I Love Typography

At last! FF Meta Serif

Wedding Bells

I would usually never post two articles in a single day (I won’t be making a habit of it). However, the excitement was just too much, and the news too hot. Many of you will be familiar with Spiekermann’s wonderful FF Meta. But for years FF Meta lived a lonely existence with no Serif companion to keep it company. Well, now FF Meta has a wife; meet Mrs FF Meta, officially called FF Meta Serif.

ff-meta-serif.png

I must admit that I prefer the name FF Meta Serif to the working title, MetaAntiqua. For more information about this beauty, visit the original FontShop news item, where you can also download lots of gorgeous specimens.

All through the ’90s, Erik Spiekermann made several attempts at designing a counterpart for his groundbreaking FF Meta….True to his principle of collaboration, Spiekermann enlisted the help of accomplished type designers Christian Schwartz and Kris Sowersby.
FontShop News

So, what do you think?


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  1. This looks great to me. Seems like it could work well for extended bodies of text and as a display font.

  2. I like it a lot. I think I read the announcement over at fontblog.de a while ago, but I must have missed the fact that it was designed by Spiekermann. Or wasn’t it? I assume he did the beginning sketches while Christian Schwartz and Kris Sowersby did the ‘real work’;-)

  3. Looks pretty sweet. An excellent follow up to FF Meta. :)

  4. Beautiful. Now I just need a third job to be able to afford it! ;)

  5. Oh, so pretty! FF never fails to impress.

  6. Mrs. FF Meta?

    So contemporary serifs are feminine (Georgia, Mrs. Eaves)? And older serifs are masculine (Baskerville, Garamond)? With an Egyptian slab separating the two forever? Sure, why not. Mrs. FF Meta works for me.

    Plus, it really is an excellent companion for Meta.

  7. Gorgeous metrics. Spierkermann and Christian Schwartz never disappoint.

  8. I wanted to set the header image in FF Meta Serif, but my type budget for this month is already well over its limit. If anyone has it and would like to make a header image (975x200px), then send it through to me.

  9. Oh-my-sweet-Jesus. I think I am in love.

    The italics are amazing and the logo potential is just limitless. Looks like I will have to hold off on buying a new computer for a few months.

  10. Johno
    I am working on the header now ;)

  11. Johno
    The header is finished, check your e-mail and it should be attached.

  12. Cody seems to be faster …

    John, feel free to drop me a line if I can do something for you in the future. I definitely dig the things you are doing!

    Christoph

  13. Cody
    You are the man. That’s great. I’m tempted to replace my standard header with this one. Like the yellow nod to FontFont too. Looks gorgeous. Thanks for making this.

    Everyone
    Cody made the header image for this post—set in the gorgeous FF Meta Serif. I think I’m in love too.

  14. Christoph, feel free to upload a real version of it. That header I made is a sloppy trace off the web. Considering your website is http://www.fontfont.com I am betting that you have the actual font installed!

  15. Christoph
    Thanks very much for the offer. I’ll keep that in mind.

  16. So am I the only one seriously annoyed by that lowercase y? I want to connect the arm (right? That’s what it’s called?) to the rest of the letter!! Ack! Why would Spiekermann do that? What purpose does it serve?

    I like all the other letter forms that I can see, though, and I especially like the little tilts on the serifs. The lowercase r and g especially grab my attention. Very beautiful (except for that blasted y!).

  17. Lauren
    Take a look at Meta Sans, there is the answer to the lower case “y”.

  18. Very nice. And you changed the banner of this page with FF Meta Serif :D cool.

  19. Lauren - This type of ‘y’ isn’t so uncommon, at least in European type design. By opening the angle of the two vertical strokes it allows the letterform more interior space, especially in the bolder weights. And Cody is right, it echos FF Meta’s design.

  20. Vinney

    I was having this discussion with the two other designers at my company today since FF Meta [Sans] is our corporate typeface and I have to say I really can’t stand the Serif! One of them liked it -“ the other is just so sick of looking at Meta anything she hated it on site -“ but, I think the bold weights are much too 70’s [think Cooper, especially in the italic] and the lowercase “y” in the italic bold weights is unsightly. It looks like it was drawn with two different stresses and the descender looks like it came from another letter!

    Overall, the face looks like it is trying to accomplish too much.

  21. Vinney

    Oh, and, Johno, I absolutely love the site! I’ve been lurking for a while =)

  22. Lauren
    As Stepehn commented, that “y” with the angled stem ending can be seen in numerous other types. Here are just a few:

    About the design rationale: as Cody says, the seriffed Meta is an accompaniment to Meta Sans which already had that feature. I guess not everyone will like it. Personally, I do; but that’s one of the great things about type, and the reason why we will always need more faces. And if it really bugs you, you can always edit it in FontLab, though don’t tell Erik ;)

    Vinney
    Not sure that I see the Cooper connection, but thanks for your contribution. I’m happy to have you lurking. Please lurk as much as you want—the more lurkers the merrier.

  23. Okay, I have to vote I don’t like the FF Meta Serif … much. The top of the lowercase “t” looks rather ugly to me. And the “v” and the “r” are not so endearing either.

  24. Stephen

    Funny you should mention the “t”: that’s one of my favourite glyphs; looks like the tip of the “t” is being gently squeezed.

  25. See, and I think it looks like a slip of the pen or whatever drawing tool was used. It’s the most interesting thing how different people can look at the same thing and have totally different reactions to it.

  26. Is it funny, Steve? You don’t like the r or the t, I love them! But that dang y. I’ve never noticed that feature in other faces before and thanks for “fixing” it for me in font lab, John. You know, it still looks funny even though you closed the gap. It now seems too… heavy.

  27. Lauren
    Yes, my “fix” is pretty hideous. It looks like a “v” that’s been involved in a traffic accident. Dropping that “step” would mean either starting from scratch or redesigning numerous other glyphs, and even the “y” glyph in Meta Sans.

    Personally I love the “steppy” y; and I’m a little embarrassed that I butchered Spiekermann’s “y”—but only to demonstrate a point, of course. Oh, there’s a knock at the door…looks like he’s sent round his boys to rough me up…

  28. Cody: Christoph, feel free to upload a real version of it. That header I made is a sloppy trace off the web. Considering your website is http://www.fontfont.com I am betting that you have the actual font installed!

    You are right ;)
    I just sent John a header in the Book weight, now he can choose.

  29. Christoph

    The battle of “make a Meta Serif header” has begun. It’s on. Haha!

    I’m still a little happy that you didn’t realize it was a trace at first glance.

  30. Cody & Christoph
    I’m feeling like a damsel with two suitors. It is pretty damn good for trace. Now, which one to choose….

    OK, I have an idea: I’ll swap in Christoph’s Book weight header, though Cody gets to make the header for an upcoming article (don’t want to give too much away, but it might involve Mrs Eaves). How does that sound? Oh, and Cody, you can make the header for your book review (soon to be published), set in…anything you want.

  31. Haha, sounds good. I just made a another header for this one. Check out your mail. It might be a better t-shirt though =P

  32. Cody
    Thanks. Might also make a good wallpaper.

  33. Is that a hint? =P

  34. First trials on Erik’s blog was quite a nice surprize, The idea was so obvious. With this bunch of designers behind the design, probably no reason to say anything.

    But, more and more I came across several webpages announcing this typeface family, more and more something seems to don’t work with this Serif version. Meta Serif looks Renault typeface from the 70’s (Erik told us that he participated to initial design of the french car branding type…): boring.

    With Meta, we have a typeface with style, a typeface who seems to bring into letters: Mr Spiekermann himself, the guy who speak too much during his lectures (we love it), because of the various bits there and there, who make the font a lively face, different than the sobre Officina or Info.

    In Meta Serif, nothing like that, I miss all this stuff present on the Sans. Why the three designers don’t tried to add less regularized elements of design, like we can see in a typeface (http://www.typography.net/type/enigma.htm) from Jeremy Tankard, its an Enigma to me! Enigma is a different animal, but original, unique on its way to interpret Serif typefaces. And Meta Serif is not unique, as Meta is a unique Sans.

    Perhaps the team can explain a bit more: Do they have some specific use in mind? perhaps too much influenced by Corporate ASE?

    I know that designing a Serif from a Sans is the worst thing ever, its so more easy to do the reverse. Perhaps the reason. No clear idea, but for sure, I’m perplex.

  35. Jean François
    Thanks for your erudition. It certainly would be interesting to hear more from the designers. And, I guess that we must look at Meta Serif in the context of Meta Sans, and the limitations that imposes on the designers. Would have been interesting to see a Porchez-designed Meta Serif.

    If you needed to use a serif face with Meta Sans, would you choose Meta Serif, or use something like Minion?

    Cody
    Yes, it was a hint. Subtle, wasn’t it.

  36. Jean
    As Johno said, I can almost put money on the fact the Meta Serif isn’t trying to be a “unique” typeface. It’s literally a serif version of Meta Sans, thus not giving much room for variation or originality. With this in mind, I think the serif version has as much impact and character to it as Meta Sans does. Just thinking of setting this font or using it for a logotype excites me. Typoholic, maybe.

    Johno
    Expect something coming your way ;)

  37. For those who don’t know Renault (who would think of Renault as a type foundry), here’s Renault sitting above Meta Serif:

  38. It’s so easy to see which face sets better. The relationship between the letters is a lot stronger with Meta Serif.

  39. I’ve just added Minion to the bottom of the “tricolore” image (for comparison). There’s an interesting PDF on the original FontShop news item that compares Times/Minion/Meta Serif. I’ve got to say, that Mrs Meta looks best, especially at small point sizes—quite striking.

    Here’s a detail from that comparison (even on screen, which really is not the place to compare type, I think it’s still pretty clear which one reads best). Printing out the PDF makes the contrast starker.

  40. erik spiekermann

    Meta Serif is not unique, as Meta is a unique Sans.

    That’s right, Jean-François. MetaSerif is not supposed to be as idiosyncratic as Meta the Sans. That one was quirky and unusual mainly because when it was first designed for the German Post Office in 1985, there were hardly any alternative sans faces around. Everybody had to use Helvetica, AG, Futura et al. Only Syntax was different and more legible, or Polo from Georg Salden, but that face was only available from a few select and expensive typesetting companies on Berthold equipment. FF Meta came out in 1991 and started a trend for more legible sans faces that owed more to classic serif faces than to a modernist ideology. And Meta still has a lot of quirks that were not supposed to be visible because it was designed for small sizes. These quirks – like the g, the y, the t – make Meta lively and humane, but sometimes a little silly and overdone at larger sizes. Meta Headline doesn’t have so many details, but most designers seem to prefer the original version anyway.

    MetaSerif is much more grown-up, and it is meant to be a neutral, all-purpose typeface for continuous text. It has strong serifs and relatively little contrast. We kept some of the details that people have already remarked on, but it was our intent to design a typeface that could rival Times New Roman or Minion in their ubiquity and fitness for purpose. MetaSerif is designed to work in combination with Meta, and that combination makes it unusual. The two families are different enough from each other to make the mix interesting. We didn’t want facelesse clones like Compatil, but also not two members of the same tribe that compete with each other.

    Meta’s idiosyncracies add colour and interest to the look of columns set in MetaSerif, which is meant to be ordinary and simply legible. We didn’t want to design beautiful letters, but a typeface that would make beautiful text. I also think that there are enough quirky serif faces around, but not enough hard-working ones. That’s why we keep coming back to Minion, Swift, Scala, and all the classical Garamonds and Caslons when we’re looking for something that will just work without jumping off the page.

    I don’t think modesty is a bad characteristic for a typeface.

  41. Just to reinforce Johnno’s advice about testing fonts on screen:

    When judging any face it’s important to see it in the setting for which it will be used. At FontShop, we made a lot of large GIF samples to draw some interest, but to really examine Meta Serif you need to print it outat text sizes — and see if it will work for you.

    The internet has done wonders for spreading the word about new fonts, but 100ppi renderings on screen are not the best way to test them. Get catalogs, print PDFs, make sure the type really works.

  42. erik

    Thanks for that insight. I guess this answers a number of questions:

    We didn’t want to design beautiful letters, but a typeface that would make beautiful text.

    And I love some of those ‘quirks’ at larger sizes. Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away with the detail, blowing up these faces to 8500pt and wondering whether features x,y and z look a little odd. However, at 8.5pt, perhaps those ‘quirks’ are ingredients in the recipe of its success as a text face.

    My prediction: Meta Serif at small sizes will be very big. Good luck with it.

    I was also tempted to say in response to our intention wasn’t to design beautiful letters, that some of the letters are beautiful. But if I say that people will think I’m kissing your rear, so, I won’t say it.

  43. Stephen

    Thanks. In fact, I printed Minion, Times and Meta Serif on newspaper (maybe that’s why I’m still not married), and lo and behold, Meta Serif still looks better. Not the most scientific of experiments, but interesting nonetheless.

  44. Oy! Fighting a flu or what I used to hear old folks refer to as “the grippe,” when I was a kid, I’m not able to do much reading, writing, or staring at the screen. And even tho’ I’ve had to postpone starting a series of my own that Lauren egged me on to actually do—on starting in book design and production, finding work, arriving at rates, and actually relating the process of my end of making a book—till Monday, I printed some text size paragraphs of the FF Meta Serif OT Book.

    You know what? At text size, it really is terrific; it really does make beautiful words on the page. So I have to put a proviso on the reservations I expressed earlier that my dislike is only at large display sizes. At text size, it is a very impressive typeface.

  45. erik spiekermann

    I printed some text size paragraphs of the FF Meta Serif OT Book

    Does that mean you actually bought the font? Or is it already out and about? After all, if you didn’t like it very much, you wouldn’t just spend a considerable amount of money, would you? On the other hand, if you got it by less than legal means, you wouldn’t admit that here, would you?

    Just wondering…

  46. I printed a few paragraphs from the specimens, just a few paragraphs, one at each of a different size. Couldn’t find a page-long sample in one size. But the individual paragraphs demonstrated to my liking that it’s a useful face. I do not have any of the FF Meta Serif faces, by any means. And no, I can’t say I’d go out and buy it without a project in hand that seems to call out for it. And if and when I get such a project, I will buy it.

  47. erik spiekermann

    And if and when I get such a project, I will buy it.

    I thought as much. That’s how we handle it as well.

  48. I’ve just this minute bought it. I tried to resist as I really can’t afford it this month, but I kept looking at those samples I’d printed and they kept whispering, ‘buy me’—must be a new OpenType feature sending me a subliminal message. I don’t have a project in mind, but there will always be projects that require good text faces, and a font is for life, not just for Christmas.

  49. I wish I had the money to buy fonts :(
    Being a design student, that just isn’t possible.

  50. Erik
    Great to see you here and hear your insight on Meta Serif. I think “We didn’t want to design beautiful letters, but a typeface that would make beautiful text”, sums it up just perfect.

    Johno
    I was going to place a bet with you that you would buy it by the end of the month. Dammit! I should have got on that sooner. I think the moment you printed it on newspaper you were a goner.

  51. Robert
    And you shouldn’t be expected to buy fonts when you are a student! That’s why the school buys fonts and let’s you use them. There was no way that I could buy fonts when I was a student… I spent almost all my life at school, but it was worth it. Take advantage of the school, even make friends with faculty and get them to buy some new fonts.

  52. Cody

    Yes, I hope my bank manager is not reading this. If she is, then it’s erik’s fault. He made me do it ;)

    For those interested in a little background to FF Meta Serif, see this node on Typophile.

  53. Meta Serif is a real achievement, downloaded the comparison paragraphs from FF and the difference is enormous, especially for a Minion over-user like myself. Dr. Spiekermann, I had the pleasure of working with your UDN team when I was in Pioneer, congratulations on your new face, great to have a truly excellent new serif available for large stretches of text.

  54. Cody
    Ha ha yeah I know were not expected to buy fonts when we are students. Next quarter our academic director is getting the adobe open type cds installed on all our machines and in a lot of our type classes some of our instructors treat us to some goodies. :) So yes being a student defiantly has its advantages.

  55. Robert
    Looks as though you need to put in a request for Meta Serif. You could even start a petition and, in classic student-protest style, you could march to the chant,

    What do we want?
    Meta Serif.
    When do we want it?
    Now!

    And of course all banners, flyers, posters and the petition itself should be set in FF Meta Serif.

  56. erik spiekermann

    Good to see you here, Simon. Missed you in Dublin last week.

  57. Yves
    Thanks for the link.

  58. Beautiful.

    “…it was our intent to design a typeface that could rival Times New Roman or Minion in their ubiquity and fitness for purpose.”

    Eric, you did just that, and more. If I could use Meta Serif on the Web for body text without having to resort to using sIFR I would be doing so right now. I would make it a core Web Font. The measured rhythm is a joy to behold.

    Johno, your masthead looks glorious. Nice work, Cody.

  59. thanks Erik, I heard the talk was great, and packed to the rafters. Shame I couldn’t make it :( … by the way, did you see Mike Méire’s redesign of 032c? What do you think?

  60. erik spiekermann

    Mike Méire’s redesign of 032c

    Afraid i don’t even know what that is. I do know Mike though. You should write to me off-list:
    erik@spiekermann.com.

  61. Scott Millar

    While the serif clearly works with the sans - it feels like a compromise or the lesser of two evils. Had the serif occurred before the sans or if the serif stood on its own - it don’t think it would achieve as much mention.

    The serif lacks the style of the sans, while it certainly provides a companion. It was a problem that didn’t need solving in the first place.

    I think Meta, excuse me - Meta Sans - was grand as a loner, why did it need a serif? I thought the beauty of it was that it solved many of the problems of older sans faces, that were previously only achievable in the serifs - such as readability at small sizes in long paragraphs and all that…

    I love Mr. Spiekermann’s work, but I can’t hide that fact that I wasn’t very excited about Meta Serif. Now Unit is amazing and something to shout about.

  62. Bert

    Meta Serif is pretty much a copy of Georgia, with the glyphs modified to better go with the Sans.
    Open it up in a font viewer and see for yourself.

  63. Bert
    I have no idea what Georgia you are looking at. They are in no way similar. Post some screens to support your comment because it’s WAY off.

  64. FF Meta Serif above; Georgia below:

    meta-georgia.gif

  65. Just as I thought; in no way are they similar.

    Do you agree Johno?

  66. Bert, I think it’s very easy and a bit cheap to pop up and post an anonymous accusation like this. We can’t even check who you are and what your credentials are that could justify this thinly veiled attack. Are you a type designer? Graphic designer? Type historian? How much do you actually know about type? Remember you’re talking about the work of two very well respected type designers and a very talented newcomer. If indeed FF Meta Serif was a copy of Georgia I think the type community would already have been talking about this since its release last fall, because this is one of the most important releases in type since a while. I truly wonder what your agenda is…

  67. Oh, but _now_ I see! They both have serifs, indeed! Dang, Erik, Christian and Kris are sneaky bastichs. Well spotted, Bert. :^D :^P ;^)

  68. erik spiekermann

    Yes, Yves!

    I found some other typefaces that are also obvious copies of each other. Some of us know that Times was based on Plantin, but did you know that ITC Century is actually just a redesign of Century Expanded? And that Georgia is simply Century Schoolbook with some of the curls straightened?

    Next time I’ll post some examples to show that Arial is actually very close to Helvetica, which is just Univers with a few stroke weights changed.

  69. If FF Meta Serif is a copy of Georgia, then I’m the Pope. Cody, yes, that’s why I posted the image. However, when I stand about 20 meters from my monitor, looking through my bad eye, with the lights dimmed, they do look similar ;) I’ll tell you what they do have in common: they are both fonts.

    Something else worth noting is that Meta Serif’s other half, Meta was designed before Matthew Carter’s Georgia. Perhaps Mr Carter just took Meta and stuck on some serifs ;) And nobody noticed!

    Conversation between Erik Spiekermann and Matthew Carter in 1993. Erik telephones Matthew:

    es: “hey, Carter, what’s with this Georgia!?”
    mc: “not sure what you mean, Erik…”
    es: “…you know damn well what I mean—you just copied my Meta and stuck on some of your fancy serifs!”
    mc: “Oh, you noticed. Well, um…tell you what, if you promise to keep quiet about this one, we’ll go halves on the royalties…”
    es: “OK, but, when I get around to designing a serif companion to Meta, I’m going to copy Georgia and tweak those fancy serifs of yours.”
    mc: “deal!”

  70. erik spiekermann

    Here are some examples of serif faces that look really similar to each other:

  71. Johno
    You know Johno, I think you are right! When I turn the brightness to low on my cinema display, stand in the back of the room, take off my glasses, and THEN stare at the screen with the comparison… I can totally see the similarities.

  72. Actually, I just tried what I said in my post above! Haha.

    Even with my glasses off, I can see a difference in the bottom bowl of the “g”. Haha, I totally thought they would both look like the same blurry bar.

  73. Kevin

    Meta Serif is pretty much a copy of Meta, with the serifs added to better go with the Sans.
    Open it up in a font viewer and see for yourself.

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