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Identifying a Modern font

From: Choosing and Using Web Fonts

Video: Identifying a Modern font

The first modern font used for printing books was designed by Firmin Didot in France around 1783. Later, modern fonts were used in advertising, like this broadside announcing a celebration of American independence in 1833. Notice the heavy italic modern font in the heading. With their crisp thin strokes, abrupt serifs, and round terminals, modern fonts are not modern by today's standards.

Identifying a Modern font

The first modern font used for printing books was designed by Firmin Didot in France around 1783. Later, modern fonts were used in advertising, like this broadside announcing a celebration of American independence in 1833. Notice the heavy italic modern font in the heading. With their crisp thin strokes, abrupt serifs, and round terminals, modern fonts are not modern by today's standards.

Their stylized romantic forms were modern in the late 1700s to the early 1800s. Modern fonts were directly influenced by two seemingly competing factors: reason and romanticism. Structurally, modern fonts were influenced by the King's Roman, which, as you remember from the last chapter, was a font designed almost a hundred years earlier. Designed by committee, per order of King Louis XIV, it was mapped to a grid, and based on mathematical principles.

It had an increased emphasis on verticality, and an increased contrast between thick and thin strokes. The font symbolized the intellectual tenets of the enlightenment, which we also call the Age of Reason. Modern fonts were also influenced by the work of transitional font designer, John Baskerville, whose fonts continue the principles set forth by the King's Roman. In fact, modern fonts continued to use many of the structural characteristics of transitional fonts, and actually pushed them further. Looking at the Bodoni BE, which is a digital font based on the work of Giambattista Bodoni in 1798, we can compare it to Baskerville, a digital transitional font based on the work of John Baskerville in the 1750s.

Bodoni has a completely vertical stress. The slight angle on Baskerville's e has straightened up. While both fonts have a strong contrast between thick and thin strokes, Bodoni's contrast is exaggerated, and the change from thick to thin is abrupt. This abrupt change in stroke width is characteristic of modern fonts. Also characteristic of modern fonts are the very thin flat serifs that no longer flow into the stem. See how the serifs form a crisp 90 degree angle to the stem? This is a big change from previous serifs.

Related to serifs, modern fonts have round bowl-like terminals. Finally, the aperture on the e closes up significantly. It has to; it has to compensate for the top right corner of the bowl, which has gotten so heavy. Plus, the smaller aperture lets the E mimic the structure of the o. While the rigid systematic underlying structure of modern fonts appears to be primarily influenced by the Age of Reason, there was another competing factor at work: romanticism.

Overlapping the Age of Reason, and in response to its scientific rationalization of nature, was the romantic period. Believing that man must liberate himself from intellectual change, romantics recognized diversity, and believed that expression was everything. Romantics believed that unique traits were what set people apart from one another, as well as nations apart from one another. In order to understand how important the idea of personal and national diversity was, it's worth mentioning that this was a time when individuality was threatened.

The industrial revolution was in full swing, and Napoleon was trying to expand French territory. Much of Europe was engaged in the Napoleonic Wars. Now, how could such a structured approach to font design possibly represent the ideas of the Romantic Age? It does in two ways. First, remember that until now, for the last 350 years or so, fonts have been based on using a broad nib pen. By pulling further away from the humanist principles defining early fonts, modern font, like Bodoni, are unique.

In fact, the modern fonts are harder to read than earlier fonts. The strong vertical strokes try to pull the eye down the page instead of across the rows. In addition, the high contrast between thick and thin strokes can create a dazzling effect in the text. That is, the thins start to disappear, leaving only the thick strokes for reading. Choosing to design such crisp, elegant fonts, regardless of readability, is an act of self-expression. But modern fonts are not purely intellectual.

Believe it or not, they're related to handwriting. At the time fonts like Bodoni were originally designed, people no longer used the broad nib pen to write. Thus, pens no longer created a natural access, or pen-formed terminals in serifs. Instead, people like Seth Barlow, who kept a log aboard the Whaling Brig, The Nancy, from 1808 to 1811, used a pointed flexible quill to write. The flexible quill responded to pressure; the greater the pressure, the thicker the stroke.

Dramatic pressure created a dramatic contrast between thick and thin strokes. And here, you can see Barlow, who was an excellent letterer, drew some Roman forms, not unlike the forms we see in Bodoni. But we're looking at script. Let me show you how the flexible quill influenced fonts like Bodoni. This is an Imperial 101 Nib that is flexible, and works similarly to the old quills. When I apply pressure to the nib it opens, like this. Let's see what happens with some ink.

I'm not very good at working with this nib; it's harder to use than the C1, but I'll do my best. I lightly draw the top of the bowl, apply pressure to create the outer edge, release pressure to finish the stroke, and start again at the top. You can see here that I increased pressure, and the nib opens, and I draw down, and finish the O. Now I'll do a letter b, starting with a lightly drawn head serif. I apply pressure, draw down, and run out of ink, so I'll try again.

I lightly draw the head serif, apply pressure, draw the stem, lightly draw the foot serif, up to the meanline, lightly draw the top of the bowl, apply pressure to draw the outer stroke of the bowl, and finish the letter. You might notice, I keep using the verb draw instead of write. When using this nib, it feels more like drawing, whereas a flat nib creates thick and thin strokes as I write.

With this nib, I decide where the thick and thin strokes are. I'll move the paper, and draw an e. Even the terminals are drawn. When making the letter a, I start by drawing a circle terminal, lightly draw over the top, apply pressure down, finish with a thin, curly spur, then lightly start the top of the closed counter, pull down with pressure, and pull lightly back up.

The extreme contrast in thick and thin, whether created by a pen, lead type, or a digital font, is more difficult to read than earlier fonts. In fact, I don't recommend using modern fonts for text. They lose their stylized romantic forms, and make it harder for visitors to read the content on your site. Save them for headings, where their elegance will truly shine.

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This video is part of

Image for Choosing and Using Web Fonts
Choosing and Using Web Fonts

89 video lessons · 6902 viewers

Laura Franz
Author

 
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  1. 4m 41s
    1. Welcome
      1m 2s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      1m 52s
    3. Using the exercise files
      1m 47s
  2. 14m 55s
    1. Recognizing the anatomy of letters
      4m 17s
    2. Understanding font classification
      4m 38s
    3. Finding and testing web fonts
      3m 41s
    4. Identifying common problems in fonts
      2m 19s
  3. 43m 43s
    1. Understanding Venetian fonts
      4m 0s
    2. Identifying a Venetian font
      4m 46s
    3. Understanding handwritten letters
      3m 22s
    4. Choosing a Venetian font
      3m 47s
    5. Creating a Typekit account and building a kit
      3m 43s
    6. Adding a Venetian font (Calluna) to your kit
      2m 51s
    7. Applying Calluna to your web site
      5m 54s
    8. Troubleshooting Typekit fonts that don't load
      2m 2s
    9. Changing styling as necessary to improve the readability of the text
      4m 25s
    10. Working with more than four styles in Typekit
      5m 22s
    11. Looking at how using a Venetian font affects the look and feel of a web page
      3m 31s
  4. 32m 53s
    1. Identifying an Old Style font
      6m 26s
    2. Choosing an Old Style font
      4m 30s
    3. Applying Crimson Text to a web site using Google web fonts
      3m 8s
    4. Changing styling as necessary to improve the readability of the text
      9m 20s
    5. Making various weights and styles work correctly across different browsers
      5m 16s
    6. Looking at how using an Old Style font affects the look and feel of a web page
      4m 13s
  5. 21m 12s
    1. Identifying a Transitional font
      5m 10s
    2. Choosing a Transitional font
      6m 36s
    3. Applying PT Sans to a site via Typekit
      2m 57s
    4. Changing styling as necessary to improve the readability of the text
      2m 59s
    5. Looking at how using a Transitional font affects the look and feel of a web page
      3m 30s
  6. 16m 58s
    1. Identifying a Modern font
      7m 50s
    2. Choosing a Modern font
      4m 0s
    3. Using Typekit to find and test web fonts
      5m 8s
  7. 26m 52s
    1. Identifying a Slab Serif font
      4m 30s
    2. Choosing a Slab Serif font
      3m 58s
    3. Deleting a font from your Typekit
      3m 1s
    4. Exploring a font with multiple weights and styles
      9m 41s
    5. Looking at how using a Slab Serif font affects the look and feel of a web page
      5m 42s
  8. 26m 52s
    1. Identifying "Other" Serif fonts
      5m 28s
    2. Choosing "Other" Serif fonts
      10m 12s
    3. Using a font without an italic
      7m 6s
    4. Looking at how using an "Other" Serif font affects the look and feel of a web page
      4m 6s
  9. 20m 34s
    1. Identifying a Transitional Sans Serif font
      4m 29s
    2. Choosing a Transitional Sans Serif font
      5m 14s
    3. Changing styling to improve the readability of text
      6m 31s
    4. Looking at how using a Transitional Sans Serif font affects the look and feel of a web page
      4m 20s
  10. 31m 23s
    1. Identifying a Geometric Sans Serif font
      2m 51s
    2. Choosing a Geometric Sans Serif font
      4m 33s
    3. Downloading a free font licensed for use on the web
      3m 53s
    4. Using Font Squirrel to create an @font-face kit
      5m 12s
    5. Adding the @font-face syntax to the CSS
      2m 57s
    6. Implementing the font family in the CSS
      5m 29s
    7. Changing styling as necessary to improve the readability of the text
      3m 56s
    8. Looking at how using a Geometric Sans Serif font affects the look and feel of a web page
      2m 32s
  11. 21m 3s
    1. Identifying a Humanist Sans Serif font
      4m 18s
    2. Choosing a Humanist Sans Serif font
      7m 23s
    3. Changing styling as necessary to improve the readability of the text
      5m 32s
    4. Looking at how using a Humanist Sans Serif font affects the look and feel of a web page
      3m 50s
  12. 18m 28s
    1. Understanding handwritten fonts
      3m 4s
    2. Choosing a handwritten font
      8m 17s
    3. Looking at how using a handwritten font affects the look and feel of a web page
      7m 7s
  13. 33m 2s
    1. Understanding what to look for when pairing fonts
      6m 58s
    2. Using one font for headings and another for text
      6m 6s
    3. Using different fonts for different kinds of information on the page
      8m 38s
    4. Mixing and matching fonts within text
      3m 48s
    5. Looking at how using two fonts affects the look and feel of a web page
      7m 32s
  14. 23m 34s
    1. Understanding Script fonts
      2m 19s
    2. Choosing a Script font for display use
      8m 12s
    3. Changing styling as necessary to improve the form and placement of letters on the page
      3m 33s
    4. Choosing a second font to pair with the Script Display font
      3m 42s
    5. Incorporating a second font with the Script Display font
      2m 53s
    6. Setting fallback fonts
      2m 55s
  15. 26m 38s
    1. Understanding Wood Type fonts
      3m 25s
    2. Choosing a Wood Type font for display use
      8m 35s
    3. Changing styling as necessary to improve the form and placement of letters on the page
      4m 57s
    4. Choosing a second font to pair with the Wood Type font
      2m 28s
    5. Incorporating a second font with the Wood Type display font
      4m 42s
    6. Setting fallback fonts
      2m 31s
  16. 14m 58s
    1. Choosing an Art Deco font for display use
      2m 45s
    2. Changing styling as necessary to improve the form and placement of letters on the page
      3m 51s
    3. Choosing a second font to pair with the Art Deco font
      2m 37s
    4. Incorporating a second font with the Art Deco display font
      2m 57s
    5. Setting fallback fonts
      2m 48s
  17. 27m 38s
    1. Choosing a Futuristic font for display use
      5m 33s
    2. Applying the Futuristic font and changing the styling as necessary to improve the form and placement of letters on the page
      6m 40s
    3. Choosing a second font to pair with the Futuristic font
      2m 48s
    4. Incorporating a second font with the Futuristic display font
      4m 21s
    5. Setting fallback fonts
      2m 22s
    6. Looking at the set of four ads
      5m 54s
  18. 7m 29s
    1. Exploring resources and goodbye
      7m 29s

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