Typeface Review


Reviewed by Ben Kiel on March 13, 2013

Tal Leming has built a career on his ability to deftly turn both the geometric (United, Bullet, and Mission + Control, for example) and the lettered (Burbank, Baxter, and Shag Lounge) into well-balanced typographic forms that are aesthetically rooted in their source material but function flawlessly in contemporary typographic applications.

This is a design challenge that appears simple at first glance, but it can be an exercise in hair-pulling frustration to get the letterforms sitting comfortably in both worlds while betraying neither. Timonium brings these two sides — the lettered and the geometric — together in a design that achieves lettered warmth within a geometric construction. The design takes a style that I associate with a certain French flavor (the high-contrast sans serifs of Deberny & Peignot, in particular) and with Optima (sans entasis), looks to that style in non-typographic traditions, and merges its influences in a design that doesn’t reference any certain era, but maintains a distinctive character.

Timonium’s capitals — including its small caps — give the family its geometric spine, while the warmth of the curves in the lowercase balances geometry with a letterer’s eye for softness. The italic, sloping at a sharp angle, amplifies the geometric side of the family, calling a good amount of attention to itself. All of this combines to give a designer working with Timonium a wide palette of typographic options.

As always with a typeface from Leming, everything in the family is drawn with deliberate attention to fit and finish, down to the asterisk. There are few typeface families that would work so easily on both a high-end cosmetic package and on a NASCAR race car; this is Leming’s achievement with Timonium.

Ben Kiel is a typeface designer and educator. He co-owns the independent foundry XYZ Type with Jesse Ragan. Previously he was a typeface designer at House Industries. He teaches at Washington University in Saint Louis and the Type@Cooper program in New York City.


  1. Excellent pick, Ben. I would have snagged it if you didn’t. From my review of Timonium in Print magazine a few months ago:

    “With thousands of new fonts released every year, it seems unlikely there could be a broad category that hasn’t been tapped. But there is at least one: there are very few sans serifs with lots of contrast between thick and thin strokes. It’s a style that could be considered retro — high contrast sans lettering was common in advertising of the 1930s–50s, and most fonts like these are decidedly antique or decorative. In this sense, Timonium is quite novel, but it’s not a novelty. It has the contrast without the ornamentation. It’s a subtle reference to the past with a peculiar flavor of its own.”

  2. […] from other type genres. Letters like s, with its clean terminals, could come straight out of a contrasted sans serif. And the heavy horizontal strokes — most obvious in the bolder […]

  3. Bogdan says:

    What dose “lettered typeface” mean?

  4. I think what Ben refers to are the kinds of shapes generated by writing or drawing with a pen rather than mechanical geometry.

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