Our Favorite Typefaces of 2012

fonts-of-the-year-2012I’ll be honest. When December rolls around and I ask a group of smart, articulate font users and makers to each select their favorite release of the year, not everyone rushes back with their pick. And when they do, they don’t always have much to say about it. Some years are stronger than others. 2012 was a strong year. The rich diversity in new type design has never been so evident.

I got so many responses this time around, many with texts that were longer and more in-depth than ever before, that I admittedly fell behind in the editing and production of the list. I hope you’ll find it to be worth the wait.

If you need an entry point, might I suggest:

Matthew Butterick’s review of Eskapade, in which he explains the difference between originality and surprise;

Sébastien Morlighem on the unusual stencil family that is Bery;

Indra Kupferschmid on Stan, with history on the unusual designs that inspired it;

Eben Sorkin on Turnip, Typographica’s new text face;

Catherine Griffiths, our newest contributor, on FF ThreeSix;

Florian Hardwig, who offers not only praise, but a bit of critique for Axia;

Shoko Mugikura and Tim Ahrens on the complex beauty of Quintet;

or Patric King’s “cocaine-and-vodka” take on Xtreem, dripping with references to ’80s pop culture.

Brief Thoughts on the State of Type

For the font market, 2012 was a year in which burgeoning trends matured into permanent shifts.

The most obvious example of lasting change is in type for the web. Professional webfonts were available in 2011 — primarily via services hosting previously released font families — but buyers can now expect most new fonts to be issued in both desktop and web formats. And some typefaces, like Turnip RE and JAF Bernini Sans, were designed from the start with screen performance in mind. (Unfortunately, mobile publishing is still left behind, as phone and tablet developers struggle to find clear licensing options for embedding fonts in apps. While there are some exceptions, most buyers still need to contact foundries for this kind of license. Look for this to evolve in 2013.)

The independent foundry has also cemented its place as the new foundation of the industry. Most of this year’s selections are from very small shops, several of which are entirely new to the market. It’s also significant that, in addition to offering their fonts through retailers like FontShop, MyFonts, and the newly revived Fonts.com, most of these indie foundries now sell directly to customers through their own sites. In some cases they have eschewed outside distribution altogether. The “majors” have not simply laid down, however. Monotype, Linotype, Font Bureau, FontFont, and H&FJ are all represented in this year’s list, each with releases that are remarkably characteristic of their respective brands.

Stylistically, no single classification or genre dominated the selections this year. This is a good thing. It indicates that me-too-ism is limited and that designers are open to a variety of styles. If you cast your net wide across all areas of graphic design, that trend for diversity is confirmed by today’s practical typography, too. Speaking of Fonts In Use, we are now adding links to that site from Typographica reviews, so you can see how the typefaces perform in the real world.

There are plenty of open questions about how fonts are marketed these days, but I am very optimistic about the proficiency and creativity of type design as a whole. The Golden Age of Type lives on, and it’s growing up.

Thanks to Chris Hamamoto for his continual design and dev prowess. Tânia Raposo also joined the team this year, designing many of the specimen images that represent the selections (now double-density for Retina-level displays). I’m also very grateful to Tamye Riggs for copyediting help, to Laura Serra for production assistance, and all the contributors for their insightful reviews.

The “Type of 2012” title graphic features Stan, Signalist, Trio Grotesk, and Bery Tuscan.

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