There are works that are considered untouchable, considered icons of the art to which they belong. Imagine Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Yet, every now and then, there is someone who goes against the trend, criticizing or even mocking what is unanimously considered a masterpiece. If, in the Art world, it was Marcel Duchamp who drew the moustache on the Mona Lisa, then on the typographic side, it was Erik Spiekermann who distanced himself from the symbol of modern typography: Helvetica.

It happened between the 80s and 90s. Erik Spiekermann, a German designer and typographer, claimed that Helvetica was boring and bland. A true heresy for the many supporters of the Swiss typeface, which, however, did not undermine Spiekermann’s idea. The German designer believed it was time for a change in the world of typography and decided to work on a font that would be, in his own words, the “complete antithesis of Helvetica”.

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The opportunity arose for a work commissioned by the Deutsche Bundespost, the post office in West Germany, which in 1985 asked him to create a proprietary font. The project was interesting, but at the same time very difficult. The font needed to be extremely legible and easy to apply, both on large supports, such as moving vehicles, and on very small spaces, such as postage stamps. Moreover, it would potentially be printed quickly on cheap paper, with irregularities and poor ink yield.

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Spiekermann got to work materializing his typographic vision: combining the grace of calligraphic letters with the functionality of linear characters. The optimization of space led him to minimize the ascenders and descendants, with a rather compact design of the letters. The humanist font designed by Spiekermann, initially called PT55, allowed you to write a lot of text in a small space, in a clear, elegant and distinctive way.

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Unlike Helvetica, the PT55 left no room for ambiguity between letters or numbers. The three alphanumeric characters, “1Il,” are emblematic, which could often lead to confusion. Spiekermann’s letters and numbers, on the other hand, maintained a clear distinction.

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Unfortunately, the project did not go through with the Deutsche Bundespost, but Spiekermann was convinced of the potential of his character. He continued to work on it, independently, improving and expanding it, to include more weights and styles. He decided to call it Meta, taking a cue from his own design studio, MetaDesign, founded in Berlin a few years earlier. In 1991, the font was released by the newly created FontFont library with the full name FF Meta. Success was immediate and crossed national borders.

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The clean, cheerful and distinctive aesthetic, combined with the ability to be used in various contexts, made it one of the most used fonts in the 90s. From Herman Miller, an office furniture company to The Weather Channel, passing through EndemolMozilla, Imperial College London and Fort Wayne International Airport, just to name a few of the brands that have adopted the Meta over the years.

Spiekermann himself used it as a guide font for his FontBook, a collection of all the main typefaces on the market, considered by many to be the Bible of fonts.

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The growing popularity pushed its author to work on it again, expanding its weights and developing a character set that covers 110 different languages. This allowed Meta Greek, the Greek variant of Meta, to be adopted as an official character by the Greek government, in 2010.

Today Meta has become a super family of fonts, which includes, among others, the Meta Serif, a version with serifs of the original font. Also in this case, the extreme legibility is the master, restoring a clear and elegant font, also used in the design of the visual identity of Antonio Amato.

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The success of the Meta significantly contributed to Spiekermann’s fame, who today is considered one of the most authoritative figures in the field of typography. His creation was also selected by the MOMA in New York, which included it among the 23 most representative fonts of the digital age. Yet, despite the many awards, the most common appellation attributed to Meta is “the Helvetica of the 90s“, a compliment that probably does not sound like such, for its creator.

Giuseppe Mascia, Visual Design Lead

For CBA, talking about sustainability has always meant starting from the facts and working with brands to identify their concrete commitment. Acting as a brand activist is a serious matter because consumers have become increasingly aware and demand greater transparency.

So today, we are happy to tell you more about our journey with Fileni. A project focused on their Purpose, Vision and Mission, which has led the brand to be the first B Corp in the world in its sector.

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Thanks to the company’s firm belief in its choices in pursuing sustainable innovation for more than 20 years, we have reached this crucial goal. They have worked through tangible initiatives, taking all the steps necessary: organic farming, the production and purchase of electricity with a Guarantee of Origin, antibiotic-free breeding and a Sustainability Report covering the entire supply chain, with the final goal of Benefit Society certification.

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Facts first, then. A brand must equip itself with a strategic plan for two fundamental reasons: to guide future choices coherently and to communicate (internally and externally) their long-term project. CBA enters here through a strategic project divided into five phases, involving the company board and the first line of Fileni management.

  1. We conducted a brand assessment to discover the ambitions and deep motivations of the board and the Fileni family;
  2. During a workshop with the owners and management, we co-designed the commitments and method the company wants to adopt in light of past successes and future objectives (The Future Backward Method). 
  3. We measured the current perception within the company, among local stakeholders, the supply chain and consumers of Fileni’s areas of commitment through KPI scoring.  
  4. We devised an action plan for the next 3 years so Fileni can concretely implement the commitments made while also reporting and improving the perception in all areas;
  5. Finally, we developed the first communication toolkit of the strategic plans to engage all stakeholders equipped with physical and digital materials and a visual identity of their own.

In this newly formulated Purpose, Fileni completely takes on and practices the concept of Regenerative Culture as a common good for all and the new generations in particular.

Today Fileni, with a well-grounded purpose shared by all employees and members of the supply chain, is the standard-bearer of an ethical approach to production and consumption. Their method gives life to a new business model, which enhances the territory sustainably and with profit.

In a world overflowing with boxes, cases and packs, what’s the role of packaging and how will it create a strong relationship between brands and customers?

 While a crucial topic as reduction of packaging is (fortunately) already being well discussed and effective solutions are being developed in order to reduce its environmental impact, we decided to dig a little deeper, hoping to spark a reflection on what the future of packaging might look like, starting with the initial queries.

 Think you know the answer? Spoiler: there is no single path. Still, one element seems to guide the evolution of packaging, and it’s the one that underlies every single relationship: interaction. 

 At CBA Italy we investigated what lies behind the packaging-customer interaction, and we came to realise that this relationship has continued evolving over the past years, going through 4 different levels. Let’s have a look at some real-life examples:

1. Functionality

Yuka + Nutriscore

The Yuka app can decipher product labels. Through the scanning of the EAN code, the app analyzes the health impact of food products and cosmetics and gives the examined product a mark from E to A, following its nutri-score scale.

In this type of interaction, the packaging plays a passive role, waiting to get scanned. The interaction is merely functional since it doesn’t provide the user with any particular experience.

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2. Entertainment

Nestlè – Nesquik

CBA Turkey partnered with Nesquik to create an interactive packaging design for their breakfast cereal. CBA created and developed a colouring area with 4 main themes: Planets, North Pole, Oceans and Our World.

This packaging allows the user to express him/herself while giving the box a second life. The interaction opens to a moment of entertainment and becomes the very first step in the relationship between the brand and its audience.

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3. Product Storytelling

Prosecco V8+

We created a project to re-launch a young Prosecco brand, revising all the brand’s graphic assets and uniting them into a consistent and unified story: the label clearly describes the wine’s characteristics, giving space to the production method; once opened, the capsule communicates the product features.

V8+’s bottles are designed to unveil the incredible story behind every product of their line: this interaction between the user and the product activates a strong bonding process between the audience and the brand while enhancing the product characteristics.

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4. Brand Storytelling

Meracinque

We designed the new identity of Meracinque rice, aiming at conveying the high quality of the product through an emotive and rational consumer-driven approach. The result was the creation of a new pack, where the five sisters tell their story and describe the product.

The story of the sisters and their project occupies a primary position in the pack. The pack was developed as a medium focusing on narration, taking the consumer on a journey to discover a one-of-a-kind story and an extraordinary brand.

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As we set out to uncover the next level of interactive packaging, we began to wonder: are there more questions we need to address? 

Short answer: yes, there’s always more to address. 
Long answer: as far as packaging, we identified one more level of interaction, that we divided into two main themes. In our opinion, they will be pivotal in guiding its evolution: we are talking about inclusivity and continuity.

5.1. Inclusivity

Kellogg’s – Rice Crispies Treats

In our opinion, one of the best examples of inclusive packaging is represented by Kellogg’s Rice Crispies Love Notes. This product comes in two versions: one for autistic kids and one for kids with sight disabilities. 

The one designed for kids with autism comes in a pack with four heart-shaped stickers to match the space on Rice Krispies Treats writable wrappers. The sensory stickers feature soft, smooth and bumpy textures designed for children with autism who may enjoy tactile experiences. 

The one dedicated to kids with sight disabilities includes six heart-shaped stickers displaying love messages in the Braille alphabet so that kids can receive love notes from their parents even during their afternoon snack.

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5.2. Continuity

Mc Donald’s – Happy Goggles

While designing the new packaging for its iconic Happy Meal, McDonald’s goal was to “ensure that the World’s most famous box will continue to be magical and relevant to families for another 30 years. Meet Happy Goggles – a unique VR viewer made from an ordinary Happy Meal box.”

McDonald’s was able to bring forth what we believe will be the future of packaging: a transformative box that enables a continuous interaction on both digital and physical levels, in order to enhance the brand experience.

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In the end, we can conclude that interaction is the main element that brands are taking into account as they follow the natural evolution of packaging. How come?

The most relevant trends are showing us how the average customer is evolving, always expecting more in terms of experience and engagement from the brands they follow. In order to keep up with people’s needs, brands and packaging must continue to evolve, on the one hand by meeting the demands of their respective markets, and on the other by maintaining the ability to remain true to themselves and stand out from their competitors.

Now tell us, how do you think the packaging and its relation with the consumer will move forward in the next future?Looking forward to knowing your ideas, we at CBA Italy will keep exploring.

Giulio Vescovi, Strategic Designer at CBA Italy

The timeframe is the late 1950s, and more precisely, 1957. The economic boom had reached its zenith, Russia was about to launch Sputnik, Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road was published, and in Italy, the Fiat 500 was enjoying its debut on the automobile market. In this climate of progress and development, typography was also in one of its golden ages. Up until then, visual communications were expressed using the lines of Akzidenz-Grotesk, emblematic of the International Typographical Style (more commonly known as the Swiss Style). That year saw the market appearance of three typographical milestones: Helvetica, Folio and Univers, the latter designed by Adrian Frutiger, one of the most influential and prolific 20th-century typeface designers.

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Drawing inspiration from Akzidenz, Frutiger created Univers, one of the first typeface families with different weights, widths and obliques, for the Deberny & Peignot type foundry.

The intention behind this project was to create a single system that would enable designers to create graphic layouts using a single typeface, in its different variants.

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In addition to being a true masterpiece in terms of lettering design, Univers also introduced a system of classification and recognisability that was revolutionary at that time: the two-digit classification system.

Up until then, the font nomenclature system included, in addition to the name, the weight and width, all in the typeface’s original language. By way of example, in Germany a semi bold italic was named “halbfett kursiv”, in France a bold typeface was called “gras”, while in Italy it was “grassetto” or “neretto” and so forth. This system gave rise to – and still does today – a lot of misunderstandings regarding a font’s identification. An emblematic example is the difference between “thin” and “ultra light” which does not immediately clarify which weight is the lightest.

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With the introduction of Univers, this classification method was superseded by a far simpler approach. The two-digit system consists of a prefix (the first digit) which defines the weight, and a suffix (the second digit) which defines the width and style (Roman or oblique).

For example, Univers 39 defines a light font (3) with ultra-narrow width (9), while Univers 83 specifies an ultra-black (8) extended (3) font. When the suffix is an even number, it refers to the oblique variants. This system is used still today in families of typefaces which, like Univers, have many internal variants.

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By means of this tool, graphic layouts were able to attain a remarkable degree of simple hierarchic uniformity, making Univers one of the most influential typeface families of all time. One of its most famous applications is the visual identity project for Swiss International Air Lineswhich utilises a modified version of Frutiger’s Univers.

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However, this Swiss style is not used just in that country. For many years, gigantic companies such as Deutsche Bank and General Electric have used modified (but always easily recognisable) versions of the typeface for their visual identity.

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Univers was also the typeface used for the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. More specifically, Otl Aicher’s work on communications for the 1972 Munich Games represents one of the most important and successful communication projects in the history of design, in part due to the typeface’s elegance and linearity.

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Other examples of its use by famous brands include the visual identities and logos of Unicef, ebay and Audi.

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Apple itself, which has always dedicated a great deal of attention to typographical aspects, used a Univers font for the keys of its computers up until 2007, before changing initially to VAG Rounded and later, San Francisco.

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The fascination of Univers has continued unchanged up until the present, now that grotesque typefaces are enjoying remarkable popularity and are widely used by designers all over the world.

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Without doubt, 2020 was a year that overturned our lives, influencing our behaviour as consumers. In the retail sector, hard-hit by the pandemic, the online purchasing experience has shown the expansion of a decade in just a few months, with a 26% growth and a turnover of 22.7 billion euro in 2020 (source: B2C eCommerce Observatory, Politecnico di Milano – Milan Technical University). When consumers return to brick-and-mortar stores, they will have a new awareness that will increasingly narrow the separation between physical and digital space.

How are brands operating in this new scenario?

Over the course of the last twelve months, many companies, above all in the world of fashion, have ventured into new, hitherto unexplored, territories. Augmented reality, virtual stores and distance assistance are just some of the solutions that we have encountered and learnt how to manage.

Prada’s virtual fashion show for the women’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection, streamed live globally
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STAYING IN CONTACT WITH CONSUMERS

One of the first companies to take steps in this direction, with the objective of staying in direct contact with its consumers, is IKEA. After having abandoned its printed catalogue, the Swedish giant opened its first virtual store in which consumers can move along a route and make purchases with just a click, with the assistance of a virtual reality headset.

The IKEA virtual store
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Hybrid approaches of this sort were also experimented by Gucci and Piquadro. Both of them offered its customers a virtual experience in which its sales assistants, wearing 3D glasses, take the place of consumers, providing a true distance personal shopping service.

A new virtual personal shopping service by Gucci and Piquadro
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These examples highlight the concern, particularly on the part of luxury brands, of generating value for an expression of e-commerce that is principally involved in products. Online purchasing leaves little opportunity for a brand to develop effective storytelling that can be perceived by the consumer. To avoid a sensation of dullness in the product range available, technology can provide an effective tool for disclosing the brand’s values, recreating the type of contact experience that usually occurs in the physical space.

NEW IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCES

With a view to involving customers in a new purchasing experience, virtual reality is the tool that comes closest to the physical situation. Immersive techniques are providing a new outlook on the use of content and engagement. For 2022, it has been estimated that about 2 billion people will utilise virtual reality at least once a month, with an estimated growth of 125 billion dollars over the next four years.

One of the latest examples was provided by FCA for the CES show in Las Vegas, the technology trade fair which this year took place in virtual format. The Italian-American group simulated a three-dimensional stand at which the visitor, accompanied by a virtual assistant, could interact with 3D models of vehicles, personalising colours and learning about the interior details.

FCA and its virtual showroom during the CES show in Las Vegas
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For the launch of the Spring/Summer 2021 collection, Diesel decided to replicate the event in the virtual world. The Hyperoom project gave its buyers the possibility of exploring the three-dimensional showroom, with guidance by sales staff provided by a live-chat platform.

Hyperoom by Diesel, a virtual showroom for the launch of the new collection
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The most extreme and visionary example was offered by Harry Nuriev, Russian artist and founder of Crosby Studios, who launched Crosby Studios Homes, the first wholly online furnishing and lifestyle brand. Software from the world of gaming was used to display the collection, reconstructing an apartment entirely decorated with objects and items for the home. On the website, by means of a self-guided tour, customers can download 3D models of each article and order articles from the collection.

Crosby Studios Homes, the first online furnishing and lifestyle brand
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THE PHYGITAL FUTURE

Companies’ investment into the online sector as opposed to stores, illustrated, for example, by Zara’s closure of over 1,200 points of sale, is leading to a new balance between physical and digital space. Even though some tools, such as augmented reality, are still only minimally accessible and exploited, the online experience will be a priority in the future. Stores will therefore have to evolve, offering an integrated experience in which to create more intense connections by rethinking purchasing processes.

However, the future will not involve exclusively the use of the latest technology to dazzle customers, but rather it will guarantee that the technological methods that are adopted meet consumer needs. Brick-and-mortar stores will become brands’ opportunity for creating a holistic experience in which to nurture the fidelity of its audience, going beyond solely the purchase of products. The design of omnichannel strategies capable of creating authentic relations with customers will be of key importance for long-term survival and for remaining relevant on the market.

Between the late 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium, the introduction of CSS (Cascading Styles Sheets) in information technology marked the start of a new age for typefaces. In fact, the CSS language made it possible to design the appearance of web pages with great freedom: designers were no longer restricted to the use of just the so-called “web-safe fonts”, but were free to choose personalised fonts as they desired. One of the typefaces that benefited most for its great versatility both online and offline was without doubt Proxima Nova, which many have defined as the Helvetica of the web.

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However the path leading to consecration in the temple of the best-loved contemporary typefaces was long and tough. It was long ago, in 1981, that Mark Simonson, the father of Proxima Nova, began thinking about a new, geometric and elemental typeface, sketching it on a piece of paper (and provisionally naming it Zanzibar), never imagining that that sketch would take another 9 long years to reach fruition.

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In fact it was only from 1990 to 1993 that Simonson, who was then Art Director of the magazine Business Ethics,created “Visigothic”, basing it on the 1981 sketch with the objective of creating a simpler and more geometric alternative to the typeface Gills Sans, which he was using at that time for the magazine’s page design. He thus devised a hybrid that combined Helvetica’s modern and regular characteristics with the more technical and geometric appearance of Futura and Franklin Gothic.

The first public appearance of Visigothic dates back to late 1993, printed on the Star Wars – The Original Radio Dramacassette designed by Simonson himself. In 1994its name changed and it was released as Proxima Sans. Initially Simonson had great plans for this project, but due to the accumulation of other work commitments, he decided not to dedicate any more time to it and unfortunately developed just a few font weights.

But in the early 2000s, things started to change for Proxima Sans. In 2002, Matthew Ball decided to use it for the redesign of the magazine Rolling Stone. In the same year, on commission from GQ magazine, Tobias Frere-Jones published a geometric typeface inspired by New York City and named Gotham. Gotham rapidly became popular, causing an exponential increase in the demand for simple, linear geometric typefaces.Seizing the opportunity, in 2005 Simonson republished Proxima Sans, renaming it Proxima Nova. This typeface was improved with many more weights and styles capable of combining a geometric appearance with modern proportions. The six original fonts in the Proxima Sans family (with three italic weights) thus became 48 complete OpenType fonts.

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In 2009the Typekit font hosting service was launched, and from the start, Proxima Nova was one of the first typefaces available. In 2013, Proxima Nova became extremely popular, inundating the digital world as a result of its incredible versatility both for print applications and for digital interfaces.

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Today, it is the major typeface for some of the most popular digital media companies such as BuzzFeed, Flickr, Mashable, NBC News, Wired etc. It is used in the logo of the third best airline in the world, Turkish Airlines, and by many other companies

However, as is the case for all great typefaces, the long process of refinement has not ended yet. New weights are arriving for the rounded version Proxima Nova Soft, an additional language support tool has recently been implemented, including Vietnamese, Cyrillic and Greek, and apparently, a possible Proxima Nova Wide is in the development stage.

Stay proximal for the next release!

Mark Simonson

Today we are accustomed to asking questions and talking to various virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. Each has its own tone of voice, personality and characteristics. At the dawn of artificial intelligence, this was not the case. The assistant’s “voice” was inextricably linked to the shape of its lettering. Microsoft became acutely aware of this in 1994, when it was working on a project to enhance the friendliness of the user interface of MS Bob, an alternative operating system in which the workspace took the form of a domestic lounge. Inevitably the system also comprised the perfect assistant, the faithful dog Rover.

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This is where the Comic Sans adventure began. In fact, the friendly dog “spoke” to the user, giving its suggestions using texts displayed in Times New Roman, a typeface that had been designed in 1932 for totally different purposes. Vincent Connare, a Type Designer at Microsoft who had previously worked at Agfa/Compugraphic, was struck by this typeface’s inability to express the desired approach. He had some copies of Watchmen and Batman on his desk. Connare immediately realised that the human touch of cartoon lettering could be more appropriate for an assistant with a friendly appeal such as that of the dog Rover. So he started working on Comic Sans, a typeface that would go down in history.

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Unfortunately the typeface was not used for MS Bob, but it was included as one of the basic fonts of the Windows 95 operating system that was then being developed. Any person with a PC of that generation could use Comic Sans. It soon began to be used on a massive scale: for birthday party invitations, greeting cards, restaurant menus through to home-made posters. A large proportion of the sheets emerging from domestic printers were in Comic Sans. The typeface’s amusing, infantile and naïve appearance evoked a personal feel, something that other fonts, even though prestigious, were unable to express. It became the natural choice for people who didn’t want to take themselves too seriously. Unfortunately, it was used for many other things as well. Its use led to misuse, and this is where the problems started. Official documents, police cars, signs indicating danger of death, tombstones: all too often, Comic Sans began appearing in totally inappropriate situations, giving rise to involuntary humour which soon became loathing, above all in the world of designers.

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In the early 2000s, a movement against the typeface came into being, giving rise to the website bancomicsans.com (no longer active), on which you could buy T-shirts, caps and stickers that expressed the desire to ban the font. The site’s founders, Holly and David Combs, also published a sort of manifesto that explained their dissent:

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The typeface was also discussed by the Wall Street Journal, which in 2009 defined it as being so unpopular as to be retro-chic. Design Week even dedicated a cover to it, using it for the ironic message “The world’s favourite font!?”. Its inability to communicate plausibly is also treated by the ironic blog Comics Sans Project, in which famous identities are redesigned using the culpable typeface.

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Over the years, inappropriate applications of the typeface have not ceased. For example, in 2012 it was used by CERN researchers at the press conference informing the world about the discovery of the Higgs Boson, and in 2014, some NBA stars wore a protest T-shirt with the text “I can’t breathe” in Comic Sans.

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Despite the amount of criticism it has received, Comic Sans has an important point in its favour, the fact that it clearly showed that every typeface has its own personality, suitable for certain contexts and unsuitable for others. The reasons that led Connare to design it were wholly valid, and if only its use had been restricted to the areas initially contemplated, Comic Sans would have performed its role to perfection, without giving rise to so much debate. As Connare himself said in an interview, “If you love Comic Sans, you don’t know much about typography. If you hate it, you really don’t know much about typography either, and you should get another hobby”, underlining the fact that it is not the typeface itself that is right or wrong, but rather the way in which it is used.

Giuseppe Mascia, Visual Design Lead at CBA

Ten years have gone by from when Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, published the first photo on his digital platform. The world was entering a new era, the age of smartphones, influencers and memes. The epoch of streaming, the internet of things, and the sharing economy.

These great developments have changed not only everyday habits, they have also affected culture, the visual arts and design. Typography has not been a mere onlooker in this evolution. The 2010s were years of important revolutions in typeface design, playing an increasingly pivotal role in graphic design due to a new and more mature awareness of typography.

Return to rigor

In the early years of the new decade, there was a renewed interest in uncluttered geometries, a trend that had appeared a few years earlier with the spread of linear typefaces such as Gotham, and that propelled typefaces such as Akkurat and Circular to popularity towards the mid-decade.

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Alongside technological innovations, an elemental, minimalist style of typography developed, linked to digital aesthetics, which replaced all elements of traditional ornamentation, considered as superfluous or even problematic.

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One of the most important reasons for this return to minimalism was the need for greater legibility, fundamental in a world in which most content is accessed through the screens of smartphones or even smaller devices. This was keenly felt by Apple, to the point that, specially for the Apple Watch, the company launched “San Francisco”, a typeface that successively became standard for all products by the Cupertino-based company.

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This trend towards minimalism has also been clearly visible in the world of branding, above all within the largest digital corporations, but in other companies as well.

It was in fact the decade of historic rebranding operations for important names such as Google, which abandoned the historic serif character of its logotype in 2015, adopting instead a geometric, linear font, “Product Sans”. The same approach was adopted by Facebook, Spotify, Airbnb, Motorola and Lenovo, and later by Dropbox, Mastercard, Pandora, Pinterest and Uber. This quest for simplicity reached its peak of popularity towards the middle of the 2010s.

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Towards the end of the decade, the phenomenon spread to important fashion brands, which gradually adopted more neutral and geometric versions of their historic logos, with varying degrees of approval on the part of the public.

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The experimental phase

At the same time, from the mid-2010s, there was a powerful interest in more experimental forms of typeface. This trend was made possible by the introduction of user-friendly software such as “Glyphs”, which enabled increasing numbers of designers to enter the world of type design, and fuelled an increase of typography’s popularity on social media. Good examples include viral projects such as “36 Days of Type” which over the course of 6 years collected over 670,000 participants.

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The possibility of accessing tools that were previously reserved to just a few people induced a sort of revolution that went beyond the pure Nevill Brody-style provocation of the 1990s. Typographical experimentation became more mature, acquiring a full awareness of its identity as a true form of expression.

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Mirko Borsche became one of the most important exponents of this point of view. He succeeded in bringing this trend to a mainstream level, working with important fashion and sportswear brands.

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The academic world has always made powerful contributions in terms of experimentation. Without doubt, one of the most significant examples is Ecal, the Swiss institute based in Lausanne, which in recent years has often anticipated and launched new trends in the world of typography.

In Italy, the height of excellence in this regard is Isia in Urbino. This college has always dedicated a lot of attention to its students’ typographical research and experimentation, and it has embraced this new wave of creativity in initiatives that include the New Wave project.

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Typographical experimentation has also included the redesign of historic, classic typefaces. It is no coincidence that the last decade saw an increase in popularity of the Didone family, typefaces of French inspiration that emerged in the 18th century, and that were given new interpretations compliant with the needs of new technology.

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Technology and new opportunities

With the development of technology, the 2010s saw the introduction of another important opportunity: the possibility of displaying every typeface correctly on the web platform, made possible by the introduction of the WOFF (Web Open Font Format) in 2010. Before then, the choices of typefaces available for a web page were limited to a handful of “system” fonts, which made it almost impossible to communicate your own identity online through typography.

It was normal practice to include an alternative “web safe” font that was as close as possible to the same typeface used for printing, but due to the limited number of options available, the result was not always acceptable.

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It was precisely for this reason that in 2009 the Swedish company IKEA decided to abandon Futura, after having used it for 50 years, and adopted Verdana, one of the few “web safe” typefaces of the day, in order to attain a greater degree of coherence between online and offline communications.

Ironically, just one year later, developments in technology would have made it possible to use Futura online as well as in print, which would have enabled the company to save the large capital investments that had been made for the transition to the new typeface.

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Another factor in the move towards typographical democratisation was a pivotal innovation introduced by Google. In 2010 it launched its “Google Fonts” service, giving its users the chance to work with a wide range of professional typefaces, totally free of charge. The typefaces are web- friendly, and superbly designed right down to the smallest details. They represent a valuable resource, for web designers and many other web users. Two of the most popular typefaces on the platform are Roboto and Open Sans.

Adobe has worked in the same way, introducing the “Adobe Typekit” service in 2011, for all Creative Cloud users, providing access to an extensive typeface library included as part of the subscription.

Over the years, these services have become very popular, giving a new meaning to the definition of “free font”. Originally this expression referred to amateur typefaces, with a limited range of font weights and often with a restricted number of glyphs; today on the other hand, the definition can be applicable to some very interesting typefaces, accessible to everyone without any compromise.

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This typographical democratisation has, however, increased the need for distinctive typefaces, something that, in addition to a growing visual awareness amongst the population at large and not just professionals working in this field, has induced an increasing number of companies to have their own proprietary typefaces, so-called “Custom Fonts”. In addition to giving the company an original visual identity and adding prestige, this decision can also have important economic benefits.

An emblematic example is that of Netflix, which saved millions of dollars in copyright fees by designing its own typeface. Or that of “Cereal”, Airbnb’s custom typeface created by Dalton Maag in 2018.

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Returning to the subject of technology, there is another important event that characterised the 2010s, changing the rules in the world of typography: the introduction of Variable Fonts in 2016.

This new technology has expanded the possibilities of Open Type, in the sense of a single font file that includes innumerable variations in weights and shape which become “variable”, i.e. they can be modified directly within the programme. So, instead of large typeface families, there is a single file that includes all the possible variants, with every version respecting the fundamental characteristics and identity.

Yet to reach widespread acceptance, this technology provides maximum font flexibility, and at the same time, maximum efficiency in terms of light weight, an important factor for the web.

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And so, an intense decade has come to an end, a decade in which technology, above all web technology, has played a central role in the epochal changes that have made quality typefaces an increasingly appreciated and pivotal element.

It is likely that over the course of the next few years, an increasing focus on customer-centric design, together with the development of new technology, will mark a turning-point in the interaction between users and typography, further improving user experience with respect to its functionality.

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One thing that is certain is that at the start of another decade, a concept that has accompanied us in previous years is still valid: “Type matters!” is true today more than ever before.


Emilio La Mura, Visual Designer at CBA

Even those who aren’t die-hard comic book lovers will be familiar with Gotham City, the imaginary city where the adventures of Batman are set. However, the artists at DC Comics didn’t start from nothing: Gotham City is the fantastical transposition of New York City. Even though it is not mentioned explicitly, the link between Batman’s hometown and the Big Apple is very close indeed.

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It may be for this reason that type designer Frere-Jones, Hoefler’s partner at the time, decided to name the typeface he designed Gotham after the comic book city. As with Batman, here too New York is a great source of inspiration.

The font was born in 2000, commissioned by GQ, which wanted a linear font with a geometric structure. A u0022masculine, new and freshu0022 typeface capable of lending a certain authority and credibility to the articles they published.

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In order to capture the essence of the city, Tobias Frere-Jones took thousands of photos all around New York, concentrating especially on the old signs from the mid-twentieth century. The type designer wanted to capture the rationalist spirit of those years, which can also be found in its architecture and urban planning.

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He was most strongly inspired by the sign at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Eighth Avenue, whose simplicity was summarised thusly by Frere-Jones: u0022not the kind of letter a type designer would make. It’s the kind of letter an engineer would make. It was born outside the type design in some other world and has a very distinct flavor from thatu0022.

The typeface that comes out of it fully embodies the minimalist philosophy by which it was inspired. In its 44 weight variations – now 66 – there is no room for frivolous or pointless elements. Gotham is a solid and functional typeface, yet accessible. The description on the Hoefler & Co website is quite clear: u0022From the lettering that inspired it, Gotham inherited an honest tone that’s assertive but never imposing, friendly but never folksy, confident but never aloofu0022.

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Its main characteristics include the circular shape of many of its letters and the fairly prominent height of the lowercase letters, with consequent quite small ascendants and descendants.

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A few years after its publication, when the exclusive rights for GQ expire, it is used as the main character for the identities of the Freedom Tower and for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, at the World Trade Center.

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But it wasn’t until 2008 that it truly became famous: Barack Obama, as a candidate for the presidency of the United States, chose it as the official font for his campaign. “YES WE CAN”, “CHANGE”, “HOPE”: all clear, direct messages which found Gotham, with its simple and incisive look, to be the natural solution to represent them.

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The rest is history. The u0022Obama typefaceu0022 became popular not only in the United States, but worldwide. It became the font of choice for Coca Cola, Netflix, Saturday Night Live, Turkish Airlines, DC Comics, Tribeca Film Festival to name but a few.

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In the world of cinema, too, it gained a great deal of popularity, featuring on the posters for many blockbusters.

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Obama himself, 4 years after his first campaign, decided to adopt Gotham as his font once again for the 2012 mid-term elections. However, this time he decided to add serifs to “his” font. Hoefler and Frere-Jones themselves commented on the request with a hint of irony:

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Giuseppe Mascia, Visual Design Lead at CBA

In the second half of the 15th century, with the development of moveable-type printing, Venice became one of the most important centres for typography art. One only has to think of the exquisite work of Francesco Griffo for Bembo, a typeface studied at the end of the 1400s for “de Aetna” by Pietro Bembo, from which it takes its name.

There was however a character that was to be associated with the timeless elegance of Italian printing, the Bodoni, created a few centuries later in Parma. Again in this case, the name of the typeface was associated with a surname, that of Giambattista Bodoni, a native of Cuneo who lived in Parma. Bodoni was born in 1740 to a family of typographers, and after years of training in Saluzzo and Rome, he moved to Parma, where he became director of the Royal Typography.

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His artistic sensitivity, combined with his considerable technical ability, drove him to experiment with new forms of character, drawing inspiration from France.

Taking his cue from the work of Pierre-Simon Fournier, later taken up by Firmin Didot, Giambattista Bodoni created his typeface in 1798. Its main characteristics lay in the extreme contrast in the very fine serifs and in the perpendicular nature of the same in respect to the vertical lines.

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These characteristics were made possible also thanks to progress in printing techniques and improved quality paper, which allowed for very fine lines to be used without the risk of them disappearing.

Bodoni rapidly became the new standard for typographical elegance, to the extent that almost every print workshop had its own version of Bodoni, although none of them ever reached the level of elegance of the original.

Due to the modernity that it introduced, the new font was identified as “modern serif”, a definition still used today to indicate typefaces of a Bodonian nature such as Didot, in contrast to “classic” or “Venetian” serifs such as Bembo, and “transitional serifs” such as Baskerville.

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The principles on which the character were founded were illustrated by Bodoni himself in his “Manual of Typography”:

regularity, all the letters must be constructed on a common base which defines them;clarity, the letters must be highly legible;good taste, the letters must fulfil their task without excessive affectations;beauty, the letters must be created with all the care and attention necessary without limits of time (it is no coincidence that Bodoni was to spend his entire life perfecting his typeface).

Thanks to his art, the Piedmont-born typographer rendered Parma the world capital of printing at the end of the 1700s. His ties to the city were so strong that in 1963, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his death, the Bodoni Museum, the oldest printing museum in Italy, was inaugurated.

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In its more than two hundred years of history, the Bodoni font has been subject to various interpretations by the main type-foundries. Among the most significant are those by the American Type Founders (1907), by Bauer (1926), and by the International Type Corporation (1994), which, while inspired by the original design, have stylistic characteristics that render them clearly distinguishable.

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Even the famous designer Massimo Vignelli, a great admirer of Bodoni, made his version of the font in 1989 in collaboration with Tom Carnase, called Our Bodoni. However, in 1991 Vignelli, convinced that the enormous proliferation of digital fonts created nothing more than visual confusion, organised an exhibition of his work, demonstrating that all projects can be handled with just a few standard typefaces. It goes without saying that together with Helvetica, Futura, and just a few other well-known fonts, Vignelli featured Bodoni in his list.

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The many uses of Bodoni, or its closest derivations, include the identities of Valentino, Vogue, Armani, Dior, Calvin Klein and Elle.

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But it is not only the fashion world that makes use of Bodoni. The typeface is also particularly popular in the music industry, from Bruce Springsteen to Nirvana, right up to Lady Gaga.

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The Bodoni style was also the protagonist for the re-branding of the Langosteria restaurants and bistros, studied by Cba. Beginning with the need to express a higher level of premiumness in line with the new positioning of the brand, a Bodonian-style font was used as the standard character. As well as being used in the composition of the logotype, the character has become an integral part of the new visual language of the brand, conferring it with stature and elegance.

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Even the Type Directors Club has recognised the prestigious use of the font, awarding the editorial project “Rivoluzione Langosteria” the ambitious certificate of excellence in typography.

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The latest uses of Bodoni also include that for the identity of Zara. In 2019 the famous Spanish fashion house made use of Bodoni to lend new prestige to its more than 2,000 shops located in 93 countries around the world, demonstrating that the font is still a very topical choice, despite its more than 200 years of history.

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Giuseppe Mascia, Visual Design Lead at CBA