Thibaudeau type classification.

Classifications of Typefaces is an endless activity. Many books cover the subject, and try to adapt, optimise the system. There is no perfect system, I still use The Vox ATypI system mainly as terminology to describe typefaces. Maximilien Vox, founder of the Rencontres Internationale de Lure, its author said repeatedly that his system should work by combining the names of categories: “Each typeface has two parents.” Rare are those who really follow this mechanism.

Vox type classification map, from la Chose imprimée, chapter on type classification by the author, 1999.

In 1967, when the British standard adopted an evolution of the Vox system they added four subdivisions to the group VI: Lineal.

— Lineal Grotesque: Nineteenth century origin, such Monotype 215, Stephen Blacke’s Grot No. 6.

— Lineal Neo-Grotesque: Modern sans such Univers and Helvetica.

— Lineal Geometric: Theoretical typefaces constructed on geometrical shapes such Futura, Erbard, Eurostyle.

— Lineal Humanist: Based on Roman inscriptions or Garald such Gill Sans, Optima, Pascal.

Vox-ATypI type classification, 1967.

What I like about Vox-ATypI classification is that it is easy to describe a typeface. Nevertheless, it remains limited, because additional words must be used together, such geometric, contrasted, etc..

— Gill Sans: Lineal-Garald

— Optima: Incised-Transitional

ITC Garamond: Garald-Transitional

— Rockwell: Mecane-Didone

— Caecilia: Mecane-Garald

Will Hill: The Complete Typographer III.

From Will Hill: The Complete Typographer III.

In the latest edition of Will Hill: The Complete Typographer III, I have noticed that on the chapter catalog of types, he added level of complexity on its categories such adding Serif/Sans (such Scala, Thesis, Le Monde, Stone, etc.) , Modern European (such Dolly), Pre-Typographic Archaic/Classical (such Sophia, Herculanum), […], Garald Companions (such Big Caslon), Rationalists (such Ambroise), Industrial (such Gotham, Giza) or Informational/Wayfinding (such Parisine, FF info). I understand the noble intention to give an idea about the potential use of type families, their style, their connotation. Nevertheless, I think that this is not an ideal solution to mix forms type, typographico-historical references and area of use.

From Stop Stealing Sheep, chapter: Type with a purpose.

Erik Spiekermann on its Stop Stealing Sheep cover this in better way on the chapter: Type with a purpose. To take one example, the Business page show a picture of a suit, ties, nice shoes together with a description of typefaces and their potential uses in the Business context. At the end, he suggest Frutiger, Palatino, Univers and Bodoni. This only proves once again that the classification of typefaces is not a panacea, but elements of vocabulary to describe a new typeface who appears on the market.

Rather than establish categories and trying to fill out with existing typefaces, it sound more relevant to select various typefaces and try to tag (non-hierarchical keyword or term assigned to a piece of information) them with various typographic vocabulary terms.


By Jean François Porchez, 10 March 2011. All rights reserved.


Erik Spiekermann
La Chose imprimée, du papier @ l‘écran
Maximilien Vox
Rencontres Internationale de Lure
Ruari McLeans
Stop Stealing Type
Vox-ATypI classification
Will Hill: The Complete Typographer III