How to Classify all of these Thousands of Faces? The Vox-ATypI Classification and its Predecessors
Thibeadeau vox


Above: Current TYPI Classes from Théorie, Design, Graphique 3
Click here for a larger imag
e here.

Francis Thibaudeau

Proposed in 1921

Thibaudeau was a French typographer who began categorizing type into a system while working on font catalogs for foundries Renault & Marcou and Peignot & Cie.

His method, based upon the shape of the 'footings' (serifs) of the letter, was amended to include a category of Écritures (scripts) and Fantasy (for "advertising or novelty characters).

Thibeaudeau authored two texts on typography,
Letters of the Printing Works (1921) and The French Handbook of Modern Typography (1924). 1

Maximilien Vox (Monod)

Proposed in 1952

Vox, (his real name, Samuel William Théodore Monod) was a designer, journalist, art critic and type historian. He expanded on the Thibeaudeau system by further refining the Elzevir* group into Humanes, Garaldes, Réales and by dividing Thibeaudeau's writing category into manual and script.

In his 1954,
Defense and Illustration de la lettre, Vox attempted to classify type into nine styles based on a number of formal criteria: downstroke and upstroke, forms of serifs, stroke axis, x-height, etc.

* Read about Elzevir here

Adopted in 1962

The Vox-ATypI classification defines archetypes of typefaces, but in fact a typeface can easily exhibit the characteristics of more than one class.

Vox's system was expanded to eleven classes (by adding Fraktur and nonLatin faces) before it was adopted in 1962 by the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI). In 1967 this system was also adopted by the British Standards Classification of Typefaces (BS 2961:1967).

ATYPI Classification 1962

Modern Face
Egyptian Slab
Sans serifs
Incised Latin
Hand drawn display type
Fraktura/Black letter


Currently ATYPI has formed a special interest group Type Classification "to discuss, document and critique different typeface classification systems in terms of both existing systems and of new proposals but not limited to the Vox-Atypi system."
More Thoughts on Type Classification
novarese jacno Allesandrini bringhurst
Aldo Novarese

System proposed in 1964
Aldo Novarese, an Italian type designer in the mid-20th century, designed over 200 typefaces. (Microgramma and Eurostile, Recta, Novarese, Metropol, ITC Symbol to name a few).

In 1956 he organized a system to classify type faces into 10 categories based on the form of the serifs. 4, 5

Renaissance Antiqua
Venetian and French

Baroque Antiqua
Jenson, Caslon, Fleishmann, Fournier and Baskerville

Classic Antique
Didot and Bodoni

Serif stressed linear Antique
Egyptian, Clarendon,

Serifless Linear
Futura, Grotesque, etc.

Antique Variants
Latins, Chancelleries

Handwritten/ Broken Scripts
Gothic, Schwabacher, Fraktur, etc.
Marcel Jacno
)Proposed in 1978

It's not often that a designer get their name on their work, but Marcel Jacno was identified on the cover of millions of cigarette packages. The self-taught designer, teacher and type designer was described as "a natural." His work encompassed all facets of commercial graphics, including posters, logos, book covers, packaging as well as a number of fonts. He published "Anatomie de la lettre, in 1978, taught at the École Nationale.

Jacno devised his own system of type classification comprised of only four categories; Linéale, Ancient Roman, Modern Roman and Egyptian. 6,7
Ben Bauermeister
Panose-1 Classification

Proposed 1982 in A Manual of Comparative Typography

A system for describing characteristics of Latin fonts that is based on calculable qualities:: dimensions, angles, shapes, etc. It is based on a set of 10 numbers, which take values between 0 and 15. A fonts thus becomes a vector in a 10-dimensional space, and one can calculate the distance between two fonts as a Cartesian distance.

Parameters for evaluating fonts include family kind, serif style, weight, contrast, stroke variation, arm style and termination of open curves, x-height and behavior of uppercase relative to accents. 8


Jean Antoine Alessandrini,
(b. 1942)
Codex 80, 1979

Born in Marseille, Alessandrini settled in Paris where he pursued a career in advertising and magazine design. He has designed numerous fonts including Futuriset, Showbiz, Vampire, Alessandrini.
Alessandrini has proposed a radical approach to type classification—one that includes all new terminology that replaces terms including roman, italic, upper case and lower case.

There are 19 classes or preliminary designations, plus 2 eventualities (possibilities) and five additional qualifications termed the "lists of extra information."

Below is a sampling of some of the new words Alessandrini invented for his categories;
1. Simplices-
Plain faces or sans serifs
2. Emparectes -
Egyptians with strictly rectangular serifs
3. Emparectes à congés
Letterforms with a rounding between the downstroke and the serif
4. Deltapodes
Delta shaped feed
5. Deltapodes à congés
Rounded deltapodes
6. Filextres
Very fine serifs
7. Filextres à congés
Very fine but "filled in" serifs
8. Claviennes
A wide category including Humanistic, Garaldes, Transitional —serifs shaped like the head of a nail
9. Romaines
Incised typefaces
10. Gestuelles calligraphique
Scripts based upon handwriting executed with a pen
11. Gestuelles brossées
Casual lettering with a brush
12. Aliennes
Any non-Latin script.Etc.
Alessandrini's proposal has been less than enthusiastically received by formal typographic organizations. 9

Robert Bringhurst
(b. 1946 )
Proposed 2000

Renaissance — 15th & 16th century
Baroque — 17th century
Neoclassical — 18th century
Romantic — 18th & 19th century
Realist — 19th & early 20th century
Geometric Modernist— 20th Century
Lyrical Modernist — 20th century
Postmodernist — Late 20th & early 21st century

Bringhurst begins his Elements of Typographic Style with a historical synopsis of his own invention. As he explains: "Rigorously scientific descriptions and classifications of typefaces are certainly possible, and important research has been underway in the field for several years. Like the scientific stuff of plants and animals, the infant science of typology involves precise measurement close analysis, and the careful use of technically descriptive terms.

But letterforms are not only objects of science, they also belong to the realm of art and they participate in history. They have changed over time just as music, painting ar architecture have changed and the same historical terms—Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Romantic and so on—are useful in each of these fields ...Typographic history is just that: the study of relationships between type designs and the rest of human activity—politics, philosophy, the arts and history of ideas."

A Nationally Standardized Type System


DIN 1451
Willy Mengel & Hermann Zapf

In Germany the sans serif DIN typeface family was proposed as a national system of legible, straightforward, and easy to reproduce typefaces. Developed in 1936 by Deutsches Institut fr Normung [German Institute for Standardization] it became the standard typeface for use in engineering, technology, traffic business, traffic, street signs and house numbers.

The design was not meant for commercial use however. DIN 1451 was seen all over Germany on signs for town names and traffic directions and eventually into advertisements.

Typographie, La classification des caractères

Vox image
Vox, Fundador de los Encentros Internacionales de Lure
Design Thinks

Theorie, Design, Graphique
Cooper Union Typography,
Aldo Novarese

Novarese Portrait
Graphic Book

6 Gauloises Image

7 Typography, Friedl, Ott & Stein, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York, 1998, p. 88.
Fonts & Encodings By Yannis Haralambous, P. Scott Horne, p 424.

Fonts & Encodings By Yannis Haralambous, P. Scott Horne, p 411.

Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style, Version 3.0 Hartley & Marks, Point Roberts, Washington and Vancouver, 2004.

IBM has their own classification of fonts for the OS/2 True Fonts that consists of 10 classes and their various subclasses.

Ralph Hermann, Traffic Sign Typefaces: DIN 1451, Link
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