P3: Type & Hierarchy, Part Two


Typeface Name : Gill Sans

Typeface Designer: Eric Gill

Origin: United Kingdom

Classification: Sans Serif

Year: 1928

Gill Sans Font Set

Having helped Edward Johnston with his iconic typeface, Johnston Sans, Eric Gill set out to create the perfect, legible typeface, since he was not completely satisfied with Johnston’s work. Drawing from Johnston’s work, Gill experimented on improvements after doing hand-painted lettering for a bookshop sign in his hometown, Bristol. The font was noticed by Stanley Morison for its commercial potential. Being a Monotype advisor, Morison commissioned Gill to develop a font that could compete against a newer wave of German geometric sans-serif fonts such as Futura and Erbar. The font he created was released commercially by Monotype in 1928 as Gill Sans (the “Helvetica of England”).

With the lettering based on classic roman proportions, Gills Sans had a less mechanical feel than its geometric contemporaries. Initially recommended for advertising and headline use, once the public got used to reading sans-serif it was more prevalent as body text. Major users include the English Railway Systems, BBC (logo), Penguin Publishing, Tommy Hilfiger as well as system font in Mac and Microsoft Computer.

Gill Sans has many interesting features — Eric Gill blended Johnston (another typeface, developed by Edward Johnston), classic serif typefaces, and Roman inscriptions. The proportions of Gill Sans are supposedly somewhat Roman in the uppercase, while traditional serif in lower. The holes/apertures are wider in Gill Sans fonts than other serif fonts, while the “a” remains in a double-story style, unlike the “a”s of geometric sans-serifs. Furthermore, the “a” narrows at the top of its loops, unlike most other sans-serifs. The Gill Sans “O” is almost a perfect circle and the “M” is quite geometric, as it seems to be formed from a square with the middle strokes meeting at the center. The “t” also has a curve, unlike Futura, a font that Gill Sans was designed to compete against. Gill´s alphabet is more classical in proportion and contains what have become known as his signature flared capital R and eyeglass lowercase g. Gill Sans is a humanist sans serif with some geometric touches in its structures. It also has a distinctly British feel. Legible and modern though sometimes cheerfully idiosyncratic, the lighter weights work for text, and the bolder weights make for compelling display typography. Gill Sans used “double-story” design for “a” and “g” instead of the “single-story” design, which was more commonly used for serif than sans-serif. Another characteristic is that its italic style is different from its regular style, where most sans-serif just slant the letters for their italic style. It was also known for its inconsistency among different weights.

Originally Gill designed this typeface as an uppercase set. The lowercase characters were added in 1929 and having spent much of the 1930s developing further weights and variations, Gill Sans now represents one of his most widely used typefaces. The Pro version includes the original 17 cuts plus a few new cuts. All have been extended in glyph sets from the Standard collection.