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Saab or Dodgeball?

Gill Sans. I see designers using it all the time and I smile and say, “Oh yeah, Gill Sans.” The smile though is a fake smile, like when I have to pose for a picture for more than 2 seconds.

To be fair, Saab does a fine job with it as their sole typeface. They use just one weight and actually make it seem very premium, however Gill Sans is paired with the Saab reputation and great beauty-shots. Saab makes me almost like Gill Sans. Saab makes Gill Sans sexy.

So why don’t I like Gill Sans? To start, try typing in a lower case “b” and “d” in Light, Regular and Bold ( I’ll do it for you.) The inconsistencies aren’t even consistent. I know, you are sitting at your computer trying it yourself, thinking that your version is correct. It is not. This alone should be enough for you to never use it again, but the list of problems goes on and on. I have also always wondered what the Extra Bold and Ultra Bold weights could be used for and recently discovered the answer. Dodgeball.

What do you think of when you see Gill Sans? Saab or DodgeBall?

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PUBLISHED ON Jul.28.2004 BY David Weinberger
monkeyinabox’s comment is:

Gil Sans. Yes, I have one project where the owner selected and used Gil Sans for all the printed marketing material. Of course when the website was created it had to have..GIL SANS as well. The best thing about this job is I never have to even think for a second, which font I need. It's Gil Sans or Gil Sans, or if I'm daring, Gil Sans.

On Jul.28.2004 at 10:11 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Gill Sans can have an elegant neutrality if used correctly; if it's too big a point size it starts getting clunky, but at 12, 16 or 24 points it can look rather spiffy. The ultra bold weight should not be used at all, unless you want to purposely portray dumbness, like Dodgeball.

I helped a friend design a site about a year ago, they used one of the light Gill Sans for their logo, which is not a bad thing until you letterspace the shit out of it. So I used Gill Sans medium or bold, can't remember, all caps to offset and contrast the logo. Not the greatest solution but at least something that makes Gill Sans (and me) look good.

Gill Sans is OK, it has some horrible quirks in the lowercase. And I can't stand the uppercase M but other than that, there are worse, overused typefaces out there.

On Jul.28.2004 at 10:41 AM
wally’s comment is:

as far as i know, eric gill designed the roman and italics only. pretty sure he didn't touch the bold. positive he had nothing to do with the light, extra bold, and (god forbid) gill kayo. eek.

it was another way for foundries to sell more type - produce more weights of fonts that are guaranteed to sell. as long as it has the gill name on it, they know people will buy it. check out caslon open face.

dreadful as gs extra bold is, it is as appropriate for dodgeball as gs roman is for saab. proposterously humorous vs. refined and elegant.

On Jul.28.2004 at 10:44 AM
Tom Dolan’s comment is:

I just can't get mad at Gill Sans (tho I never use it) for two reasons: 1) Eric Gill was a genius, and anyone with a love of typography should read his writing. I don't love every face Benguiat designed either by I love the guy's mind. And 2) the London tube. I suggest whenever you get disgusted with a horrid use of Gill Sans, to close your eyes and imagine a charming moment in that wonderful city. Works for me.

On Jul.28.2004 at 10:50 AM
erica’s comment is:

i've always loved gill sans, but had never had the extra or ultra bold weights available until recently. i was HORRIFIED. the few little things that annoyed me about gill sans bold (like the lowercase i) are magnified in those heavier weights.

i can easily (and desperately want to) believe that eric gill had nothing to do with those hideous distortions of a very nice typeface.

On Jul.28.2004 at 11:09 AM
Hero Aban’s comment is:

I've always felt that Gills Sans is an uneven typeface and that there was something not-quite-right, but I never realized the extent until now!

Not as visually disonant as Arial or Comic Sans, Gill Sans is nonetheless disconcerting. The inconsistencies within a single weight create unappealing textures in columns of text. Reading such passages sometimes feels like driving a gravel road with boulders and potholes.

From the moment I saw Gill Sans used as body text by fellow students in college, I shudder when I see it used with less discretion than Saab's designers. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Gill Sans usage is a lot more heavy handed; it doesn't take a whole lot of Gill Sans to trigger my distaste.

On Jul.28.2004 at 11:17 AM
Hero Aban’s comment is:

After reading the other comments, I wonder if it's just the digital versions of Gill Sans that are uneven.

Was it created before electronic typesetting? If so, I would be curious to see whether the original roman and oblique flow more smoothly.

On Jul.28.2004 at 11:26 AM
marian’s comment is:

Ha ha! great post, David. And really, I have to hand it to you for so rationally denigrating the typeface. I have never noticed those absurd irregularities (except of course that the Extra and Ultra Bold weights are steroid-addled to the point of incompatibility).

I despise Gill Sans, but it's a personal association—it was the favourite typeface of my evil ex-boss (from years and years ago). His use of it was horrible. I can't say how many times I've thought "Hmmm, maybe a little Gill Sans would be appropriate here," only to invoke the vision and the spirit of one of his nastily designed books and throwing me back in time 15 years to when I was a typesetter for same. I have not once been able to bring myself to use it in my independent career.


However ... SAAB has handled it beautifully, I must say. Like you, I almost like it.

And the London Underground—yes. It's as though that's its rightful place and should never be transported from there.

I dunno, maybe it just takes a real pro to use it properly. Maybe it's the pork chop of typefaces: abhorrent to those of us used to the solid little mass of white meat our mothers served; transcendent in the hands of a chef.

As for Dodgeball, was there ever a childhood game more targeted to prey on the weak and bookish?

On Jul.28.2004 at 11:33 AM
Jim’s comment is:

I have to say I am a Gill Sans fan. In fact, I'm using it for some graphics on a website for a client right now — so when I started reading this post, I went, Oh no! What am I doing wrong? But then I relaxed, because I already think any weight of Gill Sans above Regular looks ridiculous, so hopefully I can avoid that pothole.

The funny thing is, when I showed the client a graphic using some GS Light Italic, they said it looked weird and incorrect — forcing me to suppress my desire to exclaim that Gill Sans has one of the nicer sans-serif italics around. I'm convincing myself that was just a screen anti-aliasing problem....

On Jul.28.2004 at 11:41 AM
dave’s comment is:

We’ll show the haters.

Gill Kayo doesn’t get more pretty than when it's paired with Century Gothic. See what I mean.

On Jul.28.2004 at 11:44 AM
Tan’s comment is:

I'm with you, Marian — I hate Gill Sans. I've rarely seen it used well, and never understood the exhalted status bestowed upon it.

Saab's use is ok, but I just keep thinking how much better it would look in another typeface.

Can someone use it well? Sure. But you know, life's too short and there are too many good typefaces out there for anyone to have to endure Gill Sans.

I also have similar complaints with Frutiger, but that's another story as they say...

On Jul.28.2004 at 11:53 AM
JonSel’s comment is:

And the London Underground—yes. It's as though that's its rightful place

Gill Sans is a cousin of the Underground typeface, designed by Edward Johnston. Johnston was Gill's teacher, so that explains a bit.

The closed bottom of the lowercase 'b' and 'd' are Gill trademarks. Check out Perpetua and Joanna to see the same thing in action. That suggests to me that the Roman and Italic are the only true Gill-designed weights of Gill Sans. It's quite possible that someone added weights in the phototype age.

On Jul.28.2004 at 12:09 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Hold on there kids. Gill Sans is not the typeface for the London Underground.

Edward Johnston designed the face for the Underground in 1915.

Eric Gill studied and apprenticed under Johnston and based Gill Sans on Johnston's work.

Gill Sans originally had 24 different weights/variations and has slightly different proportions than Johnston's Underground face.

Historical comments can be found here.

On Jul.28.2004 at 12:10 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

...and for those who hate Gill Sans and Frutiger — remember, it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools.


On Jul.28.2004 at 12:13 PM
kev’s comment is:

Tan, you're breaking my heart. Frutiger has to be my all time favorite face, and Gill Sans has got to be up there in the top five, somewhere.

Eric Gill once said: (something to the effect of)

"[Gill sans] is a good typeface, but it would be better with serifs."

Which has always made me want to redesign it with serifs.

I think I must second the motion that all the problems with Gill Sans listed above are not a result of anything that Eric Gill did.

Maybe someone needs to design a Gill Sans Neue. I'm sure there are plenty of sketches and original spec sheets and things like that that would make it worth attempting.

On Jul.28.2004 at 12:15 PM
amanda’s comment is:

This is such a nerdy design discussion, I love it.

Like any inexperienced designer, I once liked fonts that I now find very yucky. For me one of those fonts was Gill Sans. Its amazing how working with only two typefaces in an inhouse position for a couple years can make you hate a font family.

Frutiger on the other hand is like an old pal that always is there when you need him. I love condensed these days.

Back to the inexperienced designer thing - I have fond memories of a crit session in school where one of my classmates tried to rationalize why she used hobo on an editorial spread.


On Jul.28.2004 at 12:39 PM
Nary’s comment is:

i am curious to hear what some of your favorite typefaces are. what always works in a pinch, what is brought out only on special occasions, and what others are most hated by you?

On Jul.28.2004 at 12:42 PM
Paul’s comment is:

When Gill Sans and I first started dating I was really smitten with her. She was really quite cute (that italic lowercase p always made me smile), knew how to have fun (ooh, a little lowercase letterspacing, huh? naughty girl!) but could also clean up nicely for more serious occasions (in all caps she could be formal without being stuffy).

But after a while, like so many relationships, those same traits that made me love her originally seemed to limit and define her later. Not to mention the fact that once I'd fallen for her I began to notice that she had been with so many before me that her sincerity came in to question. And then I began to actually loathe little details, like the lowecase a, and how she was just so damn inconsistent...ugh. it was over. Life's too short, there are other faces in the case, y'know?

Anyway, we ran into each other last week and, I have to admit, she still looks good. But I'm over it, and I can be happy for her to have found so many others who can love her for who she is, not for who she will never be.

On Jul.28.2004 at 12:42 PM
Tom Dolan’s comment is:

My bad on the Underground, I feel shame. Now I can hate Gill Sans with a new found brightness though, and for that I am glad.

On Jul.28.2004 at 12:56 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Mark, if I was a carpenter, a font would be more like a finish or textile I apply, not a tool. So to me, Gill Sans is more like shag carpeting or polished brass accents — stuff that has lost its usefulness or beauty. Some things have their time, and then it's over.

But if you still embrace the look — hey, each to his own I say. I simply choose to use different materials.


On Jul.28.2004 at 01:00 PM
vibranium’s comment is:

I see:


On Jul.28.2004 at 01:06 PM
Jim’s comment is:

I, too, am good buddies with Frutiger. To respond to Nary: One face I became rather taken with recently is Chaparral. And, though I hesitate to say this in front of some, I use Rotis (both serif and sans) for my resume. I actually think it looks rather svelte. (Though there are plenty of uses of it that I dislike.)

I don't know if this is a larger trend, but it seems that everyone in the GD department at my school is infatuated with Scala (again, both serif and sans varieties). I've seen just about enough of it, personally.

On Jul.28.2004 at 01:09 PM
Paul’s comment is:


arrrgh! the horror of horizontal scaling!

(boy, this really is geeky, isn't it! fun, though.)

On Jul.28.2004 at 01:10 PM
Colleen’s comment is:

5{ s hilarious. I have to admit that enjoy the look of Gill Sans Roman and even Light, and they work when I'm in the need for a youthful-looking sans serif and want to break from the Futura mold now and then...

Currently our corporate guidelines dictate Minion Pro, so I am ok with that.

A huge question exists in my mind about Gill Sans... at my previous studio, it was banned from all work because our principal believed Eric Gill to be a pedafile. I have not been able to find ANYTHING to support that claim, has anyone heard of this????

I'd love to know the truth.

On Jul.28.2004 at 01:12 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Colleen — it looks like your previous principal, while principled, believes in what Paul Rand called magic and superstition when it comes to typeface selection.

His historical suspicions seem to be correct:

From this site (scroll down to April 16):

In a 1989 biography it was disclosed that Gill, who died in 1940, having converted to Catholicism while sculpting the stations in 1913, had had incestuous relationships with two of his sisters and two of his three daughters.

Amanda — it's always been a personal goal to reinstate — or perhaps, establish — Hobo's reputation. No descenders... what a concept.

Tan — I'm shocked. Are you admitting that you never begin projects by considering how much copy you have, how many characters per line, type size, x-height, etc.? I suppose I then could assume you also 'flow in content' (photos, illustrations, etc.) into areas left blank during the 'ideation' stage?

On Jul.28.2004 at 01:50 PM
Patrick C’s comment is:

Here we go...a year and a half ago I set the body text of an entire contemporary art exhibition catalogue in........GILL SANS!

For headings etc. I used a different face. I will not say that the catalogue is a work of typographic genius—it is not—but I took a lot of time and care in setting the text and it is actually very pleasing to the eye and easy to read. And it seems to suit the artist and her work very well.

I still do not like Gill Sans and plan on never using it for anything ever again.

Frutiger, on the other hand, has been a constant friend for many years. Perhaps a little bland for the work I'm doing lately, but very useful in the past.

I'm also very fond of Avenir, which has become my "deffault" face for much work.

On Jul.28.2004 at 01:56 PM
James’s comment is:

In response to Nary, I find I am often using futura as my go-to sans-serif, especially for a good bit of type, but not editorial. I often worry that this is just too pedestrian of a type face though, especially for branding purposes, but I'm just unable to tear away (perhaps with time). I've always liked gill-sans for a small bit of type, but must agree with Hero Aban’s notice of wierd textures in columns. I'm a little surprised that there are so many frutiger fans, but another look is swaying me a bit, I hope the power of suggestion on here for a newbie isn't too strong.

On Jul.28.2004 at 01:59 PM
kev’s comment is:

There are reports that Eric Gill was a pedophile. He was also very religious. These two are not mutually exclusive, as we all know. He did name Joanna after one of his daughters, so, perhaps he was a pedophile AND into incest.

Perhaps this is so, perhaps not, but that doesn't change the fact that Gill Sans is excellent. And he's dead. I could imagine not using something Zuzana Licko designed because it turns out she uses the money to support Al-Qaeda.

Could anyone offer some reasons that AREN'T something like "I used to love Gill Sans, but I used it so much I now hate it"?

Or, that it's overused. So is Helvetica Neue, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone.

Sure, Gill Sans may be inconsistent, but for the most part, I think these inconsistencies are on purpose. Consistency is overrated in a typeface anyway. It hampers legibility. (Read some Frutiger, he'll convince you.)

On Jul.28.2004 at 02:00 PM
Sebastian’s comment is:

"there's no such thing as a bad typeface, only badly used ones"

— Phil Baines

for Gill Sans (various weights, sizes + colours) used w/ flair and to great effect please check Derek Birdsall + John Morgan's redesign of the COMMON WORSHIP books for the Church of England (you're gonna have to search for this, tried to find a link w/ pics but no luck, sorry [you should hold the thing to really get it anyway])

mr Baines himself has done justice to the face on several occasions, most notably in 'Clear Enough to Read' published in Emigre 18 (no pics on the web i could find [again], 'fraid's another library job)

On Jul.28.2004 at 02:01 PM
kev’s comment is:

One last question for all you Gill Sans haters out there:

Is it just Gill Sans, or do you dislike humanist sans serifs in general?

On Jul.28.2004 at 02:09 PM
Rick’s comment is:

Until very recently, I worked for someone who actually used the phrase, "Gill Sans is beautiful. It's like poetry"

Y'know, there was a very suprising lack of workplace violence after that. I just couldn't believe it.

Then again, this was also someone who used Comic Sans because, "...it looks like handwriting!"

On Jul.28.2004 at 02:26 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Is it just Gill Sans, or do you dislike humanist sans serifs in general?

Very good question Kev. And one that I can relate because I don't care for humanist sans. I have never ever been able to make myself use Optima for example. (Although the new Optima by Linotype makes me quite giddy).

I don't like Gill Sans because it doesn't have enough "presence", even in its bold version it seems wimpy. For use in body text it is too wide and for use as display or headlines, as Tan said, there are far many other typefaces that work better.

> "there's no such thing as a bad typeface, only badly used ones"

Sorry Sebastian, nothing personal, but that is nothing but crock o' shit. Seriously, that is like saying there are no bad — I dunno — tomatoes only bad cooks. Or there are no guilty people in jail only bad lawyers. There is such a thing as a bad typeface. I would not classify Gill as one, but there are SO many others that fit the descrption of bad.

On Jul.28.2004 at 02:37 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:


On Jul.28.2004 at 02:53 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Sorry Sebastian, nothing personal, but that is nothing but crock o' shit. Seriously, that is like saying there are no bad — I dunno — tomatoes only bad cooks. Or there are no guilty people in jail only bad lawyers. There is such a thing as a bad typeface.

Sorry Armin, nothing personal, but that is nothing but a crock o' shit. Seriously, all things have meaning within context. I'm pretty sure you're not one to listen to 12-tone music ala Sch�nberg, but in the context of a Keith Jarrett solo 'chromatics' sure sound sweet.

Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand... I can make any face work.

...and I bet that Mario Batali could teach us all something about bad tomatoes, and Ron Kuby could enlighten us about people in jail.

On Jul.28.2004 at 02:59 PM
Tim Swan’s comment is:

Hating a typeface is ridiculous. To say you hate Gill Sans but love Frutiger is like saying that you love blue but hate red. Really, who gives a damn about subjective opinion. Each has its use and each, when used well, can be beautiful. The inconsistencies in the face are purposeful to avoid the machine-like consistency of a font like Futura; the tails lend a grace; the uppercase R is beautiful; the lower case g is sublime. Remember, consistency is the hobgobblin of little minds.

On Jul.28.2004 at 03:00 PM
jake’s comment is:

Right on Armin, as I was going down the comments I started thinking about Optima nova. I don't know what it is about that typeface, I just can't stop thinking about plunking down the money for it. Maybe it's the "new and improved" part. My buddy tried to push the Optima that came with my Powerbook, I almost punched him. ;)

I used Gill Sans in college a bit, but I haven't since, though I think that's more because at work, I'm not looked at as an actual designer, or at home, I don't make enough money freelancing to buy entire font families willy nilly.

It never bothered me though. I guess that could be because I spend too much time on the interweb and only get to use a handful of fonts regularly...

On Jul.28.2004 at 03:04 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Gill Sans

is THE default typeface of the UK. Sometimes it is remarkably elegant. Mostly it's like the new Saab. But it is used & used & used & used. These days it just makes me tired.


Armin, look again. The uppercase M is excellent.

The Ultra question mark is the coolest thing I've seen all day.

Eric Sans is a lovely tribute.


is not sexy. Saab used to be sexy but then GM bought Saab, peeled the skin off an old 900 & strrreeetched it over the bloated chassis of a Vauxhall/Opel Vectra. It doesn't matter how fast the Aero goes - it is still a Fat, Ugly Caricature of a once-beautiful car.

On Jul.28.2004 at 03:36 PM
erik spiekermann’s comment is:

Maybe someone needs to design a Gill Sans Neue. I'm sure there are plenty of sketches and original spec sheets and things like that that would make it worth attempting.

Check out Jeremy Tankard's Bliss: type/bliss.html or Volker Kuester's Today Sans at www.fontshop.com. (sorry, the actual link would take 2 pages)

Bliss has all but taken over from Gill as the type of the British establishment (Gill was the typeface for British Rail well into the 70s, and is pretty much the default on a lot of signage that pre-dates the introduction of Jock Kinneir's Transport Alphabet in the mid-60s), and Today Sans is a humanist Sans in the spirit of Gill by a typedesigner who came from the East-german tradition, which was more based on handwriting than the technically more advanced scene in the West.

Not sure whether we need more of those "New", "Neue", "Nova" or "Next" faces. While a systematic family like Univers needed a re-drawing if only to take it back to its origins from very bad first-generation digital versions (ie Adobe, ca. 1984), and Frutiger needed subtle editing, faces like Gill are interesting mainly for their idiosyncracies. Whether you like the extrabold or even Kayo weights, what sets them apart from other faces is the fact that they take the basic premise of the original design and take it where a mathematical extrapolation wouldn't. Like it or not, but that's what distinguishes all the pre-digital fonts from their modern cousins. Paul Renner designed just a few weights of his Futura between 1927 and 1935, and then a few more in the 50s, but the people at the Bauer foundry kept adding weights as their customers demanded them. Look closely, and you'll find many design inconsistencies and gaps between the weights. Not appropriate for a large Corporate Design programme these days, but for those we have our new typefaces. And even the ones that i have been guilty of (FF Meta, FF Unit, FF Info and ITC Officina amongst others) have not entirely been constructed with more than a few weights and versions from the beginning. I'd rather see the hand of the designer than perfect mathematical curves.

Gill's pedophile leanings were legendary. In fact, he was known to shag anything female. When Fred Goudy made his famous remarks that "men who would letterspace lowercase would shag sheep" he could have been referring to the old tradition (or was it merely a habit born from necessity?) prevalent amongst British sheep farmers. When my publisher at Adobe Press thought up the title for my book with them back in 1992, he chickened (!) and changed "shag" into "steal".

On Jul.28.2004 at 03:58 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Enough funniness for me....In response to Kev's remark that he'd never use a font by Zuzana Licko of Emigre because of some absurd accusation of support for Al-Qaeda: That's an ignorant statement to just slide in there, sport. Why would you say such a thing? Whatever her political views, she's a fine typographer and that comment is beneath contempt. Sheeeesh!

On Jul.28.2004 at 04:07 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

I think Jeff Gill should have the final word.

I do believe Doyald Young has a variant of the quote above: "There are no bad typefaces, just bad designers." But he does sport an affinity for humanist faces, and shares that statement with a smile.

Sorry, but the uppercase M is pretty useless. It seems to need a dose of Viagra.

On Jul.28.2004 at 04:24 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Seriously, all things have meaning within context.

So there are absolutely no bad typefaces? None whatsoever? Let me define bad by that (typeface) which is poorly constructed, it has uneven color when set, its shapes obfuscate readability (and I'm not talking about all that 90s shit), its various weights don't match from one to the other. These are all objective reasons. So there are none of those? Every single typeface ever created is "good"? With or without context? That's some crock o' shit Mark. Nothing personal.

Why the aversion to deeming things as bad? It's a fucked up world, some things are bad, some things are good. And many things are not ethereally bound to context.

> "men who would letterspace lowercase would shag sheep"

I didn't know that was the original saying… it makes more sense than stealing.

On Jul.28.2004 at 04:32 PM
Sebastian’s comment is:

"but that is nothing but crock o' shit. Seriously, that is like saying there are no bad — I dunno — tomatoes only bad cooks. Or there are no guilty people in jail only bad lawyers. There is such a thing as a bad typeface. I would not classify Gill as one, but there are SO many others that fit the descrption of bad."

The most atrocious looking faces have been put to birlliant use (Yes! Even Comic Sans!) and some brilliantly designed faces hace been used inappropriately, without knowledge and in the worng situation. Yes there is a such a thing as bad tomatoes. but when it comes to setting type you could say that some faces are harder to use or have a more restricted palette than others but you can't that they're are intrisically bad. You can't look at a typeface outside the context in which it is being used when you make a judgement, and sometimes your favorite face will just be wrong for a given job. When considerd in isolation the features of a face may seem tto be an insult to everything that you consider aesthetically dear but one day they will be precisely what you are looking for. I think that this is what baines meant (surely not without irony) when he dropped that one on me early on in my college days and to my knowledge he still sticks to that

On Jul.28.2004 at 04:33 PM
erik spiekermann’s comment is:

Pesky: read again what Kev wrote: I could imagine not using something Zuzana Licko designed because it turns out she uses the money to support Al-Qaeda.

It is, admittedly, not a very clear use of the conditional, but he never *implies* that Zuzana does support Al-Quaeda. he just writes bad English. You should not follow a conditional statements (I could...) by a factual phrase (it turns out...) when that second part is, in fact, also meant as a conditional statement. While English is not my first language, i would have written something like (..if it ever turned out that she...): But that still makes it a pretty dangerous sentence in the present climate of hysterical accusations.

On Jul.28.2004 at 04:38 PM
Don’s comment is:

I wasn't necessarily agreeing with Doyald - just passing along a quote that always gets a reaction.

Erik is just the guy to do Gill Sans Neue. I might buy it, and more importantly, I could then use it. Until then my set o'Gill will likely gather dust until some obscure need arises.

(true confessions) I did use it for a floral company once upon a time.

On Jul.28.2004 at 04:39 PM
Don’s comment is:

Every single typeface ever created is "good"? With or without context?

Isn't the designer responsible for context? Which might imply that Doyald's assumption is correct ;)?

On Jul.28.2004 at 04:43 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

>I think Jeff Gill should have the final word.

Going through a pdf file from the London Underground site shows that the font used is New Johnston, not Gill Sans. Yes, it's a subtle difference, but that's what being a graphic designer is all about, n'est pas?

I don't know how to properly load this — paste the following URL in your browser:


And since Jeff brought up the post GM Saab, those interested might want to http://www.azcentral.com/class/marketplace/cars/0612wheels12saabintro.html" target="_blank"> read this. After we signed the lease on our third Saab yesterday, the salesman showed us the 9-2X — a.k.a. the Saabaru. GM will probably sell a bunch of them, but to this Saab lover, it's not what I've come to expect. Perhaps this is worth another branding melee that's become so characteristic of Speak Up.

>Let me define bad by that (typeface) which is poorly constructed, it has uneven color when set, its shapes obfuscate readability (and I'm not talking about all that 90s shit), its various weights don't match from one to the other. These are all objective reasons. So there are none of those? Every single typeface ever created is "good"? With or without context? That's some crock o' shit Mark. Nothing personal.

Armin — in the music industry, we call that a 'display face'. I'm not trying to be politically correct in my hesitation in calling certain fonts good or bad, but perversely open-minded. Sometimes using the absolute worst, most inappropriate font can be the most appropriate thing you can do.

Hence: Hobo

On Jul.28.2004 at 04:48 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

When I wrote that Gill Sans is the UK's default typeface. I was not referring the the London Underground. There are several other parts of the UK. Most are above ground. Most are outside London. Most are serviced by tiny design studios & little printers. Most have never heard of New Johnston. Most use Gill Sans on nearly a daily basis. Come visit me. I'll show you.

I would not be upset if a large fireball from space burned GM off the face of the planet.

On Jul.28.2004 at 05:04 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Erik, you're probably right that it was a case of mistaken analogy.

On Jul.28.2004 at 05:09 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Jeff — down boy! I'm just trying to clarify our colleague Don Julio's comments. But since you're inviting us to visit: any good hotels nearby?

>I would not be upset if a large fireball from space burned GM off the face of the planet.

...as long as Saab remained; I hope.

On Jul.28.2004 at 05:12 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Mr Kingsley, Bed & Breakfasts are the way to go in North Wales. Country House Hotels are great too. Bodysgallen Hall is just a couple miles away, & it was good enough Angelina Jolie. Let us know when you're coming. My lovely wife will whip up a batch of welsh cakes. Mmmm!

Don Julio, you are very kind. Unfortunately, my lack of real typographic knowlege cancells any last word privileges my last might confer.

On Jul.28.2004 at 05:29 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

...last name might...

On Jul.28.2004 at 05:30 PM
Jim’s comment is:

"men who would letterspace lowercase would shag sheep"

Oh man, I had no idea that was the original quotation.... I'll have to pass that around to my fellow design students at school — Goudy will instantly become so much cooler! I may even have to correct that with a marker on my copy of Mr. Spiekermann's book. Thank you for clearing that up!

On Jul.28.2004 at 06:26 PM
Rick’s comment is:


Wow! Look! Erik Spiekermann!


On Jul.28.2004 at 06:51 PM
Jim’s comment is:

(Sigh) I was afraid of that.... Please don't make fun of me because I'm a little kid, design-wise, who's still in art school and working on only his 3rd project for a paying client ever, and who thinks it's cool to participate, however remotely, in conversations with lots of more experienced designers, several of whose names I recognize because they have done globally recognized work or have written books that my fellow students and I all purchased and read immediately upon entering school.

Thank you : )

I mean, come on, it is kinda cool, isn't it?

On Jul.28.2004 at 07:08 PM
marian’s comment is:

Could anyone offer some reasons that AREN'T something like "I used to love Gill Sans, but I used it so much I now hate it"?

Perhaps some kind of 12-step program is in order for those of us traumatized in one way or another by past use of Gill Sans. It's interesting that it has affected many of us this way. I certainly can't think of any other typeface that I dislike for psychological reasons.

As for the London Underground, wow, I'm stunned. I would've put money on that. May I use as an excuse that I live nowhere near London and have only been there twice? No?

On Jul.28.2004 at 07:53 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Jim, no worries, we are all in a way little kids… and you are right, it is quite cool to be able to discuss shagging sheep with the author himself.

> You can't look at a typeface outside the context in which it is being used when you make a judgement.

I have made this argument many times before. Yes, you can. Having "no context" is itself a context.

On Jul.28.2004 at 08:44 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

Having "no context" is itself a context.

Amen (to this).

Gill Sans, Frutiger, Optima, Helvetica... take your pick and it can be used brilliantly, or it can be used hideously, same thing we see every day on TV: Pimp my Ride, Extreme Makeover, Trading Spaces. With enough work they can look stunning, sometimes it takes a little extra umph than others, but we can make it work. But, have you ever seen just below the surface? At the details? The problems are still there in one way or another, the “m” is still to wide in relationship with the other characters, the “i” is swallowed in the process, and the designer had to kern the entire paragraph letter by letter.

Why should we praising poorly executed (typography) design?

On Jul.28.2004 at 09:29 PM
marian’s comment is:

Sorry Mark, I'm going to side with Armin on this one. I think with historical faces in particular, some have been digitized and adjusted and rejigged to the point that that version is now "bad" for the various reasons Armin mentioned.

A case in point:

Univers needed a re-drawing if only to take it back to its origins from very bad first-generation digital versions (ie Adobe, ca. 1984)

I think perhaps we react to the statement "there are bad typefaces" with the idea that e.g. Mejicana is bad and there is no place for it in the world. You rightly make a case that, consummate professional that you are, in the right circumstances there is a place for this display face and you could use it appropriately and perhaps surprisingly. Indeed. I might call it putrid, but it need not be bad. (However, even within the context, I still think that some typefaces are better than others.)

And surely you're not saying there's no bad music? There's Keith Jarrett, and then there's the guy down the street mangling Keith Jarrett. The horror, the horror.

Back to Gill Sans, I would never say it was bad, only that it makes me queasy.

Kinda liking that Bliss, tho'--but then I am fond of the humanist sans.

On Jul.28.2004 at 09:44 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

>Sorry Mark, I'm going to side with Armin on this one. I think with historical faces in particular, some have been digitized and adjusted and rejigged to the point that that version is now "bad" for the various reasons Armin mentioned.

Oh, what dreary folks you are becoming.

...and I wasn't saying that there's no bad music — only that in the right context, that which would grate on your nerves is absolutely delicious.

It's wonderful to play Paula Scher and opine on subjects like how ITC destroyed certain fonts. Ah yes, hours and hours of philodoxical solipsism: nice to have an opinion supported by knowledge and observation, even nicer to have an open mind.

I thought I knew much about design; then ten + years ago I met Allen Hori. Over the course of our friendship, I have constantly been amazed by his ability to transform the stoopidist, most clumsy fonts into poetry. Barcelona, Peignot and even the hated Rotis have all sung in his hands; and from his gentle example, I've come to realize that even fonts which fall in the middle area between kooky display and hallowed text — like certain ITC faces — can have their place given the proper context.

If I remember correctly, Neville Brody's use of Helvetica was a reaction to the success of his hand-drawn faces. What's keeping us from also choosing type from the dark-side of our souls? Fear? Prejudice? Perhaps lack of skill. It was Brody's creativity that gave Helvetica its mid-90's hipness.

Bryony asks: Why should we (be) praising poorly executed (typography) design?

Well, we do it all the time. There are deficiencies to every font. Every single one.

For example:

Gotham has a wonderful extended shape. Yet, the number "1" is quite thin. So when you set, let's say, a table of contents; you have awkward shapes when something like a "102" appears above a "111". We are forced to adjust the letterspacing.

I've also set Hoefler Didot in tables where a song title appears in the left column and the track time is in the right. Didot's lack of lining figures resulted in a confusing right-hand column — even with fill periods — and I had to use Linoype's Didot as the track times.

No typographer, not even a virtuoso like Jonathan Hoefler, can design a face which will work in every single situation. All us poor folks can do is makes our choices, pays our moneys and makes do to the best of our abilities. Only some of us are more able than others.

Don't get me wrong. My nipples get equally as hard as Jim's when Erik Spiekermann drops in with crumbs of typographic wisdom and suggestions of which fonts are "better". Yet, I can imagine a situation where a "badly-digitized" single letter from the current Univers looks so good on a page by itself at 800 point — possibly even better than any imagined "Neue" version.

...then again, I'm probably one of 5 people wishing Adobe would bring back PressReady.

On Jul.28.2004 at 11:08 PM
Tan’s comment is:

The dismissive argument that people's hatred of a particular font is purely subjective can be applied to all facets of design. Let's face it, everything we create is personally subjective. But there are things that we somehow find concensus — judging it as either good or bad, appropriate or non appropriate, tasteful or ugly. It's the nature of design.

Mark, mon frere, while I agree with your point that context and skill can make all of the difference in the world, there are some things more challenging in this world than others. Some typefaces challenge good taste more than others. Not all things have equal merits, and the fact that more than a few people here seem to hate Gill Sans does not make their opinions or their skills questionable. But it does make their concensus worth noting, don't you think? Who knew this many people were closet Gill Sans haters?

And back to Armin's food analogy — albeit taken to extreme. Suppose dogshit was a food ingredient. I'm sure a master chef like Wolfgang Puck or Todd English could take dogshit and bake it into a casserole or serve it wrapped in bacon with a Bordeaux sauce that would make it a perfectly delectable, tasty entree. Does that context and that chef's skills all of a sudden turn that ingredient into something that should be consumed? Would you eat it? And what's the point of the effort — just to prove that it can be done?

There are lots of dogshit fonts in this world that should neither be consumed, or worse, served to the public. No matter the context.

I'm not necessarily calling Gill Sans dogshit in this example, because it's not that deplorable. But there are many worse things in our font universe that is.

On Jul.29.2004 at 01:26 AM
kev’s comment is:

Thank you, Mr. Spiekermann.

Considering that I just picked a random type-designer-person out of the air, I'm quite glad I didn't pick you.

On Jul.29.2004 at 01:34 AM
erik spiekermann’s comment is:

I'm quite glad I didn't pick you.

Why? Because i would have given you a hard time instead of just correcting your grammar? I hope i didn't come across too arrogant then, but i do find that looking at English from the outside (from German, in my case) tends to sharpen the vision. And cut the "Mr." Spiekermann crap. The name's Erik, with a k.

On Jul.29.2004 at 02:06 AM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Tan - you're shocking the bejeebus out of me today. Weren't you a Chemistry major? All things do have equal merit: neutrality. It's their use, context, whatever that determines value — and even that interpretation changes with whomever perceives it. Isn't this the essence of the http://teacher.nsrl.rochester.edu/phy_labs/AppendixE/AppendixE.html#Heading7" target="_blank"> scientific method?

It's amazing that I'm fighting for the simple idea that one should keep an open mind and an unbiased heart when beginning a design. Nothing more. Only during the process of trial and error will one begin to make value judgments.

As for consensus: screw it. Want to make something really different? Don't use the same fonts as the competition.

Your example of dogshit as food, while humorous, is somewhat a reductio ad absurdum. I would come back with "what's the green stuff in lobsters"?

On Jul.29.2004 at 02:20 AM
erik spiekermann’s comment is:

Just put a few illustrations on my blog to show that sometimes, even a classic typeface needs to be improved. Always depends whose version your're looking at. There is no such thing as an "original" in the age of digital reproduction.


On Jul.29.2004 at 02:21 AM
Sebastian’s comment is:

Morning in London, just up and this is still going.

> I have made this argument many times before. Yes, you can. Having "no context" is itself a context.

there is no 'no context' as such.

even a crude type specimen (ABC123) is an instance of use.

but is is not a representative one.

which is what i refer to when i speak of context.

we set words with type.

words that mean someting to someone.

we read words not letters

and the particular formal attributes

of a single character

will have a 1/26 visual importance

when set as an a-z

(which is an unusual context for a reader)

but that will be much smaller

when they become part of a word shape

that's why when designing type

you begin by sketcing words

with certain control characters

rather than refining individual shapes

in isolation


the visual importance of single character features

will be subject

to further modification


the intended language

and its character frequencies/pairings

its word lenghts


and also


the intended media of reproduction

(check Bell Centennial)

as well as the 'semantic' context

(type of material

and its formal conventions)

these are factors

which type designers

do consider

(albeit intuitively most of the time)

when producing a typeface


of any kind

always needs to be assessed

in relation to its constraints

whether external or self-imposed

for an intersting analysis

of the qualities and shortcomings of a typeface

have a look at

Anthony Froshaug's

slating of Univers

when it was released in 1964:

22 Univers: a letter


Anthony Froshaug: Typography & Texts

Hyphen Press, 2000

ISBN 0-907259-09-X

it is not a question of 'everything goes'

it is to do w/ making

useful, informed and open minded

design decisions

(i'm not trying to pontificate,

coffee's just sinking in)

On Jul.29.2004 at 05:10 AM
Dan Reynolds’s comment is:

Jim, I went to RISD a few years ago (class of 01), and I almost spilled coffee all over my keyboard when I saw your resume. I mean, may resume looks EXACTLY the same, except that it uses Scala Sans (of course) instead of Rotis. Then I looked at some more RISD resumes on the web that I am aware of... same format, mostly in scala. Is there an official "RISD" style resume? I think that I need a brain translant. BTW, I think that Matt Monk is responsible for the proliferation of Scala (but he tried to advertise Meta just as much, if I remember correctly).

Sorry about the off-topic nature of this post, guys. I just wanted to share my amazement with Jim, and I'm too lazy to open my e-mail client. Who knows, maybe more RISD kids have Scala Resume stories. Jim, you should see erik's comments about Rotis on his blog...

I used Gill Sans a lot in college. I worked for a bit at Hasbro, where Gill was corporate for EVERYTHING. But somehow, that didn't kill it out of my palette. Now I'm in Germany, where it is hardly used at all. It makes me a little sad. Maybe it is too British. To keep my fill of Gill, I've started using Perpetua in alot of my personal stuff. That's my favorite typeface from the Eric with a "c"

On Jul.29.2004 at 05:37 AM
Maziar’s comment is:

I am sorry to step in so late into what is turning out to be a bit of a irritable debate. But I have a number points which might be of interest:

The late Philip B. Meggs (sorry about the name dropping) told me of a brilliant brief which was set for the students at VCU. It ran something like this:

“Which typeface would you marry and which would you have a one night stand with?”

I loved the idea behind this brief. Besides being a hilarious brief, it also instigated a debate about what the qualities of different type faces are and how we relate them personally.

To start defining what is �good’ and �bad’ is fair enough since the use of these terms might refer to a specific situation. But I find it astonishing that “consensus” and “good taste” are being hurled around. These terms seems to reduce the very spirit of discovery, joy, pleasure or play which exists in design.

Good taste can really suck! If you follow it blindly you end up in a dull and dusty corner of a boring Academy. In fact every time I hear the term I get a petulant urge to (metaphorically) kick the table over.

Designers (and that other funny mad breed — typographers) are really communicators and there is a difference when they make:

• judicious rulings (i.e. this typeface is right for this situation)


• judgmental pronouncements (i.e. these are the rules according the lawgivers of design and they shall not be transgressed!)

Communication is too rich an activity to be reduced to simplistic rules. There must the chance for creativity or even failing, in the decision that are about �appropriateness’ during the processes of design.

However, on a more conciliatory note, I would be very surprised if there were not a number of caveats in the comment made by Phil Baines.

I feel a bit better now that’s of my chest — I might have to have a lie down!


On Jul.29.2004 at 07:18 AM
Achilles Y’s comment is:

When I first started my BA course in Typography and Graphic Communication (I only just graduated—another young whippersnapper), all our projects were done by hand and we could only choose between three typefaces (all Monotype):

-Gill Sans


-I can't remember the other one.

For a year I alternated between Gill and Plantin, which had the expected effect; I hated them both by the end.

Eventually, having gone through many many many typefaces, I got over this and realised that almost any typeface can be gorgeous if set well. By 'well' I mean exploiting a typeface's aesthetic to make a point.

Gill Sans' major drawback in my opinion is that it has too much character, which makes it difficult to find an appropriate setting for it, but once that is found it can look fantastic (btw, as far as the Gill+serif discussion goes, one only has to look at Joanna—in fact I think it might have been the GS-Joanna relationship that inspired Scala and Scala Sans).

As far as the inconsistencies within the Gill Sans family are concerned, I really don't think that they are in any way defensible. Someone, rightly, mentioned that Eric Gill only worked on the regular weight; the others were designed by Monotype afterwards on an ad hoc basis, ie. there didn't seem to be a unified design aesthetic, only the whim of particular Monotype draughtsmen (infamous for their willfulness--in fact Gill Sans regular could be perceived as a collaboration between Gill and Monotype since the latter rejected many of Gill original ideas).

When I look at the whole Gill Sans family I can't help but feel nauseous, it is absolutely chaotic, but when taken as individual fonts most of them are quite nice, and in the right setting could be great.

In fact, almost any typeface can be beautiful if set appropriately

EXCEPT typefaces by Herman Zapf... I'm sorry... I can't stand any of them... especially Optima...

On Jul.29.2004 at 07:57 AM
Jason’s comment is:

But what about the g? The Gill Sans g has so much life to it. I really love it. Sorry to be such a romantic here, but it reminds me of an old man with weathered spectacles, full of Randness.

And, Erik, Bliss is quite beautiful. Almost a cross between Meta and Gill. Very elegant. Thanks for introducing us. (Erik, what's the United Designers all about and are you still designing typefaces yourself?)

On Jul.29.2004 at 10:06 AM
Rob ’s comment is:

As I am married to Univers by our corporate standards I much prefer Fruitiger and have never really dabble in the Gill Sans universe, though I can't say that I hate it.

Hate, distaste, is reserved for Arial, the Microsoft inspired imposter of Helvetica and the bane of every corporate designer. I'll never understand why if one has 'Univers' or some font as your brand's 'typeface' why anyone in their right mind would allow people to use Arial as an acceptable substitute. Really, it's I guess about money. At least this corporation doesn't seem interested in investing enough in its brand to make sure that the typography of all our communications across the board are consistent. Sure, we can spend a few millions on works of art, but a several thousand to ensure consistency, forget it.

And to agree in a way with Mark, 'bad' is a relative word when it comes to most things. I think most of us could take even the worst of any of the world's free typefaces and make it work. It is really about context more than anything else.

On Jul.29.2004 at 10:13 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>"what's the green stuff in lobsters"?

ok, ok...I concede Mark. You would probably eat it to prove a point. I've gotta admire that. Tell you what, I'll try to use Gill Sans the next chance I get — see if I can wrap it up in a little bacon.

>As for consensus: screw it.

An example of a subjective, design concensus is the Golden Mean. There's no real scientific rational that makes the proportions "right" to so many artists and designers. Yet essentially, it's by general consensus that it gains value and becomes a principle.

There's a reason why designers tend to work in groups. It's the same reason why we're all chatting right now about this banal typeface.

>But I find it astonishing that “consensus” and “good taste” are being hurled around. These terms seems to reduce the very spirit of discovery, joy, pleasure or play which exists in design.

Oh pul-leze. Let's turn down the melodrama a bit, shall we? Maziar — have you never been in a crit, and have to defend your preferences before? If you'd use that line above in one of my undergrad class crits, you'd be ridiculed to no end.

On Jul.29.2004 at 10:17 AM
Greg’s comment is:

My thoughts on whether a typeface has merit or not are that any typeface can be used when the necessity arises. There's a perfect typeface selection for every design, and many other great selections, and a whole score of bad ones. It's just harder to justify using a Comic Sans (or equally "hated" typeface).

Gill Sans has its uses, as is pretty evident by the posts above ("my boss/teacher made me use it so much that I ended up hating it, etc.), but it's not universal, it can't be appropriated for anything and everything. I give it two and a half stars out of five.

On Jul.29.2004 at 10:23 AM
marian’s comment is:

Mark, I thought I made myself perfectly clear.

Armin and I seem to be saying "Some cars are crap because they rattle your brain with vibration, the steering is fucked and their engines explode."

To which you reply "All cars have merit, you just don't know how to drive."

to which we reply "Some cars are crap because ..."

At which point we are either not hearing each other or sparring for the sake of sparring. That is dreary indeed.

I agree with you—sortof—that any face can come alive in the right hands and context ... although, despite my attempt to be amusing, I find it very, very hard to believe about Mejicana.

And just because nothing is perfect doesn't mean that either everything or nothing is bad.

Futura ... now there's a typeface I don't have the skill to use properly. I've never been able to make it look good. Maybe I was just using the bad Adobe version ... ( ... I'm kidding! it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools.)

On Jul.29.2004 at 10:32 AM
Sebastian’s comment is:

> An example of a subjective, design concensus is the Golden Mean. There's no real scientific rational that makes the proportions "right" to so many artists and designers. Yet essentially, it's by general consensus that it gains value and becomes a principle.

the golden ratio is actually a reciporcal part-to-whole relationship a/b = b/(a+b) (a line divided asymmetrically in such a way so that the resulting smaller segment A is to the larger one B as B is to the whole A+B it is quite a special mathematicle phenomena that is echoed also in the fibonacci number series which seem to pop-up in the morphological rations of most living things. the golden ratio ties in with the greek concept of symmetria "order" which pervades most of classical greek aesthetics and their belief that the key to understanding the way the world worked was primarily a matter of 'number'. it is one of many mathematical patterns (think also of Pythagoras' Theorem) that date back to ancient Greece that are still with us today and which constitute that basis of a lot of modern scietific thought. it is the inner logic of the golden ratio that has made it so fascinating which and probably has allowed it to survive the 'natural selection' ideas are subjected to as well as living beings, ideas that strike a chord & remain relevant will surviove longer than others

there are many kinds of 'agreements' (consensus) that sustain, validate and establish our being in the world, and they're many ways in which particular ones assert themselves, only some remain relevant after the forces (institutions/conglomerates/communities) that made them possible have disappeared.

btw: 'good taste' is a victorian notion (cf Taste by Stephen Bailey, and it was coined by the aristocracy in an attempt to differentiate itself from the rising bourgeoisie and its monetary power, a symbol of breeding

On Jul.29.2004 at 10:58 AM
Sebastian’s comment is:


Whereas I get the point you (and Armin) are trying to make I can't help but add: I don't think anyone has ever tried to set a novel with a car, or —for that matter — drive to work on Gill Sans. Some analogies just don't work. All i was trying to say when i posted that quote from my old typography tutor is that when choosing and using a face, there's a lot more going on than aesthetic preference or formal correctness.

A Final Aside


To The Enjoyment

Of All


The Comic Sans Appreciation Society


Ban Comic Sans

On Jul.29.2004 at 11:17 AM
Greg’s comment is:

I've never driven to work on one, but I test drove a Gill Sans once. The brakes were squeaky and the transmission kind of ground out between third and fourth. Nothing a bit of grease, a curse or two, and a hit on the dashboard couldn't fix, but I decided to go with the sportier Univers.

On Jul.29.2004 at 11:59 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>the golden ratio

Actually Sebastian, the Golden Mean is also correct, and widely used.

Both "ratio" and "mean" refer to a Golden proportion of 1 to 1.618034+, which is a mathematically undefined whole ratio.

As mentioned in the article, designers and artists such as LeCorbusier was known for using the GM as a basis for design, and that "this was based on averages rather than exact numbers, and so falls into the general area of aesthetic design, rather than mathematical proportion."

On Jul.29.2004 at 12:00 PM
Sebastian’s comment is:


Apologies (Spanish is my first language after all)

> "this was based on averages rather than exact numbers, and so falls into the general area of aesthetic design, rather than mathematical proportion."

You could look at Wladislaw Tatarkiewicz's History of Aesthetics (Vol 1) for an account of the crossover between aesthetics and mathematics (more specifically geometry, and we were stuck with Euclidean stuff for a few centuries) in early Greek thought and theory. I wasn't talking about LeCor's abuse, but about the origins of the thing. Also there's number there is pattern and relationship and there is quantity which are all very different, you can actually plot a precise formula by using square roots instead of decimals, but none of that had been put to use when the ratio/mean was 'discovered' in about 400BC(?) this was pre-zero times. Btw: the proportion also seems to underlie the inner logic of the logarithmic spiral, another shape that seems to pop up a lot when you talk about living things. (On number and quantity check Gregory Bateson's Number is Different from Quantity)

On Jul.29.2004 at 12:25 PM
Jason’s comment is:

...or the Golden Section.

After all of my research in developing the above learning tool, I still wonder how important this geometric standard is. And do people calculate it into their work, or is it so bound to nature that we use it automatically? It's present in so many organisms and structures. When it comes to type, many typographers I spoke with swore that they are conscious of the mean, and apply it to their letterform designs.

On Jul.29.2004 at 12:40 PM
marian’s comment is:

Some analogies just don't work.

and some analogies just relate nicely to a thread ...

How about my earlier analogy: "Gill Sans may be the pork chop of typefaces." Quotable, no?

On Jul.29.2004 at 12:48 PM
Sebastian’s comment is:


On Jul.29.2004 at 01:01 PM
Tan’s comment is:

No apologies needed Sebastian.

Yes, the GM is a very interesting phenomena, a bridge between math and art. Same with the spiral, and a number of theoretical, infinite equations that all lead to quantum mechanics and the universal principles of uncertainty. And that's where art and design come in — when rationale and formulas take a back seat to intuition and unrationable aesthetics. And eventually, agreements to such things among people give them value and acceptance.

And to answer Jason's point. We may not purposely refer to the GM for our everyday actions, but theres an innate sense of that aesthetic that's ingrained and developed during our training as designers and artists. It's why 2 designers with completely different backgrounds can have a concensus opinion on a piece of design they've never discussed before. Like Gill Sans.

On Jul.29.2004 at 01:25 PM
Sebastian’s comment is:

Completely off-thread now (but still):

On the whole consensus/constituency/private desire public virtue affair (this is something I am obsessively into, btw) everyone should read Dave Hickey's Air Guitar: Essays on Art + Democracy if you're interested in looking into how the stuff of 'culture' gains value and relevance, and how institutions/academia rush in to validate it, but only in order to validate themselves. Like the 'priciples of Good Typography' (back on thread? not sure) and other public virtues.

On Jul.29.2004 at 01:47 PM
Oscar Yeats’s comment is:

what do you make of this?

it looks more dodgeball than saab to me, but it's art in america.

On Jul.29.2004 at 01:51 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Oscar it all looks great, except the word "Guide" — absolutely horrendous (yes subjectively horrendous if that makes my opinion easier to accept). And the number 2 in 2004 seems like it's going to fall to its left.

On Jul.29.2004 at 02:01 PM
marian’s comment is:

So, uh ... Armin, you're willing to concede that the 0 and the 4 look great. (The caps are set in something else.) Myself, I think the 4 looks pretty good.

On Jul.29.2004 at 02:25 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

...and what's with the flat tire?

On Jul.29.2004 at 02:29 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> So, uh ... Armin, you're willing to concede that the 0 and the 4 look great.

I was being "open-minded"… I really don't like the layout at all, I think it's obnoxious and poorly designed but it gets the message across and "works", so it was a satyrical "great" when I said it. Point being, that the cover is all crap, but "Guide" and the "2" are the only two elements where I can confidently say they are wrong and bad.

On Jul.29.2004 at 02:38 PM
marian’s comment is:

Armin, you are generous to a fault.

On Jul.29.2004 at 02:43 PM
erik spiekermann’s comment is:

(Erik, what's the United Designers all about and are you still designing typefaces yourself?)

Is the Pope still a catholic? Didn't i just release FF Unit with the help of my friend Christian Schwartz? And am i not working on corporate typefaces for the German railway (Deutsche Bahn) and Bosch?

For the United Designers Network story, go to www.uniteddesigners.com. The website is about to be done properly (this pre-version has survived ove a year, as tends to happen), but the idea is there. After i left MetaDesign, i needed to earn a living again (my ex-partners sold the company just after i left, but they were almost bankrupt at the time, so my shares were worthless), so i gathered a bunch of friends and ex-colleagues, rented some space and got projects in. Most of us are freelancers, i get the jobs, we all do them and we split the proceeds.

On Jul.29.2004 at 03:45 PM
Nary’s comment is:

remember the other discussion about art and design being cousins? this is, after all, an arts publication and not a design publication. now if CA showed that on their cover, i would surely faint.

shall we write to the editor and bombard their mailbox with letters of complaints? maybe they'll fire the art director and hire me instead...

On Jul.29.2004 at 11:10 PM
Maziar’s comment is:

Boy this thread is moving fast… and I have been too busy to follow it, so please forgive me if I am harping back to the subject.

Just to pick up on JonSel’s and M Kingsley’s pertinent comments made earlier, on the relatedness of Johnston and Gill.

Gill studied under Edward Johnston at the Central School of Arts and Crafts around 1903, a school distinguished for its crafts tradition, which cherished the craftsman’s knowledge (�hands and eyes’). As you are all aware this tradition was disappearing due to increasing industrialisation. The stone carvings Gill produced later in life (which adorn the BBC building and the stations of the cross at Westminster Cathedral) are examples of the hybrid of the English crafts tradition and the influences of European modernism.

David Kindersley, who in turn studied under Gill, also drew on the same heritage. These designers had a strong calligraphic tradition in their education. Moreover, English type designers of that generation did not wholly accept the dominance of the machine age. They created works which had a lyrical quality about them - Munari in Italy, reacted in his own way to Modernism.

This calligraphic influence makes sense of some of the quirkiness of the letter forms (Jason, there is nothing wrong with romanticism). However, when in right hands it can be nothing short of beautiful. As mentioned earlier the Birdsall’s (and Morgan’s), design of the book of Common Worship, is a great example of this. Birdsall describes the clarity of the font:

“Early research and trail proofs showed Gill Sans to be by far the clearest: this is partly because it is designed on humanist lines (particularly the rather cursive italic) and because there is the clearest distinction between roman, italic and bold; indeed, they are distinct but obviously related typefaces. “

He also states:

“After identifying the most typical longest lines, 9 point was chosen which seems to be best leaded 3 points.”

As to the crack about melodrama; well, let’s just ignore that, shall we.

However, I do want to reiterate the point that there is a need for a richer language beyond good, bad, hate etc. We need to collectively develop a more responsive language: about design, for design and through design — as the role of design is fundamental to our understanding of the communication revolution which we are facing. Throwing value-laden words, which do not allow for the development of a dialogue, is not helpful.

As to consensus and the unquestioned assumption it brings with it, let me quote Roger Bacon (the Franciscan Friar Bacon):

“There are four chief obstacles in grasping truth, which hinder every man, however learned, and scarcely allow any one to win a clear title to learning;

namely, submission to faulty and unworthy authority,

influence of custom,

popular prejudice,

and concealment of our own ignorance accompanied by an ostentatious display of our knowledge.

All men are entangled in these, every rank is beset. If some should escape the first three of these errors then the fourth is always ready.”

Roger Bacon born 1214.

On Jul.30.2004 at 06:58 AM
daleharris’s comment is:

anyway... i LOVE the lowercase italic 'p'. it is beautiful. and ultra light is to die for.

On Jul.30.2004 at 07:25 AM
T Swan’s comment is:

I still think that history is a better judge of whether a typeface is good than any of us, and Gill was designed in 1928 so it's obviously loved by someone. Yes, some may be sick of Gill because it's so overused, but I remember in the early 80's when Universe and Futura were used for everything and Gill had fallen off the face of the earth. Long live typographic diversity!

On Jul.30.2004 at 08:45 AM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

Saab gets my vote.

I have a hard time using Gill Sans anymore.. it was one of the typefaces my college has as part of the "style guide" - - I hate looking at it - - nausea coming on...

But Saab makes good use of it... and that impresses me... take something so overused, and make it look new and fresh - -nice!

On Jul.30.2004 at 09:38 AM
Caleb’s comment is:

Funny dude!!! But I think BOTH make good use of the font. I do agree it is overused to no end, but they work well for the msg they are communicating. Saab = sexy, dogeball = cheesy, fun and stupid. We actually had an intern where I work that loved Gill Sans, but did not make goo use of it. She just used it to use it. Great observations though.

On Jul.30.2004 at 11:23 AM
Grant’s comment is:

One word: Newton

On Jul.30.2004 at 02:40 PM
Nathan’s comment is:

Come on, man. Don't hate the player (typeface), hate the game (designer)...

On Jul.30.2004 at 10:07 PM
Matt Waggner’s comment is:

Gill did actually work on the extra bold—he called it "double elefans", and his sketch was a great visual parody of advertising tastes of the day. It served as both a biting design critique and a wry comment on his trade's culpability in furthering an immoral agenda (Gill was a socialist and a radical catholic.) Sadly, we aren't nearly so self-deprecating (or honest and funny) today. Then again, we've locked down the whole "wearing pants" thing since Eric Gill passed on, so it could just be the price of progress.

I think the original Monotype release did come in "shadowed" and "cameo" varieties, though. Gill was funny, but real tacky. R.I.P.

(PS - Amanda, what's wrong with Hobo?)

On Jul.31.2004 at 12:45 AM
Luke’s comment is:

Ummm . . . I just wanted to make the 100th comment.

Carry on.

On Jul.31.2004 at 08:06 AM
nick shinn’s comment is:

Gill Sans was one of the first typefaces I used, when I inherited my grandad's Adana letterpress in 1969, so I have a special affection for it.

But I haven't used it for years, along with a number of other archaic, obsolete items I inherited from him at the same time.

I was horrified when I first saw Gill in the Saab ads. It's like saying "our car has 1930s technology".

The bowl of Gill's lower case "a" has the curved shape of a "streamlined" art-deco baby carriage.

What a poverty of imagination (and awareness) is shown by the creative director(s) of this campaign -- there have been so many excellent new sans serif typefaces designed in THIS millennium, and there are so many excellent type designers who could have created a custom typeface for Saab.

On Jul.31.2004 at 09:40 AM
Tim’s comment is:

So many comments, I havn't had time to read them all..so apologies if this has been covered.

But i agree with the sentiment about Gil Sans...however, when I see the london tube map and old tube signs in london, there is such a captured elegance there, i will always continue to try to use it in my work if appropriate.

On Aug.03.2004 at 05:42 AM
Jari Ullakko’s comment is:

Well, I’m actually the one to blame about Saabishness in current Gill world.

I first moved to Sweden to start working at Lowe Brindfors on Saab account as creative director back in 1996. I had previously worked four years with Audi in Germany and it was really interesting to go back from Ulm and all that Bauhaus philosophy to my homebrew Scandinavian human modernism.

But Gill was given I found out pretty fast, even how hard we tried to change it. Saab (and GM) just didn’t want to hear such crap as investing money on typefaces. So what we did instead was to try to simplify the way it was used in the past. Out went the dodgy bolds and semibolds. We even banned the use of upper case. What we wanted to achieve was a sort of -pardon the cliché- scandinavian simplicity without losing the humanity and idiosyncratism of Saab brand. The chief trouble was that our client desperately needed to get more attitude and more visible in the cluttered media environment with their scandinavian midget size media budget (the company is actually only 0,2 percent of the worlds car manufacturing total-way smaller than Porsche) while we definately wanted to stay away from the cooper black kind of Gill sans bold territory. Our solution was to go the other way, simplify, trying to get to the essentials of the type which in hindside was the absolutely right decision.

What has been most rewarding with Saab case is that the less "toys" we had the more exciting and obviously more cohesive the Saab identity became. Today one really doesn’t have to see the Saab logo to know that one is watching a piece of Saab communication (Though I believe that even more crucial than the typeface was to get the photography right).

It is going to be interesting to see what will happen in the future for the solid brand look we created for Saab. As a protest for the badge enginering and general GM’fying of the Saab brand the Saab brand manager responsible for the last few years total revamp of the Saab visual identity Mikael Eliasson, myself and the Saab automobile chief designer Michael Mauer all left the company and the project beginning of this year (btw. the new chief designer is Bryan Nesbitt, the man behind this horrid Chrysler PT cruiser!!).

Whatever, back to Gill. Originally I didn’t like the idea of using something so intrinsically British as Gill for typeface for a Scandinavian design icon like Saab but it has been working surprisingly well for us.

Now I’m challenged with Nobel for total makeover for Lexus, which will be interesting.

On Aug.03.2004 at 09:10 AM
Kevin’s comment is:

I am in the process of a major online project for a client which requires me to use Gill. Personally, I'm not whining because I've been saddled with Gill because, well, there are more than enough examples of it being well used. While the extended family can get a bit surreal (and I'm sure Mr. Gill would agree) the extra/ultra bolds are interesting derivative works that can be used effectively or completely ignored.

I find it very interesting how fashion can change how our brains react when our eyes trace certain shapes. I am almost absolutely certain that part of the distaste for Gill Sans raised in this thread is simply the pendulum swinging in trends of shape and style. Some time in the future some of us will remark "Can you remember back at the turn of the century when we all had a hate on for Gill Sans? What was that all about?"

On Aug.03.2004 at 11:17 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Jari, thanks for the insight. Very interesting.

And Nobel for Lexus… not a bad choice. The only thing that bugs me about Nobel is that because it's really tall the numerals are extremely tall. (Not sure if there is old style figures in Nobel…).

On Aug.03.2004 at 11:23 AM
david e.’s comment is:

I'm really surprised to see so many people saying they dislike Gill Sans. I've used it practically everywhere I've worked for so many different types of clients. Like Frutiger, it always looks clean and contemporary without ever looking timely or TOO contemporary.

At the first ad agency I worked for, their main client was Travelodge —� and Gill Sans was one of 4 typefaces that were used — the others being Caecilla (which works beautifully with Gill Sans), Clearface and Franklin Gothic. Far from growing to hate Gill Sans, I gained an appreciation for it by seeing what nice things could be done with it.

I always wondered about it, though, so this has been very educational reading. It's such a quirky typeface — starting off very elegant and getting more and more "cartoony" with each bolder weight. Even so, I like the bold weights. and I'm glad Erik pointed out what typeface British Rail was using now in it's place. I'd been wondering.

Lately, I try to take the attitude that if I dislike a typeface (especially one considered classic), maybe it's because I haven't learned what it can do. I love forcing myself to use something that I've never liked�— searching for examples of nice things that others have done with it and trying to emulate the feel. Still, I have my predudices — and no matter how hard I try, I can't do anything with Univers that I think wouldn't look better with Frutiger.

On Aug.03.2004 at 12:34 PM
nick shinn’s comment is:

>Saab (and GM) just didn’t want to hear such crap as investing money on typefaces.

Next step, they will be doing the creative in-house.

On Aug.03.2004 at 04:37 PM
kevin’s comment is:

>>What a poverty of imagination (and awareness) is shown by the creative director(s) of this campaign -- there have been so many excellent new sans serif typefaces designed in THIS millennium...

Perhaps the creative directors were concerned with many of the other aspects of generating a campaign. Rather than a dearth of imagination these people may have some priorities.

Sure, there are great new typefaces developed frequently, but using a new typeface does not make a design better.

I can think of dozens of more effective uses of a designer's time than selecting the perfect new typeface.

On Aug.04.2004 at 05:22 AM
ciaran’s comment is:

Monotype did release a Gill Sans Neue of sorts in the late 90s - they added book and heavy weights. The book weight is arguably more useful than either the regular or light weights, and from what I can tell it is only available from fonts.com (ie:Monotype).

Any one who doubts the ability of Gill Sans to look utterly beautiful should check out the work done by Why Not Associates (and others) for A Flock of Words

On Aug.04.2004 at 03:45 PM
fokke’s comment is:

Gill was more or less forced to work on a broad range of weights, which he did not like. He believed that he created his perfect 'classical' sans serif in the regular weight, with an amazing (and in my perception beautiful) italic. He especially hated to work on the ultra bold — a completely unnecessary version in his opinion. He is quoted calling the deliberately weird font 'Gill Sans Elephans'.

On Aug.05.2004 at 05:01 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

You too can now lick Eric Gill and his typeface Gill Sans. Click here

Thanks to Mr. Past President of GDC Matt Warburton for mentioning the stamp info on the GDC listserv today...

On Aug.10.2004 at 07:32 PM
Jeffrey Lin’s comment is:

ahhh . . yes, when I spent a some time in London, all I saw was damn Gill Sans, and if we were lucky, Johnson. I started taking pictures of where it was in use and I found it EVERYWHERE . . . street signs, house plaques, doctor's offices, schools, tickets, posters; it was insane. So, I am now designing a book called "Sans Gill" and it will just be picures of London's (over)use of the aforementioned typeface. Can we please please please live in a world sans Gill?

On Aug.11.2004 at 05:29 PM
Sebastian’s comment is:

This gets very ranty and there might be gaps, and inaccuracies, but it night be interesting to consider how certain types became so widely used:

Gill Sans became as commonplace in the UK as Akzidenz Grotesk (and later Neue Haas Grotesk [that's Helvetica's original name]) in Germany & Switzerland at about the same time. This is the days when Monotype & Linotype machines were becoming the new industry standards, and movable lead type was still around. The idea was to produce new 'typeface systems' rather than single faces, so that a printer could purchase something that provided a variety of weights and sizes and was suitable for a wide range of 'jobs'. It is hard to tink of type this way in the digital age, but in those days it was a huge investment for a local 'jobbing' printer to aquire a new type family. Sans Serif type was prefered by everyday printers because it was sturdier and could withstand heavy use in a way that fine 19c serif types (like Bell) could not (the fine serifs had a tendency to break quite easily and were quickly relegated to the world of 'fine' printing) I suppose you could thinkof some of these faces as the 'system fonts' of the time. Monotype, Haas & Berthold marketed them agressively and for this purpose made good use of the new 'ideas' about composition (the so-called Modern movement) being championed in places like the Bauhaus in Weimar, and the Central School of Arts & Crafts in London. About 400 years before 'Graphic Design' as we've come to know it there was Typography & Printing and the concerns of the time might've been a bit different.

On Aug.11.2004 at 06:05 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Since this discussion started I have been noticing Gills Sans even more than I already did. I have observed two things about the face which are probably quite obvious but...


Gill Sans is exceptionally legible.

BBC news uses it for their on-screen stuff. It's not nice to look at, but even at tiny sizes on my ancient telly it is easy to read.


Gill Sans has too much personality to be used as much as it is in the UK

When you use Gill the medium becomes a loud part of the message. In contrast, Helvetica doesn't scream, "Look at me! I'm Helvetica!"

I did notice an exception to this on a carton of grapefruit juice this morning: at 6-8 points it becomes just nice legible text.

On Aug.13.2004 at 05:52 AM
Armin’s comment is:

I was thinking the same thing. I've noticed Gill more than usual. Just today I noticed that the sign I walk by every single day right after I get out of the subway and go unto the street is set in Gill Sans. Go figure.

On Aug.13.2004 at 08:27 AM
VVN’s comment is:

I agree with the general forum distaste for Gill.. I think its an awkard looking type and the tracking is terrible once you go Utltra Condense.

But...A typeface is a typeface. If it works in the context and if it fits your solutions then use it.I recently designed a project with a combo of Gill Sans family +Universe 55+ Comic Sans. On paper this might sound like a bad combo. But for a calendar using orginal illustrations by 6-12 year olds, its not bad.

On Aug.13.2004 at 05:51 PM
Michael H.’s comment is:

I didn't go through all 116 comments to see if this has already been posted, so I apologize if this has already been covered:

Agfa Monotype Announces Gill Sans as the Typeface for the 2004 Olympic Games

On Aug.20.2004 at 01:09 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

I'm looking for a bit of Gills Sans expertise.

I was recently hired by a company whose logo used fake Gill Sans caps (& ITC Garamond Italic with a 1pt stroke to make it bold, but that's another issue). The first thing I did was to redraw their logo with some proper small caps. Then last night I discovered that AgfaMonotype sells a Gill Sans Small Caps. This leads me to 3 questions

1. Whose version (of the standard weights) of Gill Sans is better, Linotype or Monotype? Or are they the same?

2. Is Monotype's Gill Sans Small Caps any good?

3. Whose version of Gill Sans comes with OSX?

On Feb.10.2005 at 11:57 AM
Thea Harrild’s comment is:

This is an amazing discovery for me. I am a graphic design student studing Typography and I didnt realise that people were so passionate about typefaces. Its wonderful!

On Apr.16.2005 at 08:47 AM
Thea’s comment is:

I should have asked before but does anyone know of a really good website about the work of Zuzana Licko? It would be greatly appreciated

On Apr.16.2005 at 08:53 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Thea, this is as comprehensive as it gets. And you can also buy some her cute ceramic vases.

On Apr.16.2005 at 09:38 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Michael Dooley’s write-up for the AIGA is worth checking out. (No photo credit that I can see for the good shot of Zuzana and Rudy there. You’d think the AIGA would be better about giving credit.)

Passionate about typefaces? Hey, the Speak Up folk are normal, balanced, sensible people who have real lives and some proportion compared to some.

On Apr.16.2005 at 10:52 AM
Thea’s comment is:

Just a quick thankyou to Armin and Gunnar your sites were very helpful!

On Apr.17.2005 at 03:40 AM
martin’s comment is:

erik spiekermann pointed out (about a year ago) that British Rail used to use Gill Sans, and now use Jock Kinneir's Transport alphabet. While they do use a Kinneir font, it's Rail Alphabet. Transport was introduced at around the same time, and appears on road signs.

On Jun.22.2005 at 08:14 AM