Monotype remasters classic Gill typeface for digital age

Eric Gill (below) was an interesting cove: printmaker, sculptor, stonecutter and typeface designer for Monotype – with a more than colourful private life to match. His sculptures are dotted over pre-war buildings across London. There’s an excellent Wiki piece here.

Now Monotype is reviving his most famous typeface – Gill Sans which was used by, among others Penguin Books and British Railways, – with three new typeface families: Gill Sans Nova, Joanna Nova and Joanna Sans Nova. The new faces are the work of Monotype designers Steve Matteson, George Ryan, Ben Jones and Terrance Weinzierl and are being shown at an exhibition at the Truman Brewery in East London until November 10.

Here are versions of Gill’s originals (top row) with two of the new faces below.

The release of Gill Kayo (UltraBold) in Monotype Newsletter No. 27 (1936) was certainly not understated

1929 drawings for Gill Sans Italic show in creased slant and forms much closer to those finally released

Joanna's commercial release in 1958 was accompanied by an issue of The Monotype Recorder devoted to Gill's typefaces and lettering








Do new typefaces matter? After all, most people are used to just cherry picking one from their computer. But when communications are getting smaller – thanks to the exponential growth of mobile – creative use of typefaces, and more creative typefaces, are becoming essential.

Steve_MattesonSo we asked Monotype creative type director Steve Matteson (left) why they did it and what role typefaces now play.

1. When you create a typeface what are your priorities?

It depends entirely on the end-use purpose of the typeface. I strive for legibility, but there are times when visual impact is slightly more necessary – such as a display typeface. Typefaces are tools for the designer and, as the saying goes, ‘use the right tool for the job.’ Tools like a Swiss Army knife may be good at a lot of things but not great for one specific thing. The same is true for a typeface, which may grab attention and bring a sense of style and brand, but not work well for setting extensive text.

2. Why did you choose the Gill series to remaster?

Eric Gill was a master craftsman and produced timeless typefaces with the production methods of the day. As digital craftspeople, we strive to produce the best possible designs for the newest technology. Gill’s types can now be best represented in the most contemporary of uses while retaining the integrity of his original ideas. Choosing these typefaces originally designed by Gill for Monotype is also important from a Monotype perspective, where we feel, in a sense, a special custodial duty to do this kind of work. We’re in the unique position of being able to reference a treasure trove of historical materials to remaster great typefaces like the ones Gill designed – and bring them into the 21st century for a new generation of designers.

3. What are the essential requirements of a typeface in the digital age?

The huge variety of ways of viewing typefaces – numerous device screens, billboards, fine print, commercial publications, soft goods – brings a heavy burden on a single style or weight of typeface. Designers need to increase or decrease weights by subtle amounts to achieve the best result, so we’ve built that into these new releases. Designers also require far more language coverage as brands and publishing extend their global reach. Screens have become a greater-than-ever way to consume media and careful attention to how typefaces perform on limited resolution screens is still a huge focus.

4. Can all typefaces work in different languages? Are some better than others?

The Latin script covers a wide range of languages with special accented characters. A text set in Czech is peppered with accented characters whereas English has none. If accents are not designed properly, it can become more challenging to typeset a language because of accents colliding or visually overpowering the page.

5. Are digital creatives fully aware of typeface potential or is there the need for more interest/education?

Education is always important. Some of the software tool manufacturers try to automate decision making for the user, but they do not always make the best choice for every occasion. The more educated the creatives are, the better typographic decisions will be made, and it becomes easier to tell who the great typographers are compared to an average designer. That said, it is clear that education is often lacking as I meet more and more designers who are unaware of OpenType features in fonts or don’t know how to adjust tracking. There is far too much reliance on the design software to make the right decisions.

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