage is of course the title of Vogue, but it a specially commissoned version appears in the logo for CBS news. Apparently in consumer surveys, this typeface is perceived as extremely classy!

How I might use these typefaces in future

I used Zapfino for a previous (Illustration) student project – the cover of a restaurant menu, here it is. (I was aiming for classy, but contemporary. Zapfino has obviously a calligraphic feel and a good sense of movement)


I think it lends itself well to a variety of uses, when a fancy script is required. I hope that it wouldn’t just appear in the context of something like bridal magazines. However the ‘tone’  may not always be appropriate. I would be aware that with the narrow letterforms and huge sweeping ascenders and descenders (far greater than cap height), could be a pain for layout. It would always have to be used on a very small amount of text.

I haven’t really used Avenir, but I’d like to in the future. Its suitable for headings, body copy and screen. It looks very clear and adaptable, so could be used for many projects. Probably the only consideration is it might not be ‘tough’ enough for some uses. I think its no accident B & Q chose Helvetica, its a butch style of sans serif!

I’m less sure when I would use Didot, as its so iconic, it almost belongs exclusively  to Vogue, but then Cartier uses it in italic, so perhaps theres room for others. Clearly, I would consider using this as a very posh display font, for some sort of classy product or service!




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