The first month of 2013 has come to a close, and as usual the type commentators reflect on the past year. Due to the complexity of the undertaking we have to exercise a little more patience for Typographica’s eagerly anticipated Our Favourite Typefaces of 2013, or as I like to call them the “unofficial Oscars of the type world”. Most of the other ones have been published though, allowing type enthusiasts to discover releases they may have missed and see in how many of those lists their favourites were included. One tweet made me sit up and notice. James Montalbano of Terminal Design asked the Twitterverse:
“Best Type” lists. All been licensed and used for real? Picking a “best type” without using is like picking “best car” without driving.
I was quite surprised to read such a remark, replying that “you can evaluate typefaces pretty accurately by studying specimens and character sets.” The end result defines the quality. As long as the specimens are sufficiently extensive and you can study the samples from up close you’re fine as a reviewer. I hardly believe type designers would go to the trouble of hand-spacing and kerning the text settings in their specimens and thus falsify the results. Hearing this criticism from James Montalbano was unexpected because he has been a judge once and a chairman twice more for TDC2, the Type Directors Club of New York type design competition. As this jury also evaluates type designs from specimen posters submitted by the contestants, this is basically the same difference. With such a steady stream of new typefaces being released these days it seems quite ambitious to expect type reviewers to test in real-life situations every single one of them in order to assess their qualities. So while we occasionally request review licences or even license ourselves the typefaces we want to discuss, this is rather the exception than the rule.
Of course there is a big difference between type design contests and best of-lists, and neither present a perfectly objective view on typeface releases from the past year.
Type design contests on the one hand rely on type designers or foundries submitting typefaces and paying the entry fee. This can present a financial barrier for smaller foundries and independent designers. There is also a portion of the type design community that simply does not agree with the concept of type design as a competition. So basically what the results of these contests show are the best designs of the past year amongst those that were submitted. The selection is incomplete. Also, the members of the jury change each year and that definitely has an influence on what typefaces get awarded.
Best Of lists on the other hand have the potential to be more inclusive and objective. Unrestrained by the need for typefaces to be submitted, they can look at the entire production from the past year. Of course the end-of-the-year round-ups from type resellers are restricted to the typefaces that are included to the foundries they represent. So for example the Best Type of 2012 newsletter only sports typefaces that are available through fontshop.com. Independent reviewers have even less restrictions, but their selection is — of course – defined by their personality and taste. So it is all about finding (a) reviewer(s) who you can relate to and whose taste you agree with.
Even though they are intrinsically flawed, I appreciate Best Of lists and type design contests because they bring typeface design to the attention of a wider audience and help us discover those hidden gems you may have missed. Below are some of the lists that have been published so far. Enjoy, and remember to keep an eye out for Typographica’s Our Favourite Typefaces of 2012.
TDC | TDC Typeface Design Winners 2012
Granshan | Granshan 2012 Winners
Morisawa | Morisawa Type Design Competition 2012
FontShop | Best Type of 2012
Typefacts | The best fonts of 2012
Fontwerk | Die beste Schriften 2012
Peter Glaab | Die interessantesten Schriften aus 2012