Close as We’ll Ever Get?

Maximilien Vox (again) but this time with ATypI
(so it’s new-ish)


Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI) was founded by Charles Peginot in 1957. Charles will appear later in our series with a classification system with his own foundry, Deberny & Peignot, but for now let’s focus on ATypI and Vox (you already know him as The King).

ATypI is a non-profit reaches over 40 nations. They provide assembly for the typographic community to meet and act together. (They’re going to Barcelona this year. We are not, because we are poor students who cannot just jet off to Spain on a whim. Sponsorship? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? We’ll live tweet and send pics ;) We’d tell you we were joking, except we’re really not.)

Anyway, the Vox ATypI Classification is based on the 1954 iteration of the Vox System. Upon its release, this system was widely regarded as the standard in typeface classification. By 1967, it was adopted and modified by the British Standards Classification of Typefaces. Even today the ATypI system is regarded as the standard by most typographic scholars anal enough (like us) to care about the standardization of a typeface classification system.

And we know what you’ve been thinking this whole time: “Didn’t we just cover Maximilien Vox?”

Yes, but. We promise this one is different.

This system is an improvement to Vox’s first take at a classification system. The Vox/ATypI collaboration divides all of the categories into three main classes; Classicals, Moderns and Calligraphics, which is, may we say: a bold choice. Using Calligraphics to head the Display category is misleading, because not all of the sub categories are inherently calligraphic in nature.

The Lineals section gets four much needed sub-classifications the terms for which go on to become the norm in Sans Serif sub-classification pretty much across the board. (This is the only thing we type nerds are ever going to agree on, maybe besides Helvetica is better than Arial, duh.)

Grotesque: (like Berthod’s Akzidenz Grotesque) were the original sans-serif, originating in the nineteenth century. They, therefore, have some holdover from their pre-decessors, the Serif typeface, and they have some degree of contrast between thick and thin strokes.

Geometric: types first appeared in the 1920s (see Erbar). They are classified by a geometric construction (who’s surprised). They left behind all of their historical connotations. They were the most mechanical of all typefaces, made to look as if they were created by a machine (or engineer, but what’s the difference, really?)

Neo-Grotesque: came about in the 1950s with the introduction of Helvetica. As such, the Neo-Grotesque was, in a large part, controlled by Swiss typographers. In the beginning, they were used a display faces. Their stroke contrast is minimal, the letters set wider and the x-height is taller. Many Neo-Grotesque faces, like Helvetica have been drawn with a great degree of caring weights and widths to accommodate for such display purposes.

Humanist: sans-serifs drawn from the classical calligraphic hand. there is great variation between the thick and thin, and these letters are often informed by the Roman letter. The most celebrated Humanist Sans is Gill Sans by resident crazy person (and brilliant type-designer) Eric Gill.

ATypI continues with the tradition started in Scrift Muss Passen to separate the Classicals (commonly referred to as Old Style Serifs) from the Moderns, now sub-divided into Didone and Mechanistic (Slab Serif), which is a helpful distinction. But then can’t we make an argument to sub-divide the Slab Serifs must like we’ve done with the classicals? (It’s a never ending cycle).

The Vox/ATypI Classicals section is different than the original too. Our sub-categories are now Humanist, Geralde and Transtional (a category we maintain was invented entirely to explain Baskerville).

As far as the closest system we have to standard, we commend Vox/ATypI for their effort. But in our tireless search for perfection, we must continue on.

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