Several years ago, the U.S. public was fascinated by the television show “Who Do You Think You Are?” This smash hit took television and other famous personalities on a journey to discover their ancestry. Discovering these secrets often changed these celebrities’ perception of themselves.
Did you know that fonts have an ancestry, too? Typographers designed almost all of the classic fonts for specific purposes. Let’s look at just a few.
Venetian book printer Aldus Manutius invented italic type, not because he wanted to stress everything, but because it was the best way to fit all of a book’s text into a “pocket edition.”
The British newspaper The Times commissioned the creation of Times Roman after font designer Stanley Morison criticized the paper for its poor typography.
AT&T designed a popular sans serif face Bell Gothic in 1938 for its telephone directories. Its goal? Legibility and economy of page space, two vital elements of a good phone book.
Charles de Gaulle International Airport developed Frutiger, another popular sans serif, for airport signage. The goal was for travelers to quickly and easily read it from a distance.
Closer to home, Highway Gothic, the official font of the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, spawned the creation of Interstate. Typographers subsequently modified it to use at smaller sizes, and perhaps in colors other than white on green.
Some typefaces outlive the technology for which typographers created them. People who have never even seen a typewriter often use Courier, which was designed for IBM typewriters. It still evokes a “home made” feel, even though few homes actually have typewriters anymore.
So next time you look at a font, remember that it was designed for a purpose. We hope that providing insight into some of these purposes will entertain you, spark your creativity, and provide insight into how to best utilize them.