If you're a Phaidon fan you're probably well aware of how something as 'humble' as the shape of a letter can make or break a design. Typefaces have been the subject of ridicule (Comic Sans) and praise (Helvetica) with countless books written and even a film made about them. So while a few of you may find our typeface-based interview below a little self-indulgent we suspect there are many more who'll get a bit tingly at the thought.
Shelby White from the blog Wanken, has created, Typefaces of the World, a poster - using Helvetica Neue LT Std & Univers LT Std - to illustrate just where all the world's typefaces and fonts came from, who designed them and which ones have successfully survived the transition from print to digital. After much research and polling of his blog and Twitter following, he compiled a map of 50 typefaces based on their popularity and usefulness within current design standards. See a large version of the poster here.
White created Wanken to record his personal work in filmmaking, photography and design. On moving to Seattle in 2007 from a small town in the panhandle of Idaho to study at the Art Institute it soon grew to encompass all his interests in art, design and architecture. He's also the founder of Designspiration, a place for creatives to discover and share inspiration.
We caught up with White to talk to him about the poster and the art of a good typeface:
So what gave you the idea to create this poster?
During the time I've spent designing, I've become rather entranced with the way type was used in Swiss and German design during the 1940s to 1970s. It has an honest and natural quality to it that draws me in and makes me want to know more about it. Because typography was so prominent in the design then and in order to understand what invokes my own belief in the design, I need to know the history of the typeface. The Typefaces of the World poster helped provide an outlet for that research.
Did you have to leave certain typefaces out that you'd really have wanted in there?
Even if DIN and Helvetica weren't such popular typefaces, it would have been difficult to leave them off the list. I did my best to be objective based on the data for which typefaces were shown. But at some point even if a typeface was popular, it doesn't mean it was a good fit: Papyrus and Comic Sans.
Some of the typefaces we haven't heard of, how much research did you do?
The majority of the time it took to create the poster was spent on research and trying to validate information. Finding out the dates, location and the actual typographers was a scavenger hunt and still is. Before the poster went to press it was reviewed and shared online to help verify the information. Since the list was based on popularity and usefulness, I had to put less weight on the "usefulness" portion due to its subjective nature.
What was the geographical split?
The final typeface list for the poster by mere coincidence, was split 50/50 between the United States and Europe. For the United States, California held the majority, while Germany held the majority for Europe. Europe has always been known for its art through the ages and was a hub for typography for a very long time. In the US, the locations are primarily the East or West coasts - these are the larger metropolitan areas where the type foundries are located.
Obvious question: What is your favourite typeface and why?
Helvetica Neue would have to be my favourite because of its letterform balance. It's also able to become neutral at times when it shouldn't be calling too much attention to itself.
Shelby White's Typefaces of the World poster is available to buy on Wanken