Module 8 Reading: Akzidenz and Sans-Serifs

Nov 20

I had already been familiar with International Type Style’s fondness for sans-serifs, but I never really thought about what fonts the founders preferred to use. Helvetica is pretty much the go-to sans for grid lovers today, so I guess my mind never bothered to go much further when thinking about the beginning of international style. In Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, I was surprised to see that Helvetica didn’t go hand-in-hand with the movement, and that Akzidenz was actually the preferred font in the early years of the style.

Source: http://showinfo.rietveldacademie.nl/akzidenz-grotesk/

Source: http://showinfo.rietveldacademie.nl/akzidenz-grotesk/

We previously learned about the “invention” of sans-serifs in the letterpress days. Akzidenz first debuted in 1898. Sans-serifs, as we know from prior modules, were not used widely by graphic artists at the time; as such, the sans-serifs being produced were typically based on popular serif fonts. One website I came across actually shows the similarities between Akzidenz and its contemporaries Didot and Walbaum.

As the International Type Style gained steam, Akzidenz became popular and inspired multiple modern sans-serifs, such as Neue Haas (now Helvetica). Helvetica quickly took over Akzidenz’s spot as the “go-to” sans, and once again Akzidenz appeared to fade into graphic design history.

Source: myfonts.com

Source: myfonts.com

In truth, Akzidenz has remained a very popular font, though most would not recognize it by its name. In my search for its history, I found that Akzidenz has been adapted for modern technology and is now a best-selling font on myfonts.com. Additionally, Linotype produced their own version of Akzidenz, but called it Basic Commercial to avoid copyright issues. While Helvetica has the name recognition, Akzidenz is really the true “ultimate” sans-serif; it still fits wonderfully in modern graphic design after three centuries, competing foundries and multiple technological advances.

One comment

  1. Michael Day /

    I appreciate this. A friend who is a graphic designer like to use Akzidenz in several weights. Indeed, it is still being used.

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