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Miniscule
Typeface Review

Minuscule

Reviewed by Erik Spiekermann on March 5, 2008

The first impression is shock. A “typeface for extremely small sizes” shown in 48pt is not necessarily pretty. That is the nature of type specimens: we want to see details that aren’t meant to be seen in the real application.

Thomas Huot-Marchand, the designer, goes to extreme lengths to explain these details, but the first thing I did was to print a page from the PDF specimen provided. It works! Extremely readable at extremely small sizes, i.e. anything below 7pt.

Some of the tricks employed look familiar: the tops of stems bent backwards to open up joins and very explicit counters were measures I employed when I designed FF Meta, which was to be used at 7pt and below by the German Post Office. On a display face, these and other details would look mannered, but at small sizes, they become almost invisible. They make the sound rather than the tune of the page. There are several versions with less contrast, heavier serifs and wider tracking the smaller the intended size is.

Minuscule Deux which, presumably, is intended for 2pt type (!) has no curves left and no counters for some of the characters. The o, for example, is represented by its counter only: a black square. Strange, even weird, but physically successful in the intended size. To me, however, that looks just like blotchy rendering, but I wonder whether your ordinary reader would notice. Or, in fact, even bother to read 2pt type.

A radical departure, one worth considering both for its experimental character (no pun intended) and its potential practical uses. Typefaces originally designed for a particular purpose — from Century Schoolbook to Bell Centennial, from Frutiger to ITC Officina — have proved their worth before they become adopted by everybody for everything. This may well happen to Minuscule but it could take a while. For now, it is as strange as it is useful.


Erik Spiekermann is an internationally renowned typeface and information designer who is now also a movie star, thanks to the film “Helvetica”. He founded MetaDesign in 1979, FontShop in 1989, and now runs SpiekermannPartners in Berlin, London, and San Francisco.

7 Comments

  1. What a type most beautiful.
    I will select this too.

  2. Carl Crossgrove says:

    Not sure why the origins of this design are not mentioned in the review. Marchand has indeed advanced the ideas of Javal, but that precedent is important to the story of the typeface.

  3. Thanks Carl for the link. In fact, Minuscule is based on some theories of Emile Javal, an XIXth century ophtalmologist. You can check the whole project on my website. Best regards,

  4. Kenneth White says:

    I’d love to see this on something outdoor, where reading at a great distance is an issue.

  5. I was at the Van Gough Gallery yesterday where I measured the x-height of the display text (FF Balance) on the wall to be the thickness of my thumb (1 inch). Measuring my steps away from the lettering to the window (so I couldn’t walk any further) was 16 paces. It was still very legible. My feeling towards Balance has improved greatly in the last 24 hours – though I would much have preferred to see Antique Olive! Perhaps such french designs are not top of the list in Netherlands? The thing is that Miniscule works at small sizes and looks weird at larger sizes – you do need different designs as the use gets larger.

  6. “I’d love to see this on something outdoor, where reading at a great distance is an issue.”

    But isn’t the point to be used for small, below 7pt instances? I don’t think it’s a dichotomy, it’s for small use.

    DR

  7. Ryan says:

    Thanks for the great font! Fantastic for video overlays where there is very little room for text.

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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.

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