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An expansive and iconic typeface, Gill Sans has appeared in branding for the likes of BBC, Penguin Books and British Railways, as well as film titles such as Finding Nemo, Toy Story and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Another Eric Gill classic, the serif typeface Joanna, graced the covers of Penguin’s Modern Classics series.
Now, Monotype has updated these classic typefaces for the modern user with special considerations for on-screen reading, including new regular and condensed weights. The update resulted in the release of the substantial Eric Gill Series, which contains more than 75 fonts in three families: Gill Sans Nova, Joanna Nova and a hybrid, Joanna Sans Nova.
Bringing Eric Gill’s Classic Typefaces to the Digital Age
Four typeface designers from across the globe—Steve Matteson, George Ryan, Ben Jones and Terrence Weinzierl—worked for two years provide designers with a set of typefaces that work elegantly together.
Gill Sans was originally crafted in 1928 during the days of metal press. Due to the cost of production at the time, Gill Sans has its quirks and peculiarities and was produced in limited weights.
“The designers of the time were more selective in saying a regular, a semi-bold, and an extra-bold were enough for their use,” says Monotype’s typeface designer Steve Matteson. The limited weights made for less versatile use, especially on-screen. Now, “A designer can basically pick and choose from any of these fonts and they will go well together.”
Despite its ubiquitous appearance across book covers, film titles and global brands, Gill Sans was not originally intended for use as body text.
“There’s a tendency for a lot of people to expect that any typeface to work well at any size,” Matteson says. “Oftentimes, people will be choosing inappropriate typefaces for text that may look really great for headlines or for signage, and then just expect them to work well reading on the screen.”
Aiming to make the typeface more easily digestible for on-screen reading, the Monotype designers set out to expand and refine Gill Sans in order to create a unifying set of fonts from the family while staying true to Eric Gill’s style.
“Gill Sans has been available for quite some time,” Matteson says. “But the notion to make it more contemporary I had about 5 years ago. And being such a big project, it’s been sort of daunting.”
The Eric Gill Series:
Designer George Ryan made sure to maintain Eric Gill’s style in this remastered Gill Sans typeface. Gill Sans Nova contains extended versions of the original, offering varying weights for both the regular and condensed weights, each with italics. The typeface includes 25 new fonts, some of which were based on typefaces previously withdrawn from the Monotype Library, such as the Gill Sans Nova Deco.
Joanna Nova is a digital redesign of Gill’s serif typeface, Joanna, which was originally designed for letterpress. Designer Ben Jones created 18 new fonts for this typeface, which is double the size of the original family. Each glyph was redrawn using a variety of sources, including the original drawings. It also features new weights and support for Greek and Cyrillic scripts.
Joanna Sans Nova is a Humanist sans serif that incorporates elements of both Gill Sans and Joanna.
“Joanna Sans is unmistakably a cousin of Gill Sans,” Matteson says. “It has a lot of the Gill Sans DNA to it. Being able to work with proportions a little bit and making it a lit bit larger on the body makes it better for reading on the screen than the original Gill Sans.”
Terrance Weinzierl spent over three years crafting Joanna Sans specifically for screen-based reading. The typeface has 16 fonts, from thin to black with accompanying italics, which are ideal for on-screen and longer-form reading.
In a serendipitous meeting, Matteson, Ryan, Jones and Weinzierl found that they had all thought of redesigning Gill Sans, and together they saw opportunity to create an elegant family.
“Once we realized what each other were thinking, we came together and said, ok, we need to harmonize them so that when you switch from one to the other it’s not alarming, that they don’t look like they belong with each other,” says Matteson.
From their respective locations across the US and the UK, the four designers communicated constantly in order to harmonize their efforts. They sought to retain the original Gill Sans charm across the various weights for those who appreciate such subtle nuances—while also providing designers with an alternative and more systematic selection that functions well in the digital space.
“As technology changes, we can’t let our typeface designs languish in the past,” Matteson says.
The Eric Gill Series Exhibition
To celebrate the release of the new typeface series, Monotype is hosting a seven-day exhibition. From November 4th to November 10th, type lovers and students can interact with the Eric Gill Series and learn about the origins, the present, and future of typeface design. The exhibition will showcase hand-drawings of the development of Gill Sans typeface, test prints for display fonts that were never digitized, and copper plates revealing the production process of early letterpress typefaces. You can register to attend the free exhibition here.
Inspire your type designs with the side-by-side travel photo comparisons in Culture+Typography by Nikki Villagomez. Each image features examples of typography in culture, along with cultural and historical commentary to go with the image. Explore how design choices can be informed by the language of the cultural surroundings, and learn more about type selection, color usage, and more with this inspiring book.