July 28th, 2007
We interview Jeremy Tankard about Bliss, an English sans-serif in the tradition of Gill Sans.
Thanks to the simplicity of the alphabet, thousands of Western fonts are released every year, each with its own cultural and historical nuances.
For Japanese designers, the subtleties can be obscure and difficult to identify, making choosing a good font a daunting task. As a result, many Japanese designers stick with familiar favorites like Helvetica or Garamond, or grasp at decorative fonts that lose their flavor after a few bites.
This series introduces practical, versatile, well-crafted Western fonts by contemporary type designers from around the world. We encourage you to try a few, and learn about the people and thinking behind them.
What was your inspiration for this typeface?
In 1906 Edward Johnston’s seminal book Writing & illuminating & Lettering was first published. The ideas Johnston put forward, both in this book and in his lectures, were to inspire a revival of interest in calligraphy and to inform the wider fields of lettering and type in England. One of Johnston’s ideas was a belief that a block sans serif form could be made more harmonious and acceptable if it were derived from the proportions of the Roman square capital letter. Bliss began with a nod of recognition to this idea.
In developing Bliss, forms were chosen for their simplicity, legibility and ‘Englishness’ (where forms are typically softer, more flowing and generous in their curves). The lowercase forms demonstrate some of these ideas, for example, the l is clearly different in form to a capital I and a number 1; the roman two-bowled g is traditionally found in English sans serif designs. A great deal of the character of Bliss is found in the lowercase letters. Influenced by Meier’s reasoning of ‘dynamic structure’, the resulting letters have a more natural feel and flow to them.
How important is it for designers to understand typographic history when choosing to use Bliss? If it “just works” for a project, is that also OK?
The history element is the way I work. I, like many designers, can not design in a vacuum. I believe that we learn from the past in order to design for the future whilst working in the present. The history of type is fascinating and is constantly evolving. This is all wrapped up in my appreciation of type and my day to day work with type. It doesn’t necessarily matter that a designer using Bliss (or another other type) should know its history, but as it is part of its design, it’s story may as well be passed on. Sometimes the history of a type (its heritage if you like) can be of great benefit in convincing a client that it is the right type for them to invest in and use.
What are some of the ideal uses for Bliss?
Mainly corporate use more than publishing. Museums and Art galleries. Companies seeking an English/British feel have used it. Signage companies have used it. As the forms of Bliss are open, soft and legible, they function well in situations that require an ‘approachable clarity’.
Which single character do you love the most in Bliss?
I like lowercase ‘g’ forms. Bliss was one of the first I designed.
With the addition of Greek and Cyrillic there are many forms in these scripts that I like.
Do you have a favorite typeface?
This is always a difficult question and the answer is always the same. There are many and none.
I like the original Aldine roman that inspired Monotype Bembo revival.
I like the Doves Roman used by The Doves Press, London.
I like Figgins’ types, Stephenson, Blake grots.
I like the Johnston Underground letter.
I like Jan van Krimpen’s Cancelleresca Bastarda.
and many more as type history has developed.
With every type project I work on, I research types that inspire me be they old or new.
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