I discovered typography just as I was starting my second career as a technical writer. Just as I had when learning poetic meter, I became obsessed. My newly trained eye criticized every sign I saw on the street and the design of every book I read. As I added graphic design to my list of employable skills, I realized that I wanted to develop a personal typographic brand for business cards, portfolios, and web sites.
After looking at hundreds of fonts and pairing them, I settled on Eric Gill’s Joanna for body text, and his Gill Sans for headings. The combo was classic, but not seen often enough to be a cliché, a balance that made it ideal for my personal brand. Gill thought of himself primarily as a stone cutter, and, like many classical Ancient Roman fonts, you can easily imagine both Joanna and Gill Sans being cut in stone. The result is a simplicity and boldness that makes for versatility.
I went through a period of hunting down every typeface by Gill that I could find, and I might have kept using the combination, except for two considerations. First, a biography of Gill revealed that in his diaries he was a self-confessed child molester. That revelation did not detract from his skill as a typographer or sculpture, but it did make reluctant to tie my professional identity to him in any way, even though few people would have heard it.
Second, several years after beginning my study of typography, I became a free software advocate. The fact that fonts can be used more or less freely in documents makes them something of a gray area in terms of free software, but not enough for my comfort. I began looking for alternatives – ideally ones that I could use with older documents set in Joanna and Gill Sans without any re-formatting.
I found a Gill Sans clone of reasonably in the Arkandis Digital Foundry’s Gillius ADF. It is not a perfect substitute, because it requires more leading than Gill Sans, which makes it less suitable as a body text. Also, its Regular weight is somewhere midway between Gill Sans Bold and Gill Sans Light. However, although I briefly considered using Gillius ADF for the body text in my book Designing with LibreOffice, in the end I was not especially interested in using it for anything except titles and headings.
Joanna was harder to find a substitute. However, one day, I came across Fanwood, a font designed by Barry Schwartz, who is best known for his modern versions of fonts by the American typographer Frederick Goudy. The League of Movable Type site describes Fanwood as based on the designs of an unnamed American-Czech typographer, but as I started experimenting with it, I could have sworn that it reminded me of another font.
Eventually, I realized that three-quarters of Fanwood’s letter shapes were similar to Joanna. Even more importantly, characters displayed in Fanwood occupied only a little less space as Fanwood – not an ideal situation, but far less complicated than occupying more. Since Fanwood included small capitals, old style figures, and other advanced typographical features, I left Joanna behind and have been happily using Fanwood ever since.
I mention this switch because it is one that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago. But free-licensed fonts have become common place in that decade, offering hundreds of choices where before only a few for online display were available before. By contrast, proprietary fonts number in their tens of thousands (at the very least), but one thing that free font typographers have been very conscientious about is offering alternatives for many popular proprietary fonts. As a result, I have been able to switch entirely to free-licensed fonts for my personal branding, as well as the occasional bits of graphic design that I still do – a luxury that makes me glad to live in the times that I do.