Development of the Trajan Typeface
September 8, 2014 4:48 PM   Subscribe

"Although they have had remarkable longevity, the Trajan letterforms have not always been as hot as they are now. In fact, the last time they enjoyed such popularity was in the... first century." Includes Carol Twombly's recollection of designing the iconic modern typeface. (You've totally seen it.)

More on Lloyd Reynolds. From the blog of Sumner Stone, Stone Type Foundry.

And yes, I know the presentation of this "blog" is horrific but let's try not to hyper-focus on that...
posted by DarlingBri (15 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Trajan is the Movie Font
posted by Rhaomi at 4:52 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Why is this entire article an image? I wouldn't expect an article about typography to present the text as a low quality image.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:03 PM on September 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


How is "Trajan" pronounced? The same as the Emperor, which Wikipedia says: (/ˈtreɪdʒən/; Latin:)?
posted by cell divide at 5:07 PM on September 8, 2014


One of my favorite comments, by kyrademon, reproduced from a very long thread:
In the fourth year of the reign of Emperor Trajan, my legions were attacked by the Calibri in the hills of Helvetica. The canny tribesmen made their assault before we could reach and lay siege to the city of Gentium, thereby rendering useless our trebuchets and high towers.

My couriers soon reported that the Calibri, as was their normal habit, had assembled a force of light cavalry, clad in copperplate gothic and armed with arials, while also bearing short onyx used for close-in fighting. They relied on speed and maneuverability in the rough terrain, using their arials to fire flaming caslons into our midst and then retreating.

A generation ago, this tactic would have wrought grievous damage. But by the grace of the gods, this was a more modern era, and I was able to deploy a force of heavy infantry, armored in stout verdana and armed with the new garamonds. No cavalry, however fleet, can stand long against a trained force armed with garamonds.

So this I say to the fools who have said that our armies have fewer meliors and sylfaens than they have at any time since the war with the Lucida Sans. We have no need of such toys now. Those are the weapons of the old Rome – a century old style.

And these are the Times New Roman.
posted by Shohobohaum Za at 5:08 PM on September 8, 2014 [29 favorites]


Trajan is, hands down, my favorite display face. It gets tried, at least, in just about every design I do.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:14 PM on September 8, 2014


Why is this entire article an image? I wouldn't expect an article about typography to present the text as a low quality image.

Ah, is that the case? I wondered why it was hurting my eyes to read (which, again, you wouldn't expect from an article on typography).
posted by Thing at 5:18 PM on September 8, 2014


SERIOUSLY. "And yes, I know the presentation of this "blog" is horrific but let's try not to hyper-focus on that..."
posted by DarlingBri at 5:21 PM on September 8, 2014


If you are the type of person that gets excited reading about a very useful font, you are definitely the type of person who is going to hyperfocus on horrific blog presentation.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:38 PM on September 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


I assume it's an image because they were unwilling to leave their type rendering up to the dozen or so combinations of browser & OS people would be using. So what if it looks like crap and is hard to read, at least some nit-picky details are exactly the way they want them!
posted by aubilenon at 6:19 PM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


To vision-impaired users, letters carved into stone are more usable than that blog.
posted by rustcrumb at 6:53 PM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


In fact, the last time they enjoyed such popularity was in the... first century.

Balderdash.

Trajan is iconic mostly because of Albrecht Durer. His analysis of the Trajan letterforms is familiar to every well-educated graphic designer and typographer.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:34 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


The reason the blog is built this way is not part of any conspiracy or overprotective personality. It’s just that the designer and author has very little experience in web design. Sumner Stone was active in another era, but that doesn't make his story any less interesting or poignant. He still has a lot to teach us.* Hopefully some young buck will step up and help him advance his little blog into the 21st century. He has already indicated that webfonts are on the way.

* Incidentally, I just spent an afternoon with Sumner yesterday and he is indeed full of wisdom. Lots of fascinating stories and insight into the early days of Adobe and its Type Department, of which he was the founding member.
posted by Typographica at 8:24 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


How is "Trajan" pronounced? The same as the Emperor, which Wikipedia says: (/ˈtreɪdʒən/; Latin:)?

Marcus Ulpius Traianus rolls in his grave. But I guess he's been at it for a while, since this pronunciation predates Wikipedia by a considerable margin.
posted by hat_eater at 12:20 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Really good read.

I think my one quibble would be that whilst he's right about the direct impact of Trajan he actually misses a huge Indirect impact they've had on the modern world. That's because whilst Edward Johnston (who he talks about at the beginning of the article) is perhaps best known to typographers for his work revitalising the lost art of calligraphy, his major legacy to the world was actually the London Underground block letter he created in 1916 and which is still in use (with modifications) today.

Johnston was heavily influenced by trajanic letter forms when creating his block letter, most notably in terms of letter proportions (this is why letters such as the "o" are perfectly circular) - something he was happy to admit to later when describing the process that led to its creation.

Johnston's block letter was of course an enormous success and has remained much loved ever since. Johnston's student, Eric Gill was so enamoured of it he created Gill Sans as a sort of typographical love letter to it - a typeface that (with Johnston's blessing) was so close to the original in parts that a lot of people actually assume they're the same typeface.

Between them, and in no small part thanks to those letter proportions, Johnston and Gill effectively kickstarted a revolution in type that endures to this day - they rehabilitated the Sans-Serif. Before 1916 using a Sans-Serif was the Edwardian equivalent of putting comic sans on your posters. Johnston changed that and paved the way for Gill Sans, Helvetica and the rest to dominate twentieth century design.

I guess basically what I'm saying is that trajanic letter forms have been quietly changing the world longer than perhaps even the author realises. They really are amazing letters.
posted by garius at 12:41 AM on September 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Trajan is, hands down, my favorite display face. It gets tried, at least, in just about every design I do.

It having become a movie-poster trope has saddled it with too much bombastic baggage. As far as display serifs go, I prefer the more humanistic Albertus. (Also known as the typeface from the City of London's street signage and the 1960s TV series The Prisoner.)
posted by acb at 4:15 AM on September 9, 2014


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