Top Ten Typefaces Used by Book Design Winners

The American Association of University Presses (AAUP) holds an annual Book, Jacket & Journal Show which catalogs the best in book design and exhibits it around the country.

The jurors for this year’s show include some important names in typography, including William Drentel and Jessica Helfand of Design Observer, and typographer and type designer Kent Lew, who created the Font Bureau’s lovely and literary text face, Whitman.

Jessica Helfand and William DrentelSusan Colberg and Kent Lew
Jessica Helfand, William Drentel, Susan Colberg, and Kent Lew examine AAUP Show entries.

The catalog of the show is a beautiful record of the selected entries, and, because typeface credits are included, it’s also a good gauge of current trends in typeface selection for books and journals.

We ordered catalogs from the last three years of the show and tallied the typefaces used. The results won’t shock you — each of the top ten is a tried-and-true classic. Yet there is so much more great type out there begging to be used for academic text and titling. So, along with the champions, I’m recommending a few less common alternatives that offer just as much readability, function, and beauty for today’s books and journals.

1. Minion  View at FontShop

minion

“Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada” | Designer: Cameron Poulter | Cover type is New Caldeonia
With a set of 64 fonts in various optical size masters and a condensed option, Minion is one of the most complete serif families available. Add to that an economical width and what might be the most powerful endorsement of any book face — Robert Bringhurst used it for his seminal “Elements of Typographic Style” — and it’s no surprise that Minion is the most common typeface used in all three catalogs of the AAUP show.

Alternatives:

  • FF Meta Serif — Erik Spiekermann often recommended Minion as a workhorse serif until he went ahead and designed his own.
  • Karmina
  • Mentor

2. ITC New Baskerville  View at FontShop

new-baskerville
“Memoirs and Madness” | Designer: David Drummond
New Baskerville isn’t far behind Minion in the tally of most popular book faces and, if you ask me, it’s a crying shame. Of all the members of this list, the digital ITC New Baskerville is too delicate and dainty to really perform well as a text face and in most settings it’s also far too antique for the subject matter. Yes, I know Ben Franklin was a big Baskerville fanboy, but we don’t need to take all his advice.

Alternatives:

  • Baskerville 1757 — If you must use Baskerville, skip the wispy ITC version and go with something meatier. Designer Lars Bergquist resisted the tendency to pare down hairlines and prettify serifs and other detail work.
  • Baskerville 10
  • Mrs. EavesNot a text face, but if the moment calls for a flowery Baskerville aroma and ostentatious ligatures this lady will perform well. Pay careful attention to her spacing and use only for display work.
  • Athelas
  • FF Clifford

3. FF Scala & 4. FF Scala Sans  View at FontShop

scala
“Boris Yeltsin and Russia’s Democratic Transformation” | Designer: Ashley Saleeba
One of the first designs to come with sans and serif companions, this early FontFont is also one of the first serif typefaces to be originally designed specifically for the digital medium. FF Scala represents the only face on our list besides Minion designed after 1990. Its popularity in modern book design is obvious — it seems like every other museum catalog I see is set in Scala. Fine by me. They’re usually gorgeous.

Alternatives:

  • FF Nexus Serif — Martin Majoor’s follow-up to Scala is slightly heavier, warmer, and more traditional. In addition to the expected sans companion, Nexus also has slab and monospaced variants.
  • Fresco — A serif/sans pair from master Fred Smeijers that is truly contemporary. The Plus version has longer ascenders and descenders for more formal settings.
  • FF Tisa — Five years ago, the options for truly new serif faces were meager. But recently, graduates of rigorous type design programs have produced scores of contemporary designs for serious text setting. Mitja Miklavčič is an award-winning product of Reading. His low contrast Tisa is a genuinely new take on text types and a welcome nonconformist in the conservative field of book design.
  • Dolly

5. Adobe Garamond  View at FontShop

garamond
“An Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica” | Designer: Tracy Baldwin
Robert Slimbach‘s 1989 interpretation has been for years the most popular digital rendition of the roman types of Claude Garamond, the go-to typeface for those wanting a little more elegance and old world charm than a Caslon or Times could produce.

Alternatives:

  • Garamond Premier — Slimbach’s second take on the style represents nearly 20 years of research and drawing. And with its various cuts for different sizes, Garamond Premier is a more thoughtful tribute to the original metal type.
  • MVB Verdigris
  • Laurentian
  • Arnhem
  • FF Parango

6. Trade Gothic  View at FontShop

trade-gothic
“From Revolution to Ethics” | Designer: David Drummond
The early gothic sans serif style (represented by Trade, News, and Franklin Gothic) could be considered America’s Helvetica, appearing on book jackets any time a basic sans is needed. Like Helvetica, they are used so often that they’ve lost much of their character. So unless banality is the goal, there are many alternatives that are either more interesting or offer more utility for modern design.

Alternatives:

  • Benton Sans — True to Font Bureau’s tradition, many of News Gothic’s quirks have been regularized for their reinterpretation, and Benton is livelier in the heavy weights, yet the original’s sturdy, no-nonsense tone remains. Most importantly, the family was expanded into a versatile 26-piece set.
  • Spiegel — In drawing a new headline face for the German magazine Der Spiegel, Luc(as) de Groot transformed Franklin Gothic into a modern powerhouse.
  • Bulldog — Taking its cue from typefaces born before Franklin and News Gothic, Bulldog echos the organic, British idiosyncrasies of an early gothic by the Figgins foundry. Bulldog performs as well in text as it does in headlines, and though still uncommon, it’s been used successfully in annual reports and exhibition catalogs.

7. Electra  View at FontShop

electra
“Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818—1875” | Designer: Ashley Saleeba
Perhaps Dwiggins‘ best work, Electra deserves to be in the top ten, but it’s a little light for modern presses.

Alternatives:

8. Fournier  View at FontShop

fournier
“Crush” | Designer: Mary Valencia

9. Dante  View at FontShop

dante
“The Selected Poetry and Prose of Andrea Zanzotto” | Designer: Maia Wright
Alternatives:

10. DIN  View at FontShop

din
“Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians” | Designer: Amy Ruth Buchanan
Alternatives:

Other popular typefaces used in AAUP winning entries:

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37 Comments:

  1. I should note that the many of the books shown here were honored for the design of their interiors, not the jacket. These covers were included simply as examples of each typeface in use.

    I’d love to show examples of the interior pages, but it was difficult to find photos or scans at resolutions sufficient for this space. I welcome the publishers of any of the winners to send us or post shots of their interior work.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on Nov. 12, 2008
  2. Excellent list Stephen. Thanks for the late night effort.

    Posted by Greg on Nov. 12, 2008
  3. thanks! i’ve just started designing books, so this is really interesting and helpful!

    Is there a reason Arno Pro has not made the list somewhere? I love it.

    Posted by Simon Robertson on Nov. 12, 2008
  4. Probably simply because it is too new. It usually takes three to five years for a new design to catch on, if it ever does. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more Arno, and Garamond Premier and FF Meta Serif for that matter, in the next couple of Shows.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on Nov. 12, 2008
  5. great stuff! Good to know i’m on the right track with using most of these type faces—better yet even knowing most of them!
    It’s great to see the comparisons of the same texts too, shows you how versatile they are and their strengths.
    I really love the “no name branding” fonts/package designs that are out there in various countries… does anyone know of a blog/site documenting them? If not, I think it would be a great idea.
    In fact, I will start one now…
    http://no-name-brands.blogspot.com/

    cheers for the inspiration Stephen!

    Posted by Ryan on Nov. 13, 2008
  6. Simon — As Stephen noted, Arno was released too recently to show up yet. The catalogs he tallied would have covered books published in 2005, 2006, and 2007. I think Arno was released in early 2007. I don’t recall seeing any entries in this year’s show with Arno. I’m sure it’ll eventually make a decent showing, since it’s a bundled Adobe font and a fine text face.

    Meta Serif will undoubtedly start to appear, riding on the popularity of Meta in all realms. But I’m not convinced that Garamond Premier will ever break into the top. My feeling is that it’s a little too precious for widespread book use. Maybe use in titles.

    Stephen, I don’t think the AAUP catalog index distinguishes between typefaces used in interiors vs. covers, or whether for text or heads, etc. Your tally covers all equally, right?

    Will Powers might still have PDFs of interior pages of winners from this year’s catalog. But that would only address the Electra and Dante samples you cite above. (BTW, that Trade Gothic example was only awarded for its cover; I don’t remember judging that interior.)

    Posted by Kent Lew on Nov. 13, 2008
  7. Thanks for chiming in, Kent. If I were to do this again I’d definitely distinguish between covers and interiors. Next year!

    Another tid bit: each of the typefaces in our top ten list here appeared in at least ten books.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on Nov. 13, 2008
  8. I’m thinking of recommending getting the FF Meta & FF Meta Serif pack for work, I’ve heard they are both fine for book text and magazine use, but I wanted some confirmation as I’ve never used them. Any thoughts?

    Posted by Simon Robertson on Nov. 16, 2008
  9. Electra’s lightness really is a problem. I’ve tried to make it work so many times, and I always give up. But it’s so wonderful! Somebody really needs to do a revival to beef it up a tiny bit. (This goes for New Caledonia too, really.)

    Also, Kent, Whitman really belongs on this list.

    Posted by Zach on Nov. 17, 2008
  10. Hi Stephen,

    I really need to spend more time browsing your articles. I have much to learn about typography, and appreciate such articles.

    I hope all’s well with you, and thanks for your visits.

    Posted by David Airey on Nov. 19, 2008
  11. Hey Zach, thanks. Actually, Whitman has shown up a couple times in books among the past few years’ AAUP winners. I don’t know if it’ll ever rise to the top ten in quantity, but it’s out there working.

    Posted by Kent Lew on Nov. 22, 2008
  12. This is an awesome top ten list Stephen. You should post this on my buddy’s site http://www.toptentopten.com/.

    Posted by Travis Stark on Nov. 28, 2008
  13. Boring—I am falling asleep in Type 1. I want to see award winners that didn’t pull from the same tired list.

    Posted by MB on Dec. 5, 2008
  14. Although on an intellectual level I do agree with you, there is a reason why these typefaces belong to this “same tired list”. It must be that a hell of a lot of people agree that they perform marvellously.* ;)

    (*) There could be another reason but that would lead us too far.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Dec. 6, 2008
  15. I don’t think you can say this list is tired. The fact that we keep seeing these fonts is just proof that these are some excellently designed typefaces that have risen to the top.

    Thanks for the post. I just used DIN in a design recently and now I am addicted!

    Posted by Jason on Dec. 15, 2008
  16. That is so amazing for us! Thank you!

    Posted by Dulcia on Feb. 10, 2009
  17. Real news, grasie!

    Posted by Victoriya on Feb. 10, 2009
  18. Electra and Bembo are too light for comfortable reading. The pre-digital versions were much better. Too bad—I love Bembo but it is so spindly now.

    Posted by Leslie on Nov. 6, 2009
  19. Interesting discussion, all.
    I am busily writing science fiction stories,and when I am not staring at a computer screen I am staring at an electrical cabinet. Lucinda Console seems to be a good font for reading on screen and not wearing your eyes out so fast.
    I will work my way through the list and see what this poor man’s machine (running Windows XP) can find for fonts worth publishing.

    Posted by Anthnoy Benson on Jan. 14, 2011
  20. This was just what I was looking for. Thanks.

    Posted by Damion on Jan. 20, 2011
  21. Hello, where is font #4?

    Posted by Colin on Feb. 2, 2011
  22. what’s the font that michael crichton uses jurassic park? not the title, i mean, but the actual text?

    Posted by Zach on Jul. 18, 2011
  23. If you mean the body copy inside, it all depends on which edition we’re talking about. E-mail a scan to research[at]fontshop[dot]com and we will identify it for you.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 19, 2011
  24. where is font download

    Posted by Tej Shangrash on Jul. 28, 2011
  25. Did anyone ever figure out what font Michael Crichton uses in the body text for Jurassic Park. (the hardcover version?) If you have, please let me know. I have never been able to figure it out, but it’s a great font.

    Posted by Chris on Dec. 1, 2011
  26. Nobody ever sent us a scan, so we have no clue.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Dec. 1, 2011
  27. The body-text font in the 1990 hardcover edition of Jurassic Park is Electra.

    Posted by A Person Who Used Amazon's Look Inside Feature on Dec. 9, 2011
  28. Hey I am so curious to know if anyone has seen how Plantin Pro performs in print? Any ideas on how suitable it is for books? I bumped into it about six months ago and no matter what I do, and other options I try, I keep coming back to it for some reason.

    Would really appreciate some input. Thanks. :)

    Posted by Anreal on Dec. 15, 2011
  29. Could somebody please tell me what a book is called which is in very small type? Is it “A Jubilee Edition” or “A Diamond Edition” ?

    Posted by BRIAN FRANKHAM on Jun. 23, 2012
  30. Many of them are the usual suspects. But they’re awfully good (Adobe Garamond, Minion, the Scalas, and New Baskerville). After years, I’m still undecided about Electra–I do think the thin strokes look just too spindly for my taste.

    As for Arno Pro … A dream of a face. I was introduced to it some years ago on a layout-only job where I was supplied the design template and types. Hadn’t used it since and then, over a year ago, an interior design-and-layout job came in–an 1,100-page novel with loads of different kinds of text that needed to be distinguished from each other. Arno Pro was the serif up to the task. Can’t believe I’m forgetting what sans I used for different display elements (but I’m on the iPad and away from my production machine in the studio, so I can’t check).

    Posted by Stephen Tiano on Jul. 6, 2012
  31. How does New Baskerville read in fiction novels? This is one of the optipns I have for my first novel. I hate to recieve negative reviews due to interior design. To my untrained eyes, it looked fine. Other options were Centar MT, Garamond 3, Hoeffler Text Roman. There were others but these few caught my eye. I have seen some novels with tiny print even at 12point. I surely dont want to fall into that category before my writing career begins. I am leaning toward New Baskerville….

    Posted by T.K.Ware on Aug. 9, 2012
  32. I’d like to tell you about a change of address

    Posted by Zoe on Feb. 11, 2013
  33. Adobe Text Pro is also a wonderful font to use for a book interior. It is crisp and elegant!

    Posted by Blue Harvest Creative on May. 13, 2013
  34. Has nobody noticed–and mentioned–that this list of 10 has only 9 fonts? What have I missed?

    Posted by James on Aug. 2, 2013
  35. Adobe Garamond has always been a favorite but I was looking for something even more plain and really like the Din font. Always glad to find what you are looking for on the Internet.

    Posted by Bill on Aug. 15, 2013
  36. I am working in the publishing house. Thank you for the information you have given us. Thank you once again.

    Posted by Sr. Neena on Aug. 16, 2013
  37. Bembo — A Warning. The digital version of this font’s kerning tables were never completed. If you use InDesign CSx, you must change the kerning setting from Metrics to Optics. Otherwise there will be no space between the period at the end of a sentence and the capital letter of the next sentence, and there are other punctuation / spacing issues with this font as well. I stopped using it because of this.

    Posted by Grace Peirce on Aug. 23, 2013

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