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Our Favorite Typefaces of 2012

Stephen Coles on March 13, 2013

fonts-of-the-year-2012I’ll be honest. When December rolls around and I ask a group of smart, articulate font users and makers to each select their favorite release of the year, not everyone rushes back with their pick. And when they do, they don’t always have much to say about it. Some years are stronger than others. 2012 was a strong year. The rich diversity in new type design has never been so evident.

I got so many responses this time around, many with texts that were longer and more in-depth than ever before, that I admittedly fell behind in the editing and production of the list. I hope you’ll find it to be worth the wait.

If you need an entry point, might I suggest:

Matthew Butterick’s review of Eskapade, in which he explains the difference between originality and surprise;

Sébastien Morlighem on the unusual stencil family that is Bery;

Indra Kupferschmid on Stan, with history on the unusual designs that inspired it;

Eben Sorkin on Turnip, Typographica’s new text face;

Catherine Griffiths, our newest contributor, on FF ThreeSix;

Florian Hardwig, who offers not only praise, but a bit of critique for Axia;

Shoko Mugikura and Tim Ahrens on the complex beauty of Quintet;

or Patric King’s “cocaine-and-vodka” take on Xtreem, dripping with references to ’80s pop culture.

Brief Thoughts on the State of Type

For the font market, 2012 was a year in which burgeoning trends matured into permanent shifts.

The most obvious example of lasting change is in type for the web. Professional webfonts were available in 2011 — primarily via services hosting previously released font families — but buyers can now expect most new fonts to be issued in both desktop and web formats. And some typefaces, like Turnip RE and JAF Bernini Sans, were designed from the start with screen performance in mind. (Unfortunately, mobile publishing is still left behind, as phone and tablet developers struggle to find clear licensing options for embedding fonts in apps. While there are some exceptions, most buyers still need to contact foundries for this kind of license. Look for this to evolve in 2013.)

The independent foundry has also cemented its place as the new foundation of the industry. Most of this year’s selections are from very small shops, several of which are entirely new to the market. It’s also significant that, in addition to offering their fonts through retailers like FontShop, MyFonts, and the newly revived Fonts.com, most of these indie foundries now sell directly to customers through their own sites. In some cases they have eschewed outside distribution altogether. The “majors” have not simply laid down, however. Monotype, Linotype, Font Bureau, FontFont, and H&FJ are all represented in this year’s list, each with releases that are remarkably characteristic of their respective brands.

Stylistically, no single classification or genre dominated the selections this year. This is a good thing. It indicates that me-too-ism is limited and that designers are open to a variety of styles. If you cast your net wide across all areas of graphic design, that trend for diversity is confirmed by today’s practical typography, too. Speaking of Fonts In Use, we are now adding links to that site from Typographica reviews, so you can see how the typefaces perform in the real world.

There are plenty of open questions about how fonts are marketed these days, but I am very optimistic about the proficiency and creativity of type design as a whole. The Golden Age of Type lives on, and it’s growing up.

Thanks to Chris Hamamoto for his continual design and dev prowess. Tânia Raposo also joined the team this year, designing many of the specimen images that represent the selections (now double-density for Retina-level displays). I’m also very grateful to Tamye Riggs for copyediting help, to Laura Serra for production assistance, and all the contributors for their insightful reviews.

The “Type of 2012” title graphic features Stan, Signalist, Trio Grotesk, and Bery Tuscan.

27 Comments

  1. Nick Sherman raises good questions about quantity. I think it’s useful to have a discussion about what this list means and what it should be. See my response there on Twitter. Your thoughts are welcome, preferably as a comment right here on the site.

  2. Indra Kupferschmid says:

    I’m sad to say it, but to be as brutally frank as I am – when I saw how many typeface were already selected and you still called for more writers on twitter, I felt less inspired to take part. Too many water down the list in my opinon (see honorable mentions), and you see how people keep perceiving this as awards and a competition, and not the random, very subjective selection it really is.

  3. Hrant says:

    People often see what they want. I’m not sure how much harder Stephen should try to emphasize that all this is in fact subjective. Could it really be objective anyway?

    There was a lot of good type made in 2012. Limiting the number of ones to recognize to a fixed number would be artificial. Unless 50-something is overwhelming. Is it? I read all the reviews in half a morning.

    And really, what would be a good way to reduce the number? Should Stephen impose himself as an arbiter of taste by reducing the number of fonts to choose from, or axing inadequate reviews after they’ve been submitted? That doesn’t sound good.

    I don’t consider myself easy to please, and I’m certainly no fan of quantity for its own sake, but I only saw about half a dozen fonts here that I think don’t belong. Unless somebody sees a large proportion of fonts that shouldn’t have been selected, I don’t see any basis for complaint.

    Is it sad that “too much” good type is being made now? Let’s celebrate our riches.

  4. The goal of the Twitter invitation was not to pad the list but rather an experiment to bring new voices into a group that varies very little from year to year. The result of that call was the addition of Catherine Griffiths and Andrew Austin. I’m happy with their contributions.

    The Honorable Mentions essentially come from the list of considerations I send to contributors. (That list is almost a requirement for most of our writers because it’s difficult to know what was released and when.) I agree completely that it could be narrowed before publication under that title. I’ll do that next year.

  5. Chris Rugen says:

    It’s in the title “Our Favorite Typefaces”. Never thought of it as an award or anything other than type-aware people saying “here’s my view”. I see it as a refreshing and fun way to hear about type with no restrictions other than year of release. Not sure I see any reason to look down on it or question its value.

    I see it as being more about giving credit to strong work and giving shout outs to unique work. Perhaps “honorable mention” is the wrong term, but the activity is unique and interesting (he says, as a contributor).

  6. Hrant says:

    Here’s an idea for the Honorable Mentions list: Instead of just dumping all the original candidates, what if it’s all the fonts that the reviewers wished they could have reviewed if they could choose more than one? If that list is still too long (unlikely) limit it to one such nomination per person and/or fonts that get at least two such nominations.

    BTW, I so wish we have this same problem next year!

  7. Indra Kupferschmid says:

    What if five people picked the same typeface? Would this be a more favourite one? It’s first raise hand, first get.

  8. Hrant says:

    Mentioning how many people wanted to review a given typeface might indeed be a mildly useful piece of info. To me ranking things isn’t elitist when it’s done for a good cause.

    However if you’re saying that the way the timezone crumbles is unfair in terms of favoring people who are awake around the time Stephen is (assuming he does sleep :-) then I agree (which doesn’t mean I can think of a less unfair solution).

  9. Gareth Hague says:

    There seems to be mixed messages about the purpose of the list, with various contributors on twitter calling it a Best Of. Best is very different to Favourite. Having Honourable Mentions doesn’t help this as implies a competition (of which there are enough). Maybe having contributors listing their favourite(s) and leaving it at that is enough.

  10. Indra Kupferschmid says:

    Why not narrow down the list of mentions right now? Why wait till next year and have it up like this forever?

  11. Micro details can be improved for sure, but due to the invasion of typefaces since few years, the task is huge to find the good ones.

    Switch the word fonts by songs/music in your discussion and you will see that we are in a so large area, that there is no solution. All of this is so subjective. Same problems for competitions: jury + few entries = no representative results.

    Thanks to Stephen and the volunteers who organized this again. Bravo!

  12. Hrant says:

    Gareth, to me the lack of selection justifications in some (most?) type design competitions is actually a bad thing, and one thing Typographica does better. The extent to which a typeface can “speak for itself” is quite limited (partly because it’s not an end-product but a complex tool) and an explanation of why a design was chosen can lead to fruitful discourse. Especially for what I might call speculative design efforts (like Fenland) explaining the rationale helps to promote the font as well as the “big idea” behind it.

    Indra: good idea.

  13. Matthew Butterick says:

    I suppose it’s fitting that complaints about the tremendous amount of work that went into this feature — the fonts, the writing, the editing, the images — should originate on Twitter, the laziest form of conversation.

    This feature is not a beauty pageant. It is not an award. It is a way to recognize the good work that is going on in type, and confirm that it remains a vital field of design exploration.

    The writers — people who know about type — get to explain why certain typefaces work well. The readers get to learn about typefaces they would have likely overlooked, and hopefully learn something about type in general. The type designers get some well-deserved compliments from their peers. And everyone who likes type gets reminded of the amazing design talent that type attracts, and the wonderful ideas and craft that go into these projects. It reminds us how far we’ve come. It inspires us to do better. What a pleasure to be involved.

    Therefore it boggles me that anyone connected to the type industry would think this is a bad thing. “But it’s too long.” Well, how long should it be? It’s 50+ people talking about type. Are you saying we’d be better off if those 50+ people had taken that time and blown it on Twitter? What would we have to show for it? Not a fucking thing.

    It also strikes me as a cold-hearted critique because a) Typographica will be the most exposure some of these fonts ever get, and b) that exposure is not going to pay anyone’s rent. Though I was complimented to have my typeface Equity included last year, the total traffic I’ve gotten from that piece over 12 months is about the same as what I get from Google in a day. So this is not a marketing feature. But we all get enough of that already. For those who care about type, this is the antidote.

    OK, I can agree that the honorable-mention list seems superfluous — to me, the indispensable ingredient is the writing, so without that, what’s the point. But if 20 more people had taken fonts off that list and written reviews, I’d say great. And for those of you who declined Stephen’s invitation so you could spend more time with Twitter: you missed out.

  14. Matthew, you articulate exactly the values I embrace and benefits I’ve seen from this exercise. Thank you! Still, I’d take it easy on Indra and Nick, who do care about our efforts here and have contributed a lot to the site in various ways. In addition to wanting a more sharply curated collection, they are likely soured by the self-promotion, repetition, and misrepresentation (intentional or not) that can fill a Twitter feed.

    I really am taking all these suggestions to heart. Starting with this one:

    Why not narrow down the list of mentions right now? Why wait till next year and have it up like this forever?

    I don’t have the time in the near future to make sound judgements about what to drop. So, for now, I’ll rename that list to better reflect what it represents and think about how to do it better next time around.

  15. I’ve never commented on any sort of type choices or competitions, but I have a few thoughts for this discussion.

    I truly believe that Typographica provide us a honest way to analyse what’s been done in type last year. I rather prefer to read why some fonts have been chosen than not to read anything and just look to some sort of type specimen like it happens with TDC and other competitions.

    Here we understand the choices have been made with knowledge, the one that choose knew exactly why it choosed it and it was not by a single sheet of A3 paper, they watched the fonts perform in many ways, in many media, in the past year. This is honesty! Pure and simple honesty!

    Does anyone truly believe that a font can be anonymously sent to a competition, and that the judges have been the entire year in a cave and woke up for the competition and don’t know which font is, and who’s the designer? Only in very rare cases, otherwise we have to doubt about the judging capabilities.

    Not to mention that it bring us the reality of the type world: our choices are made by empathy, by something that we see in a font that sometimes transcends our thoughts and touches us deeply, and when this is made by our own peers, we should be very proud of it.

    The fact that Typographica doesn’t seem to care about it, along with the buzz it creates yearly, makes me believe this is the right and maybe the only way to give proper credit to type design. I sincerely congratulate all the choices and to my friends, in both sides of this year’s list, a special and warm compliment.

  16. Eben Sorkin says:

    I have always liked the basic structure Stephen used. The idea that there are more worthy designs does not bother me. Also, there have always been designs praised here that I didn’t understand or agree with. Over time though I have developed a better appreciation in some cases. I have also become less sure of some as well. Ultimately though I like that I am surprised by the list each year.

    RE: Indra’s Idea “Why not narrow down the list of mentions right now? ” I have to say I don’t find myself disagreeing with her often but in this case I do. I have to ask, What’s the point? I am thinking that, apart from the possible commercial upside to being mentioned, the value is to be encouraged to keep doing excellent work and to keep improving. An honorable mention is a form of this albeit a lesser one. Having there be half as many won’t improve things much but will offer much less encouragement. Don’t get me wrong. I am not one of these “every child deserves a prize” people. I am just not convinced there is a form of inflation or watering down going on here now.

    Because human attention is the the beast that it is there is probably an upper limit on what is reasonable to include both for the winners and the honorable mentions. I suspect Stephen is near that now. But I don’t think he is over the line.

    Still, who could blame him for wanting the task to be more manageable? Thanks for all your hard work Stephen- much appreciated!

  17. David Berlow says:

    I think when the annual list of great new typefaces is greater than the total number of users on earth, then that’s too many. Rather than sharing a precious few among millions of people everyone can then have their own favorite typeface every year.

  18. Tânia Raposo says:

    Right before my last year of graphic design I was determined to quit my course and be an architect, mostly because I was missing something on this broad field of design. Fortunately I didn’t quit, because I was lucky enough to have a teacher that showed me the world of typography and type design — Rúben Dias. And there I found my place in the sun. One of the things that influence me the most, side by side with my great teacher, was the Typographica favorites list. I read all of the reviews of 2007 and was thirsty for more. Due to the wonders of the Internet and some introductory books, like “Stop Stealing Sheep”, “Detail in typography”, and, later, most of the Hyphen Press books, I did a lot of reading on the world of type whenever I had free time. And I would spend my weekends looking at typefaces and trying to distinguish them and analyze their shapes.

    So I want to say I am very honored to be part of the team this year. Not in my wildest dreams back in 2008 I thought I would be helping Stephen with this. And that I would know personally many of the type designers and typographers I so much admired. So, for all that, my 2008 self wants to thank especially Stephen Coles and Rúben Dias for opening my eyes to type, when I was about to give up on this thing of being a designer.

  19. Nick Shinn says:

    I was honored to be asked to contribute, and spent a lot of time trying to write something intelligent — causing me to think a bit harder about the issues that interest me, which is good for my work, at least.

    I also scored a copy of the typeface I discussed from its designer, which was cool, as it’s rare that I get to look under the hood of other designers’ fonts. However, you don’t really get to know a typeface until you work with it, so I suspect that most of the reviews here are like reporting on a new car without having driven it. I produced the specimen for my review, but even so, it was a very limited test drive.

    I wrote way more than the stipulated number of words, rather self-indulgent, but Stephen is a bit of a softy, so I knew I could get away with that.

    The type industry is still not as mature as film, TV, music and theatre, where new releases are more often than not savaged by critics. There are some negative comments posted here under the typeface reviews; dialogue is good.

  20. Nick Sherman says:

    I should clarify that I never said having a long list of good typeface reviews was a bad thing. I feel quite the opposite – that kind of curation and analysis is exactly the kind of thing the industry can use more of. In fact, when I wrote the introduction for Typographica’s 2008 list, which contained 39 typefaces, I lamented the fact that we couldn’t include more of the typefaces we wanted to.

    My original question about this year’s list was not a complaint, as Matthew seems to think. It was simply a question, asking how special each item on the list becomes as those numbers grow. Whether it is the intention or not, any yearly list like this one will inevitably end up being understood as a kind of prestigious awards list. It is not surprising that many foundries will promote their typefaces citing placement on this list as though it is an award. But as the number of typefaces on the list grows every year (it has more than doubled since 2006), it becomes easier to miss individual items, and the prestige of being included is decreased.

    Whether or not that should be an issue when organizing the list is not for me to say. I mostly pointed it out because I had heard private comments from multiple people (some whose typefaces were included in the list, some who had spent the time to write a review), questioning the increasing numbers and the method of soliciting submissions from the public. I guessed there were probably others in similar positions pondering the same thing.

    If Stephen is OK with the list being less prestigious, then I say, with all sincerity: list away! But as it surpasses an average of one typeface for each week of the year, perhaps it is then worth considering a different format for the list. Indeed, each typeface and review would receive more of the attention they deserve if they were able to enjoy an entire week in the spotlight of a regularly updated website than to be buried under 50+ other items in a list that gets most of its traffic in one big spike every year.

  21. Hrant says:

    Nick, I have to say that your original question does totally sound like a put-down; even in 140 characters it should have been possible to avoid that incriminating tone.

    Is it prestigious to be included among the selected fonts. Of course. That’s not a bug, that’s a feature; it motivates people towards a good cause (or at least one that we believe in). Besides the standing conundrum of how best Stephen can reduce the number, I might even suggest that reducing the number would increase the unfair leveraging of being selected that you say is a bad thing. There are 54 fonts because that’s how many this fair system spit out. To me, end of story.

    I also don’t understand what kind of benchmark “one typeface for each week of the year” is. Round numbers are over-rated!

  22. Hrant says:

    Can this thing handle more than one discussion [at a time]? I hope so, because there’s something I wanted to point out that I find more significant than the “numbers game”:

    Out of 54 selections there were at most 1.5 open-source typefaces… Personally I think that’s entirely sensical, but is it possible this crowd is unduly pre-disposed towards proprietary designs? For example, why does Alegreya’s review mention nothing about the libre (not just free) version that seems to cover more than half of what the US$400 version does?

  23. Nick Sherman says:

    Hrant — I agree with you that my original question could have used some sugar coating for disambiguation, especially since many people don’t know my existing relationship to both the list (as a contributor, editor, and specimen designer) and to Stephen and many of the people involved (as a personal friend, collaborator, and co-worker).

    I think the list is one of, if not the last places to read detailed and thoughtful type reviews. It’s a tremendous effort and I congratulate everyone involved.

    I can only offer the assurance that the ideas behind asking my question were completely sincere. I know of at least 5 people who have typefaces or reviews in the list who have pondered similar questions in private but have been hesitant to express any doubts that might be read the wrong way. Seeing the reactions that followed, perhaps I should have kept quiet too, but hopefully next year’s list will be all the better for it.

    As to your next point … You say:

    I might even suggest that reducing the number would increase the unfair leveraging of being selected that you say is a bad thing.

    However, I never said anything about the numbers was “a bad thing”, only that it raises questions that are worth considering. As I mentioned before, I am all for more type reviews and putting good typefaces in the limelight. But any judgements of what is good or bad for the list are up to Stephen to determine in the end, and I trust his judgement completely.

  24. typrat says:

    Hmmm…some nice ones, but any list that doesn’t include fonts by Dieter Hofrichter (Hoftype) just doesn’t cut it for me. ;)

  25. […] de hacerse publica la lista de las fuentes seleccionadas por la web de Typographica con sus tipografías preferidas del año 2012, que a nuestra opinión, es el mejor barómetro para ver todo lo que ha dado de si el pasado año […]

  26. Bill Dawson says:

    […] I’ve spent some time with Typographica’s Favorite Type­faces of 2012 and I was left with some last­ing impres­sions and the recog­ni­tion of a few out­stand­ing examples. […]

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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 Caren Litherland
Marian specimen

Marian

Selected by Jan Middendorp
Henriette fonts

Henriette

Selected by Mark Simonson
Trio Grotesk fonts

Trio Grotesk

Selected by Shoko Mugikura and Tim Ahrens
Quintet font family

Quintet

Selected by Stephen Coles
JAF Bernini Sans fonts

JAF Bernini Sans

Selected by Sébastien Morlighem
Bery Roman, Script, Tuscan fonts

Bery Roman, Script, and Tuscan

Selected by Frode Helland
Trim fonts

Trim

Selected by Indra Kupferschmid
Stan-fonts

Stan

Selected by Hrant Papazian
Fenland font family

Fenland

Selected by David Sudweeks
Signalist-font

Signalist

Selected by Ben Kiel
Timonium fonts

Timonium

Selected by Frank Grießhammer
Sodachrome font

Sodachrome

Selected by André Mora
Harriet Typographica Specimen

Harriet Series

Selected by Florian Hardwig
Axia font family

Axia

Selected by Marc Oxborrow
Colfax font family

Colfax

Selected by Laura Meseguer
Krul font

Krul

Selected by Carl Crossgrove
Alegreya ht font family

Alegreya ht

Selected by Michael Surtees
Aften Screen font family

Aften Screen

Selected by Mark Jamra and William Berkson
Agmena font family

Agmena

Selected by Matthew Butterick
Eskapade font family

Eskapade

Selected by Chris Hamamoto
maison-neue

Maison Neue

Selected by Nadine Chahine
Adelle Sans font family

Adelle Sans

Selected by Thierry Blancpain
Atlas Grotesk fonts

Atlas Grotesk

Selected by Andrew J. Austin
Atlas Typewriter font family

Atlas Typewriter

Selected by Nicole Dotin
Serge font family

Serge

Selected by David Březina
Balkan font family

Balkan Sans

Selected by Ivo Gabrowitsch
Tablet Gothic fonts

Tablet Gothic

Selected by Cameron Moll
Idlewild fonts

Idlewild

Selected by Grant Hutchinson
marais-ultra

Marais

Selected by Jean François Porchez
STANLEY_SPECIMEN

Stanley

Selected by Ricardo Cordoba
VALUCO fonts

VALUCO

Selected by Corey Holms
Lust font family

Lust

Selected by Robb Ogle
Shift fonts

Shift

Selected by Bill Troop
Tramuntana fonts

Tramuntana

Selected by Elliot Jay Stocks
Tabac Slab fonts

Tabac Slab

Selected by Nick Shinn
Karloff fonts

Karloff

Selected by Gerry Leonidas
Colvert font family

Colvert

Selected by Gary Munch
Classic Grotesque fonts

Classic Grotesque

Selected by Aegir Hallmundur
Levato fonts

Levato

Selected by Christian Palino
Wayfinding Sans font family

Wayfinding Sans

Selected by Eben Sorkin
Turnip fonts

Turnip

Selected by Tânia Raposo
Worthe Numerals font

Worthe Numerals

Selected by Patric King
xtreem-art

Xtreem

Selected by Thomas Phinney
Dapifer fonts

Dapifer

Selected by John Boardley
puncho_specimen-02 copy 2

Puncho

Selected by Christoph Koeberlin
Heron font family

Heron

Selected by Yves Peters
Macula_Typographica

Macula

Selected by Chris Rugen
Source Sans fonts

Source Sans

Selected by Carolina de Bartolo
pitch-typographica-2012-1000px

Pitch

Selected by Nina Stössinger
Telefon

Telefon

Selected by Göran Söderström
Instant font family

Instant

Selected by Tiffany Wardle de Sousa
Mission Script font

Mission Script

Selected by Dan Reynolds
Garvis fonts

Garvis

Selected by Dyana Weissman
Hipster Script font

Hipster Script

Selected by Catherine Griffiths
Promotional poster by MuirMcNeil

FF ThreeSix

Selected by Frank Grießhammer
Say Cheese font

Say Cheese

Selected by Typographica
Serge (Font Bureau)

Other Notable Font Releases of 2012

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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