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Typographic Differentiation: Type Classification


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Type classification

Let's look more closely at some shapes and other details, which can help us categorize typefaces, beyond just serif and sans serif. Almost all typefaces belong to a recognized tradition. In order to make informed decisions about their use, we need to locate typefaces within their historical context. Although there's no single universal system of type classification, I would like to introduce you to the basic most widely recognized categories of type. The first Roman serif types are called Oldstyle. They were created between the late 15th century and the mid 18th century.

Here are some examples, notice how they have low contrast between thick and thin strokes, and they have thick bracketed serifs. You will also notice the long senders and descenders, the parts of the letters that extend above and below the body height, and within the body they have smallish spaces. The next major category of type is known as Transitional. Transitional represents the stylistic bridge between Oldstyle and the next category MODERN. You can identify transitional typefaces by their sharper flatters serifs.

You'll also see a tighter bracketed curve and the stress in the curved letters is more vertical. Here is where we can see the access known as the stress, it is an imaginary line connecting the thinnest parts of an O. In Transitional typefaces, there is a higher contrast between thick and thin strokes. The change in appearance from Oldstyle to Transitional occurred in the mid 18th century, partly due to advances in printing and font making technology.

Modern typefaces made their first appearance in the late 18th century. We can easily recognize Modern typefaces, noticed the extreme contrast between thick and thin strokes and the ultra thin un-bracketed serifs, which are horizontal, or nearly horizontal. Slab Serif, the next major category also emerged in the mid 18th century. These fonts were useful for advertising and signage, because of their weight and strong presence. In the Slab Serif category, serifs are generally un-bracketed or square and the main characteristic of Slab Serif is the lack of contrast between strokes.

That means that the thicks and thins are of equal or almost equal weight. In the late 1800s Sans Serif typefaces also evolved to meet the needs of advertising. There are three main categories of Sans Serif typefaces. The first is called Grosteque, which is also known as Gothic. Grotesques have slight variations in stroke width. The letters are fairly wide and the rounded letters are often a bit squared off, if you look closely. There are two other distinct kinds of Sans Serif typefaces that you should know about, Humanist Sans Serif have the proportions of classical Roman letters.

If you look closely, you'll see some of the proportions of the hand-lettered Roman forms. The last category of Sans Serif are the easiest to spot, they are based on the Geometric forms of the circle, square, and triangle. Geometric Sans Serif reflects the modernist movement of the early 20th century. Futura, Avant-Garde, and Kable are some of the most widely known Geometric Sans Serifs. So now we have looked at specific details in the groups of major serif and sans serif categories in order to organize, and identify them, or classify them.

They are other typefaces more newly designed, which follow the style of a type classification, so they are also included in that category, they are known as Revivals. So, next time you're at a movie theater watching a film's title sequence with a group of friends, you will be able to impress them by saying just check out that Geometric Sans Serif. More important, understanding type classification will help you decide which typefaces to use for your project.

Type classification
Video duration: 4m 8s 2h 23m Beginner

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Type classification provides you with in-depth training on Design. Taught by Ina Saltz as part of the Foundations of Typography

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