massimo vignelli believed that you should only ever need to use twelve type families as a designer, only need twelve in your library. at one point in my life, i thought that this was a silly idea. now i realize that i was the silly one. and i started to see that, even though i had access to hundreds of typefaces, i actually only used maybe eight consistently.
so today i decided, i will select my twelve and not look back. here they are.
serifs: garamond, caslon, liberation. slab serfis: clarendon, lubalin graph, 58 rodeo. sans serifs: futura, avenir, helvetica neue. monospace/display: andale, courier, pastelaria.
think about it, even within futura, you can express a wide range of vibes. for modern and elegant, use light. for bold, athletic and energetic, use bold condensed oblique.
i think within the font families i’ve chosen, i can achieve any mood/look that i need to achieve. i also think that this will allow me to develop an intimate understanding of the typefaces i’ve chosen, and elevate my expertise with them, as well as bring further consistency to my body of design work.
would you choose twelve type families to stick to for the rest of your life? which twelve would they be?
graphic design is a wonderful tool. it gives form and nuance to ideas in a way that words alone cannot. think of milton glaser’s iconic “i love ny.” when typed, it carries the idea well enough. we read it and it communicates love for ny on a basic level. now call to mind the graphically enhanced version. the large sturdy black typeface, the bright red heart and the stacking of the elements take the message and imbue it with life, with vibrance. it communicates the idea of love for ny much more emphatically than just a typed phrase. or, imagine nike’s “just do it” typed in big, bold, all caps, oblique and bright yellow characters. the sense of doing it is heightened by the form. graphic design is an amazing tool for communicating more clearly and convincingly the essence of an idea or thing.
it’s also a fantastic tool for obfuscating the essence of an idea or thing, a fantastic tool of deception, as most of the advertising world has discovered. indeed the new york lottery and the designers and agencies that work for them have done a superb job of using graphic design to communicate a message that is exactly the opposite of what their little games produce. “cash for life?” “watch green fall out of the blue?” hardly.
just because it’s good-looking design doesn’t mean it’s good design. the responsibility is ours to use design to communicate the true nature of a thing rather than to obfuscate it.