I Love Typography

Who shot the serif?

One of the reasons for starting this site was that I felt there just wasn’t enough being said about the topic. Secondly, and more significantly, I always found it difficult to quickly locate typographic resources. The long-term aim of this blog is to be such a resource, a one-stop-shop for everything about typography, from terminology to new typefaces, from inspirational examples of type to choosing the best typeface for the job, whether that be on- or off-line.


So without further ado, let’s take a look at type terminology. Now, before my alliteration sends you running, let me say that there is nothing to fear. But why should you be interested in the terminology of type? Does it really matter if I don’t know my ascenders and serifs from my descenders and diacritics?

Well, what you will discover, is that learning just a little about the terminology will help you to have a greater appreciation for type; it will also help you to identify different typefaces and fonts — and that in turn will help you make better, more informed choices about the fonts you use. Oh, and lastly, you’ll learn what fish scales and serifs have in common.

Today we’re going to get intimate with the serif (you’ll learn more about her friends in future Typography Terms posts):


One of the terms of type that most are familiar with is “Serif” and is easily distinguishable from Sheriff — John Wayne has shot and killed several sheriffs; to the best of my knowledge, he has never out-gunned a serif. Serifs are often small, but they’re tough.

Before writing this, I sent several questions on type terminology to friends who know little about the topic. Most answered “What’s a Serif?” with something like, “it’s the curly bits at the ends of letters”. And although you are unlikely to read that in a typography text book, that’s just about right (though they’re not always curly, of course).

So why the word “serif”? Well, it’s commonly held that the origin of the humble serif can be traced back to ancient Rome. Before an Inscription was carved into stone the letters were first painted on. Anyone who has tried painting letters will know that one is left with slightly wider sections at the ends of the brush-strokes. The stone carvers would then faithfully carve out the letters including the flares at the end of the strokes — thus was born the serif.

However, it looks as though no-one knows much about the etymology of the word “serif”; some say that it comes from the Dutch schreef, meaning “wrote”, while other sources say the term “sanserif” actually pre-dates serif, so that sanserif on its own simply meant without serif (though that begs the question, where did the word sanserif originate?).

Interestingly the equivalent term in Japanese, uruko, means fish scales, and in Chinese the term, translated literally into English, comes out as “forms with/made with legs”. The Chinese one is perhaps the most descriptive. So if someone tells you to “give it legs”, you’ll know that they are requesting a serif font. And if someone shouts “he has no legs!”, then I guess they’re looking at Helvetica.

The TypoWiki defines a serif thus:
A serif is a flare at the end of a letter terminal.

And Wikipedia as:
non-structural details on the ends of some of the strokes that make up letters and symbols.

There are numerous kinds of serif. The two main types are Adnate and Abrupt (these are further subdivided into many more groups which we’ll look at in future). The Adnate serif is more organic. Notice how the serifs join the the stems via a curve; the Abrupt Serif — as its name suggests — is squarer and more rigid, and doesn’t flow into the base letterform; the slab serif is a good example of an abrupt serif. It’s not rude; it’s just square.


A slab serif is an example of an abrupt serif. This font is called Xenia OT

In future articles we’ll be taking a closer look at these related topics:
Serifs, in and out of fashion;
Serif or Sans serif — which should I use?
Great serif typefaces for Web and print.

Well, that’s all for today on serifs. Actually, there’s a lot more that can be said, but I’ll give your scroll-bar a rest. In future posts we’ll be taking a look at more typography terminology. Eventually, I hope to publish this series as a free PDF, so stay tuned for Part II by subscribing.

Have you learned something?

Part 2: The Return of the Serif.


Identify That Font

Ever seen a typeface (font) you like but couldn’t identify it? I once knew an Art Director who was able to identify just about any typeface I showed him. However, in recent years, even he responds with, I don’t have a clue.

So where to turn? Well, rather than publishing my Art Director friend’s email address here, I’ll introduce a few resources to get you started. Although none of the following resources is infallible, they will definitely give you a head start.

What The Font?!

MyFonts’ What The Font is perhaps the first place to turn to. As with most of the sites I list, here you can search by foundry, designer or name; however, that’s rarely very useful. If you know the designer or foundry, then it’s usually very easy to quickly identify the font. Where What The Font is particularly useful is that you can upload samples of your type, which it then attempts to identify within a matter of seconds. I had mixed results.

Step I: upload your sample. If the sample image has a lot of background noise or is low contrast, then spend a minute in PhotoShop, to lighten or remove the background and increase the contrast.


Step II: ensure that What The Font has correctly identified the glyphs, then hit “search”:


Initially I uploaded this image, a thumbnail of the header image for this blog:

identify Georgia font

and What The Font suggested, among others, Magna T Light and Freight Text Book which, to be fair, are pretty similar to Georgia. However, when I uploaded a slightly larger version of the same image, it was identified correctly. So upload the largest sample you have (maximum image size is approx 360px wide).

If your sample isn’t identified, then you can submit it to the What The Font Forum, a place inhabited by type-nuts, who will often go out of their way to identify your typeface. This forum has a very high success rate!


A community of … typophiles that has numerous other resources, blogs, typography-related news and even a typography Wiki. Though Typophile does not have an automated type identifier, it has a great forum of dedicated and friendly type-geeks.



Although, as its name suggests, you can shop for fonts, the content recently has expanded to include a good blog, a free magazine, and really up-to-the-minute typography news and views.


Fontshop’s approach to font identification is a general to specific one; you first identify the general form of the characters (glyphs), and then answer increasingly more specific questions about their form. Again, this is not only a good tool for font identification, but for finding new typefaces for your projects.

Something else I can recommend from FontShop is the FontBook. Weighing in at 3kg, with 32,000 type samples, it’s more of a yellow monster of a book. However, if you’re really interested in type, then reserve a place in your bookcase. I’ll be offering one of these as a prize soon, so subscribe to ensure you don’t miss out.


Sample page from the FontBook.

[Update:] The FontBook is now available as an iPad app.

Another title that I can heartily recommend (not from FontShop) is Rookledge’s Classic International Typefinder, by Gordon Rookledge et. al. It includes a useful section of so-called Special Earmarks — a typeface’s or character’s most distinctive characteristics; very useful for identification.

rookledge type finder


takes a different approach with relative success. I often use it for a slightly different purpose: finding similar typefaces to those I’ve used before. I like font x, but I want something a little more rough around the edges, or I want something with a double-storey “a” — that kind of thing.

Identifont has you answer a series of questions, like “Do the characters have serifs?” and “What shape are the serifs?”.

Identifont, typeface identification

After this process of elimination, Identifont makes suggestions based on your answers. I like that they always have a “not sure” option; depending on the quality of your sample, it may not always be possible to accurately answer the question posed.

Tracking down a font or typeface is not always easy. No-one knows how may typefaces there are, though some guesstimate in excess of 100,000.

If you spend a little time trying to identify fonts, then you’ll learn a lot about them in the process. You’ll also increase your “repertoire” and therefore make more informed choices about the fonts you choose for your next design project.

In future I’ll feature some fonts that are difficult to tell apart at first glance, and show you the elements that distinguish them. Are there typefaces that you find difficult to tell apart?

If you have your own tips, or stories you’d like to tell, then, scroll down and type away.

[Update:] Another great way to learn how to identify fonts is by playing the hugely popular FontGame for iPhone and iPad.

Type You Like Mobile

Ever see an example of Type You Like? A street sign, a strap-line on a billboard poster, the type on a book cover, or even the typeface on your toothpaste. Well, I’m a little obsessive in my photographing type and lettering, but I’d like to share that obsession; what’s more, I’d like you to get involved.

Every week (or month, depending on the volume of submission), I’ll be featuring Type You Like. Getting involved is simple. Here’s what you need to do:

When you see some type you like—wherever and in whatever form it takes — take a snap of it with your cell-phone (British readers, read “Mobile”) and send it to m@ilovetypography.com
It’s really that simple. If you wish to send some additional info with the photo (i.e. where it was taken, etc), then by all means do so; however, if you’re in a hurry, then just send the photo, no subject, no nothing, just a photo of the type you like.

If you include your Web site address, then your photo (when featured here) will link back to you. So don’t delay, add johno@ilovetypography.com to your phone’s address book, and shoot some type.

Here is one to get the proverbial ball rolling: The cover of “Typography Today”, delivered today (I couldn’t open the packaging fast enough!).


Smashing typography

The Smashing magazine blog is one of my design favourites. The articles are often great sources of inspiration; sometimes. 80 Beautiful Typefaces for Professional Design.

Let’s take a look at over 80 gorgeous typefaces for professional design, based upon suggestions from designers and web-developers all over the world.

The post — besides the examples (there are actually 85) — is just several paragraphs, but most of the examples are well chosen — there are few I would swap out of their list, though I am disappointed that Georgia is not in there. She would always be in my top ten.


Do you have one that you feel should have made it into the list? Or, would you just like to wax lyrical about your favourites? Let me know. Moreover, if you have an image of typography that works for you, then submit it.

Helmut Schmid at ddd Osaka

The 155th ddd Gallery exhibition adds representative works by Helmut Schmid to the original exhibition, presenting a more comprehensive picture of his design. The exhibition entitled helmut schmid: design is attitude, will run from August 23 to September 26, 2007.

Schmid, now based in Osaka, Japan, studied under Emil Ruder in Basel in the 1960s, and has worked in the design industry for almost half a century.

onschmid01.jpgHelmut Schmid is a precise poetic designer.
In his typographic work, he has been perpetuating Emil Ruder’s legacy from the 1960s into the twenty-first century. Our goal is to shed light on that work and on this person….

In 2003, at the design department at the Fachhochschule Duesseldorf (University of Applied Sciences) in Germany we announced the course “schmid today: typography for advanced studies, design research for beginners.” Since then around 60 students have researched Helmut Schmid’s typographical works. They wrote him postcards regularly; they traveled to Osaka to visit and interview him, his fellow students, and friends. They researched on the Internet, in libraries, in secondhand book stores, among colleagues who were friends or acquaintances.

Fjodor Gejko was there from the beginning. He catalogued Schmid’s oeuvre. The result: two files with a total of around 900 pages. They are the foundation of the digital Schmid archive and the “design is attitude” book and exhibition. After Seoul, Basel, Duesseldorf, and Tokyo, the ddd Gallery invited the exhibition to Osaka.

Philipp Teufel & Victor Malsy.

ddd Exhibition web site.

I’m hoping to visit this exhibition. If I do, I’ll report back. I hope I get to meet him; perhaps I can even get an interview with the man — now that would be a coup!

Notes: Schmid was featured in the Idea Magazine [アイデア] (June, Issue 322)

Helmut Schmid

Helmut Schmid, born 1942 in Austria as a German citizen. Studies in Switzerland at the Basel School of Design under Emil Ruder, Kurt Hauert and Robert Buchler.

Later works in West Berlin and Stockholm (covers for Grafisk Revy). After Montreal (Ernst Roch Design) and Vancouver he works in Osaka for NIA (for Taiho Pharmaceutical and Sanyo). 1973–76 at ARE in Dusseldorf he designs publicity material for the German government and the chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt. 1976 election campaign symbol for the SPD. 1978 exhibition of his politypographien at the Print Gallery in Amsterdam. Independent designer in Osaka since 1981. Member of AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale) since 1988.

His work includes visual identity programmes for IPSA Cosmetics, the flower boutique Masiyak, confectionery Ruban d’Or, German–Japanese dye-works HMK, and the German trades union IGBE. Product identities for Pocari Sweat, Fibe-Mini and Java Tea drinks for Otsuka; the Savon d’Or and HG series for Shiseido Fine Toiletry; and the logotypes Elixir, uv white and Evenese for Shiseido Cosmetics. An important design work is the bi-lingual packaging identity for medical products like Meptin, Mikelan, Acuatim for Otsuka Pharmaceutical.


His syllabary face Katakana Eru, created during the years 1967 to 1970 with the purpose of achieving a harmonious relationship with the Latin alphabet, is today a trademark of his work. He is editor and designer of typography today (Seibundo Shinkosha, Tokyo 1980) and of a special issue of the Swiss TM (1973) on Japanese typography. 1983 lecture in Xian, China (typography, seen and read). His book design work includes the japan typography annual 1985, Takeo Desk Diary, and Hats for Jizo (Robundo, Tokyo 1988) with illustrations by nine-year old Nicole. He celebrated the fall of the Berlin wall with the publication 1989 11 09, typographic reflections 1. In preparation is Japan japanese, the book containing his series of articles which appeared in the Swiss Typographische Monatsblatter (1968–79).

Welcome to I Love Typography

I collect samples of ‘type’ wherever I go, usually recording it with a photograph. The simple aim of this blog is to record and share those findings, and to get your typographic juices flowing.

I intend to broaden this site’s scope in time; ideally, I’d love to make it all things type, with numerous resources, biographies of typographers, a glossary of typography terms, and … lots of other very useful, entertaining and, well, interesting stuff.

If things on this page look a little awry, then that’s because I’m still building the site. Should be ready for general consumption by the end of August 2007.

In the meantime, if you have any comments or suggestions, then let me know. Would be great to hear from you.


Can you name this typeface? The one used to set “40”. Hint: it’s a Japanese road sign.

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