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NEWS · February 26, 2010

“Who Shot the Serif?”

[Excerpted from HOW magazine's February 2010 issue, used with permission from the author and publisher.]

Who says the serif is dead? Type expert Allan Haley bucks the sans serif trend, with a look at seven versatile new serif fonts you can add to your type wardrobe. One of them is David Jonathan Ross's Trilby.

Reversed-Stressed Slab Serif

David Jonathan Ross has had a long-standing affinity for the French Clarendon type style. One of his earlier designs, Manicotti, takes the style to its extreme. He said he reveled in exaggerating the "wagon-rut" tracks of horizontal weight distribution. In his newest design, Trilby, he takes a somewhat more serious view of the style. “I'm convinced,” Ross says, “that reversed-stress slabs can offer more to typography than the novelty of gunslingers and swinging saloon doors. There's something enticing about their clunky backwardness that should not be left out of our typographic vocabulary.”

Trilby by David Jonathan Ross

The French Clarendon style emerged amidst the flurry of exploration and eccentricity that characterized Victorian typography – type founders trying to outdo one another with ever more eye-catching extremes of typeface design. Fat Faces, Grotesques, Clarendons, Antiques, Egyptians, Ionics and Tuscans were first drawn during this time. Some of these Victorian styles gained a foothold and, over time, spawned entire genres that are broadly populated today. The French Clarendon, however, never got much beyond the novelty stage.

Ross hopes to change this status. With Trilby, his goal was to treat the reversed-stress style in a more serious fashion, bringing it to the level of functionality that slab serif typefaces have achieved. In doing so, he interpreted the formal constraints of the French Clarendon reversed-stress on a foundation of clear, open and contemporary letterforms.

“Above all, Trilby is an exercise in contrasts,” says Ross. “I broke one so-called rule by reversing the character weight stress, and that was enough to affect practically every other decision I made in drawing the series. On top of the contrast, however, the design is pretty basic, and I think that's what makes it surprisingly useful.”


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