Spiekermann separates his slabs from his sans

Robin Nicholas is, indeed, a very accomplished type designer and a likeable, modest fellow to boot (DW 8 September).

Quentin Newark could have mentioned Nicholas’s other major contribution to typography, the Nimrod typeface, formerly of The Guardian newspaper. He could have also mentioned the main reason why a lot of designers dislike Arial. Typographic tastes aside, it is fitted to the exact widths as Helvetica and was, indeed, intended as Microsoft’s replacement for the face that had already become a standard on laser printers by 1984.

I don’t envy Nicholas’s task to make a new typeface the same as an existing classic for all intents and purposes, but different enough to avoid copyright issues. Arial shows that a close copy will always be inferior to the original. In this case, don’t blame the designer, blame the client.

While I’m on the subject of sans serifs: Guardian Egyptian is not a sans, or it would be called Guardian Sans. Egyptian is the name given to slab serifs during the craze for all things Egyptian after the Battle of the Nile (1798), when the victors plundered Egypt and filled the British Museum with trophies that had hieroglyphs all over them.

Paul Barnes quite rightly observes that the first sans were slabs with their little feet cut off. The specimen shown obviously has them still on. The family of fonts for the Guardian has slab as well as sans versions.

Professor Erik Spiekermann, Founder, United Designers, by e-mail

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