How Typefaces Solve Problems for Techies

As technology has advanced with breathtaking speed, type designers have had to solve myriad new problems.

How Typefaces Solve Problems for Techies

The superb typographer Paul Shaw has a post up at Print magazine’s blog, where he attempts a list of the most important typefaces of the last 10 years.


It’s a mammoth task, but Shaw explains it like this:

[It] is not a list of my favorite typefaces, nor is it a list of the most popular typefaces. Instead, it is a list of typefaces that have been “important” for one reason or another. However, I am not going to provide my reasons. Instead, I am going to let the readers of this blog see if they can figure out the contribution that each of these ten faces makes.

Paul, you little tease. But really, almost all of the ten typefaces on his list have addressed serious challenges created by the massive tech upheavals in the last decade: How do you create typefaces for computer screens, which can readily scale up or down? How do you read on tiny smartphones? How do you inject soul into a digital font?

Shaw actually went on to provide some insight into his list. For example, one of the faces that made it was Miniscule, created by Thomas Huot in 2004:

Shaw reasons that it’s a fascinating experiment in legibility for super-small typefaces–Miniscule, anticipated the problems we find these days, reading on very very small screens. Think about it: When you scale down radically, all the rules about type design and legibility suddenly get turned upside down.

Another face on the list was Studio Lettering, designed by Ken Barber in 2009:


That design was created with OpenType, a Microsoft font-rendering system that allows fonts to readily be scaled up or down on a computer screen; moreover, it was also intended to be applicable in multiple languages. In short, it’s an attempt to solve the problem of typefaces that are used in almost unlimited ways, in unlimited contexts created by the computer age.

As to the font up top, that’s History, designed by Peter Bil?ak in 2008, which was an attempt to lend a beautiful, varied, and organic feel to digital fonts, which have often been more than a little lacking in soul.

Check out the full list here (along with samples)–but be sure to scroll down into the comments to see Shaw’s rationale.

[Top image by litherland]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.