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Our Favorite Typefaces of 2011

Stephen Coles on January 25, 2012

After a long hiatus (inexcusably skipping 2009 and ’10) we’re back with our annual review of the year in type.

The idea is simple: I invite a group of writers, educators, type makers, and type users to look back at 2011 and pick the release that excited them most. The reviews range from the academic (like Paul van der Laan on Zizou or Jens Kutilek on FB Alix) to the theoretical (such as Jan Middendorp on Agile) to the personal (like Carolina de Bartolo who reviewed Calibre and Periódico after firsthand experience with a redesign of WIRED magazine) to the playfully unexpected (Microsoft’s Si Daniels praises Apple Color Emoji) to the exclamatory (Matthew Butterick on Neue Haas Grotesk).

This is not a juried contest. The result isn’t necessarily the “best fonts of the year”, or even those most used or ballyhooed. But these 50 selections do capture a pretty accurate snapshot of where type design is now, and where it’s headed.

If 50 seems like a lot, consider the thousands of new releases that didn’t make the list. The general public’s interest in typography continues to grow, and with that comes hundreds of new designers who are dabbling in or starting new careers in type making. Our list of honorable mentions represents only a small slice of the new fonts published in 2011.

As always, the other clear trend is new technology. By the end of 2008, we could finally declare OpenType the default font format. Three years later, in the wake of the @font-face declaration, there are new formats and new substrates as destinations for type design. Yet, in contrast to OpenType’s glacial adoption rate, webfonts are poised to take hold quickly, sparked by intelligent delivery platforms (pioneered by Typekit in 2009), early adoption by major foundries (led by FontFont), and screen-specific font design (like Font Bureau’s RE series).

The unexpected benefit of the new webfont era for an effort like this one on Typographica – it becomes easier to judge a typeface more fairly. Despite type’s long history in print, a font made today will likely be seen on screen far more often than on paper. I’ve always lamented that critics and users usually judge typefaces only on screen, not in their “proper” medium. But in an age in which we read more on screen than in print, maybe this isn’t a universal problem anymore. Of course, now font makers need to rethink the way type is made and rendered, but we’re already seeing progress there.

This year’s list wouldn’t be possible without Chris Hamamoto’s enduring design, Billy Whited’s proficient coding, Laura Serra’s image wrangling, able proofing by Matthew Coles, and, of course, all the contributors. We’re also grateful to FontFont for the newly updated FF Quadraat and Process for Anchor, typefaces that make writing and reading on the web a pleasure. Thank you!

The “Typefaces of 2011” image uses Salvo and Acta.

16 Comments

  1. Jason Santa Maria just posted a nice summary of highlights from the list.

  2. Ivo says:

    What an incredible collection. I’m honored to contribute. There’s so much of work involved in both the typefaces and each single article. Even with just 10 selections it takes several nights to finish such an article. I can’t believe how many great typefaces were released last year. I mean, look at how many honorable mentions alone could have made it easily among the Top 50 as well.

  3. Christoph says:

    I second Ivo; It’s truely amazing to see this huge amount of quality type – and still two of my own favourites are not even listed! It was an honour to me to contribute.

  4. Congratulations on this wonderful 2011 typeface review. It is really amazing how many great typefaces were released last year. I am proud to work in the font industry.

  5. John says:

    This post deserves a drum roll. Great to see it back, Stephen. Pleased to see Detroit, Calibre, and Supria Sans in the list. Thanks for all your hard work. Now I have an excuse not to publish my list.

  6. TATA! And some people say we don’t need more typefaces. I challenge that!

    PS. Stephen, thanks for asking me to review. It was a pleasure.

  7. It was a pleasure to write a review!

    Thanks again for your effort of doing this insane amount of work for the design community. It’s great to review some of the gems overseen during the year, and look at some personal favorites in another light, too.

  8. [...] Thursday, January 26, Typographica posted its most recent best-of-list of typeface releases for the year 2011. I am honoured that [...]

  9. Ruth Whelan says:

    I really like the ‘Julian’ Font, I love the way each letter doesn’t really match but yet it works! it creates some super visual queues.
    Great review, so much time and creative work put in to it obviously.

  10. Awesome fonts!
    Love Doko & Sutturah.

  11. Quora says:

    What makes a great typeface?…

    Based on how you’ve asked the question, I’d answer that it takes a great type designer to make a great typeface. But I’m guessing that’s not what you meant. Perhaps you meant to ask, “What qualities make a typeface great?” While I agree with Step…

  12. Steve says:

    This review has been one of the most useful and illuminating posts I have come across – particularly as a complete newbie to typography. It just goes to show the breadth of sheer talent out there.

  13. Phoenix says:

    Are we looking at the same post? What’s with all the “awesome fonts” here. The stuff on the right that I see is fairly ordinary. It’s good to see Neue Haas (again) but not one of the others is usable in any truly professional work!

  14. Paul Stonier says:

    I love Swagg. It exudes such confidence. It’s rare that I would need such a strong face, but I bet there are some great uses in editorial for it.

  15. Tom Dearie says:

    Um…. I don’t see anything on this page identifying what function each of these has been picked for.

    I suppose we could click through to every one, but it would be a huge time saver to have some captions to make the page scannable.

  16. Tom, each review explains the why the typeface was selected, and most of the reasons can’t be properly summarized in a few words. Go ahead and read a few — they aren’t long.

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Comments at Typographica are moderated and copyedited, just like a “Letter to the Editor” in a newspaper. Abusive or off-topic comments will not be published. Compliments are appreciated, but will not be published unless they add to the conversation. Thank you!

Selected by Paul van der Laan
Zizou

Zizou

Selected by Göran Söderström
Julien fonts

Julien

Selected by Paul Shaw
Cala fonts

Cala

Selected by Marian Bantjes
Outsiders fonts

Outsiders

Selected by Nina Stössinger
Supria-Sans-fonts

Supria Sans

Selected by Tânia Raposo and Frank Grießhammer
Doco-fonts

Doko

Selected by Frank Grießhammer
Alda fonts

Alda

Selected by Ricardo Cordoba
Reina

Reina

Selected by Aegir Hallmundur
ff-chartwell-fonts

FF Chartwell

Selected by Laura Meseguer
aria-fonts

Aria

Selected by Nicole Dotin
Sutturah fonts

Sutturah

Selected by Indra Kupferschmid
Nouvelle Vague fonts

Nouvelle Vague

Selected by Patric King
Mija fonts

Mija

Selected by Indra Kupferschmid
salvo-fonts

Salvo

Selected by Jens Kutílek
FB Alix

FB Alix

Selected by Mark Simonson
Beckett

A2 Beckett

Selected by Florian Hardwig
Neacademia-fonts

Neacademia

Selected by Tim Brown
Abril-fonts

Abril

Selected by Rob Keller
Bookmania

Bookmania

Selected by Carolina de Bartolo
Calibre

Calibre

Selected by Jan Middendorp
Agile fonts

Agile

Selected by Cheshire Isaacs
Alana fonts

Alana

Selected by Stefan Hattenbach
Antwerp-fonts

Antwerp

Selected by Stephen Coles
oban-fonts

Oban

Selected by Caren Litherland
Tundra fonts

FF Tundra

Selected by Chris Hamamoto
Detroit fonts

Detroit

Selected by Jean François Porchez
Equity-fonts

Equity

Selected by Aegir Hallmundur
Azuro-fonts

Azuro

Selected by Dan Reynolds
Cassia-fonts

Cassia

Selected by Ivo Gabrowitsch
Siri Fonts

Siri

Selected by Dyana Weissman
Smidgen-fonts

Smidgen

Selected by Thierry Blancpain
Nassim

Nassim

Selected by Carolina de Bartolo
overview periodico

Periódico

Selected by André Mora
Libertine

Libertine

Selected by Claus Eggers Sørensen
Capitolium News 2 fonts

Capitolium News 2

Selected by Grant Hutchinson
Ambicase Fatface

Ambicase Fatface

Selected by Yves Peters
Acta & Acto

Acta & Acto

Selected by Tânia Raposo
Spinoza-fonts

FF Spinoza

Selected by Colin M. Ford
Carter Sans fonts

Carter Sans

Selected by Jon Tan
FS Pimlico

FS Pimlico

Selected by Christoph Koeberlin
Realist-fonts

Realist

Selected by Ellen Lupton
Ideal Sans

Ideal Sans

Selected by Jason Santa Maria
Elena Main

Elena

Selected by Matthew Butterick
Neue Haas Grotesk fonts

Neue Haas Grotesk

Selected by Jürgen Siebert
Dane fonts

Dane

Selected by Hrant Papazian
Swagg fonts

Swagg

Selected by Nick Shinn
Naga-fonts

Naga

Selected by Elliot Jay Stocks
Changing-fonts

Changing

Selected by Si Daniels
Apple-Color-Emoji-fonts

Apple Color Emoji

Selected by Typographica
Oban-asterisk

Other Notable Font Releases of 2011

Colophon

Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

Set in Bureau Grot by Font Bureau, Nocturno Display by Nikola Djurek, Fern (unreleased) by David Jonathan Ross, and JAF Bernini Sans by Tim Ahrens.

Brought to you by this month’s nameplate sponsor, FontShop, MyFonts, FontFont, Wordpress, Fused, and the letter B. Read our editorial policy.

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