Let’s Talk About Type — Modern

In this article we’re talking about type in terms of families.

As mentioned in my first post, I want to be able to talk about type pairing in infographics (and in fact the lesson scales to be applicable in all sorts of design), but it’s just not possible for one to explain or the other to learn pairing without having any back story. It’s like pairing the right wine with the right cheese. How are you to know what gouda works best with if you don’t know the qualities and flavor differences between Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, and Pinot Grigio? (This analogy will also work with red wines. Insert your favorites at will.)

Somewhere along the way this turned into a history lesson, but hey, I think it’s fascinating hearing about things like Ben Franklin and Baskerville rubbing elbows, gripping stuff!

Here’s a recap and look at our timeline so far…

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So Let’s Talk About Modern

I don’t get to use this type family as often as I’d like. Some describe these letterforms as Romantic, and I can’t help but agree. There’s something stoic, strong, and beautiful about each of the letterforms, but due to the dramatic strokes and strong vertical stress most modern faces are really not suited for small point sizes, e.g. paragraph.

The body has too much “sparkle,” making it harder for the eye to recognize letterforms quickly. Also, because the letterforms carry your eye more vertically, it interrupts the horizontal flow that carries your eye across the page that earlier letterforms give us.

The old fogies who called Transitional ugly, rebellic, and blinding were about to be gobsmacked by Didot.

kelly2Kind of hard to read, isn’t it?

In 1784 France, Firmin Didot (dih-doe, not dih-dot, mind you) punched out this sharp, romantic, dramatic face which marked the complete descent from our former humanist letterforms. A lot of typographers have since re-vamped the first official Didot – if you research more about the face, you may hear the name Jonathan Hoefler thrown around.

The Italian typographer Giambattista Bodoni would soon follow Didot’s lead in 1798, taking his influence from the earlier Romain du Roi’s unbracketed serifs and playing even further on Baskerville’s high contrast between strokes to create Bodoni.

Let’s look at what makes Modern, Modern.

Defining Characteristics

kelly31. Abrupt contrast between thick and thin strokes.

kelly42. Abrupt and thin serifs.

kelly53. Vertical axis.

kelly64. Horizontal stress.

5. Small aperture*

*The aperture is the partially enclosed, somewhat rounded negative space in some characters such as n, C, S, the lower part of e, or the upper part of a double-storey a.

Modern in Everyday Things

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A little irony for you…

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Other Modern Typefaces

kelly11Ambroise, Jean François Porchez, 2001

kelly12Jeanne Moderno, Steve Mehallo

kelly13ITC Zapf Book, Hermann Zapf, 1976

kelly14Adobe New Caledonia, William A. Dwiggins, 1939

kelly15ITC Bodoni, Giambattista Bodoni

Next time we will conclude our journey with Serif by discussing Slab Serif.

Previous Articles in the Series

BlackletterHumanist & Old StyleTransitional

Sources

fonts.com | myfonts.com | typekit.com | typographydeconstructed.com

About the author

Kelly Quigley