Face the future

Using distinctive fonts is an effective way of enhancing a publication’s identity. As the boundaries between magazines and newspapers blur, designers are making some innovative choices, finds Anna Richardson

Magazines and newspapers have been through the wringer over the past year, but as recovery beckons, several relaunches are imminent, and a key element in cementing a brand’s success is using the perfect font.

The boundaries between newspaper and magazine norms have become increasingly blurred, however. Newspapers are generally more conservative in tone, their readership more loyal, but also sensitive to changes, says Stephen Coles of Fontshop, while magazines have more leeway and can be bolder and more experimental. ’They are also printed on better paper, so you can specify type that is more delicate,’ Coles adds. ’Newspaper type needs to be rugged, especially in the body copy.’

Having said that, newspapers have recently strayed from the dull and overused, and are experimenting with sans serif, says Örjan Nordling, type designer and creative director of Pangea Design in Stockholm, who developed the typeface FF Dagny for Sweden’s leading daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter. ’In Sweden, a lot of the new typefaces are arriving from the sans serif family. It’s part of the Modernistic idea,’ says Nordling.

In the case of Dagens Nyheter, Nordling originally helped in its redesign from broadsheet to tabloid, which called for a more compact setting. Pangea produced a sans serif, DN Grotesk, to complement the existing serif DN Bodoni, which then evolved into FF Dagny, put on general release last year. ’We were looking for a typeface with more contrast and dynamic lines,’ explains Nordling, and FF Dagny now constitutes the main building block of the newspaper.’

Magazines are also increasingly defying preconceptions. Coles cites music magazine Bearded, which uses Amasis throughout. ’It gives it a more serious, considered tone,’ he suggests, ’but it’s not stuffy or old.’

The trend has mostly been one way, with newspapers looking more like magazines, but some magazines are now looking more like newspapers, to gain the authoritative voice and level of trust of the latter, says Christian Schwartz, co-founder – with Paul Barnes – of Commercial Type, which designed The Guardian’s Egyptian typeface.

What is expected from different magazine genres is also blurring. ’The splintering of the mass audience has undone some of the typographic clichés,’ says Schwartz. ’Now, there are fashion magazines that are entirely in Helvetica or completely unexpected [types], to appeal to their particular market.’

Schwartz’s recent work for The New York Times’ Sunday style magazine T, for example, eschewed the aesthetic of pretty details and flourishes with Giorgio Sans, a sans serif addition to Giorgio, Schwartz’s previous font for the magazine. ’This was a very plain sans serif with very straight proportions,’ he says.

Christian Küsters, founder of CHK design and digital type foundry Acme Fonts, set a new benchmark some years ago with a redesign of Architectural Design magazine. He chose Wim Crouwel’s Gridnik font, which, he says, looks ’a bit like an interior from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The corners are rounded and it’s quite modular. It looks architectural’. Küsters is now redesigning AD again, opting for the new font AF Module, based on architectural blueprints. ’It comes in different weights and is a constructed font,’ he says. ’It’s very contemporary, and also works well on-screen because of its modular nature.’

There is also a tendency towards slab serif fonts, notes Nordling, as well as vintage fonts and hand-drawn lettering – not so much type as illustration. ’With no budget for illustration or photography, a more exuberant [design with] type becomes a good way to fill your page and convey the feelings you’re trying to get across,’ says Schwartz.

With the latest technology, developing type for different platforms and screen sizes is another consideration for designers. The new version of Firefox, for example, supports Web Open Font Format. ’Websites [are becoming] more fully representative of the way magazines look in print,’ explains Coles, even though he thinks font designs, screens and user interfaces have to get better for text to be read as well on screen as in print.

Nordling, meanwhile, is looking to a new breed of font design. ’Perhaps there will be typefaces with a new anatomy that will take the best from different type families – digital and traditional,’ he says.

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