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« Font terms survey results

I had 315 respondents before I closed off my survey on font terms. In general, the results were along the same lines I would have quessed, but less strong/​clear in many areas, and there were a couple of surprises.

(On a side note, I am currently recovering from jaw surgery this past Monday. The surgeon cut through my jaw in three places, and also removed three wisdom teeth. So I’m a wee bit sore….)


There is no consensus, but the overall opinion is that in today’s world of digital typography “a typeface” means the general design, including all its styles, regardless of how it’s instantiated, while “a font” means a single style of a typeface, such as Myriad bold condensed italic, in a specific file format.

This is the same usage I prefer, but I’ll point out that there are some smart people who are prominent typographers who disagree. However, they’re in the minority, even among type industry professionals (which I will sometimes refer to as just “industry” in the results).

There doesn’t seem to be any single preferred terminology for indicating a “superfamily,” which might contain related typefaces, such as Stone Serif and Stone Sans.

The most popular term for a family of only up to four linked font styles, including bold and italic, seems to be simply “family,” to my surprise.

The painful details below are probably only of interest to hard-​core font geeks, and while writing it up I wondered if I was perhaps getting a little too detailed….


I used features of SurveyMonkey to do such things as randomize the order in which different answer options were shown from one user to the next, to avoid any systematic bias due to presentation order.

I analyzed the differences between groups looking at both font expertise and geography (questions 8 and 9). Geography rarely made a significant difference in results, but level of font expertise often did.

(Sorry this analysis has taken so long, I’ve been remarkably busy with other things lately, such as being diagnosed with diabetes and getting a new job. I expect to remain pretty busy for the next couple of months, so my blog posts may be few for a while.)


You can see the survey results yourself, as aggregate results in simple charts on SurveyMonkey.

You can also look at these PDFs I made of the results. Sorry about the lousy page breaks in them, but they retain the formatting of the SurveyMonkey HTML version, and show the various filters I applied:

In general, I didn’t find much interesting difference by geography, and the differences by expertise seemed to be on a fairly linear scale. That is to say, the more “advanced users” were always in between the industry professionals and the regular graphic designers in their take on any given issue. I was most interested in the opinion of industry pros, but if this differed a lot from more common usage, that was interesting, too.


I report below on each question, and commenting when some particular sub-group(s) answered that question significantly differently than the average. I analyzed results by level of font expertise, and by geography.

Question 1

Q1. What are the differences between a “font” and a “typeface”? (You can check ALL that apply)

With increasing expertise, people were much more likely to pick the “abstract design” option and somewhat less likely to go for “more than one style.” Type industry professionals went 73%/48% on these, while average users went 46%/63%, differences of 27% and 15%, respectively.

Given the industry expert responses on question 2, I think one key issue here was that a typeface can have more than one style, but doesn’t necessarily. The other key thing is that there is much more consensus around the definition of “font” than the definition of “typeface.”

Question 2

Q2. When talking about scalable digital fonts, what constitutes “a font” in your mind?

Question 3

Q3. Which of the following elements is part of the definition of “a single typeface” in your mind? Check ALL that apply.

Question 4

Q4. How appropriate would you say each of the following terms is for meaning a single face/​style of a font family in a given format, such as Helvetica Bold Condensed Italic in OpenType CFF?

Available responses ranged from “Absolutely Not” (1) to “Fits Perfectly” (6). So for each term, one can give the average rating on this 1-​6 scale, as well as percentages who gave each specific rating.

Question 5

Q5. How appropriate would you say each of the following terms is for use in describing a style-​linked group of up to four fonts (regular, italic, bold, bold italic)?

Same response options as above, yielding the same 6-​point scale equivalent.

Question 6

Q6. How appropriate is each of the following terms for describing a typeface family with an arbitrary number of styles? For example, they could vary in weight, width, slope, optical size, and possibly other minor stylistic ways.

Same response options as above, yielding the same 6-​point scale equivalent.

Question 7

Q7. What’s the best term for describing a set of related fonts/​typefaces/​etcetera that differ in major design characteristics? For example, there might be a serif, a sans serif, a monospaced semi-​sans, and a slab serif version, each in turn comprising a full type family (or whatever one calls them) of its own. You construct a term by combining an adjective (options across the top) with a noun (options down the left side). This creates combined terms such as “type series” and “font suite.” Please check ONLY ONE BOX for this question, unless you feel there are two or more equally good first choices.

i sort of threw this question in to attempt to explore the question, and maybe narrow the range of reasonable options a bit.

Collection,” “Extended Family,” and “Suite” were the most popular main terms, with optionally sticking in “Typeface” as in “Typeface Collection,” “Extended Typeface Family” and “Typeface Suite.”

Personally I prefer “Type” as an adjective if one is to be used at all, but that was only popular in conjunction with second-​tier popularity terms such as “Type System” and “Type Series.” (The other second-​tier term was “Super-​family” which was most popular with no qualifier at all, or with “Typeface.”)

I don’t really get why anybody would want to put “Typeface” and “Family” in the same term. It seems redundant to me.

Other terms ranked much lower, including “Type Series,” “Typeface Meta-​family,” “Clan” and “Uber-​family.”

Question 8

Q8. How deeply involved are you with fonts and typography?

Q9. Where are you from, and where do you live?

(Update: I deleted the chart version of this, because SurveyMonkey really made a mess of what it did with percentages. But the results are….)

Mostly educated in:

(Adds up to more than 100% because some people checked more one location, and because of rounding.)


Almost identical to the results for “educated.”

[Post updated 8 April 2009 to correct a couple of minor transcription errors. These did not materially effect the results, being differences of 0.5% and 1.5%. – T]
[Post formatting updated 3 May 2011 to work better with current CSS template.]

5 commentsto “Font terms survey results”

  • April 4, 2009
    Adam Twardoch wrote

    Thank you, Thomas, for your wonderful work.

    Below is an excerpt of some documentation I’ve been working on for future versions of FontLab products. We will stick to “styling group” simply because it is shorter than “style-​linked group”, fits better with UI requirements.

    I realize it’s a new, not yet established term, so people are obviously not familiar with it. But I hope through the dissemination of our future products, the terms will become more familiar.

    So, below is the relevant part of my write-​up. A complete version will be included in the manuals of our products, and perhaps also in a separate whitepaper.


    Traditionally, the Mac OS platform has always allowed typographic family grouping of fonts: an arbitrary number of fonts can appear in the font menu under one family name, with every font having a distinctive style name. This allows typographically authentic representation of font families. Many font families consist of a number of styles with different weights (light, regular, semibold, bold, black etc.), sometimes different widths (condensed, normal, extended) and often with accompanying italic styles.

    Some of the fonts within one family are linked together through styling links, also known under the name “style-​linking associations”. A typical styling link is “this font acts as the bold style of another font” and “this font acts as the italic style of another font”. Through styling links, the application knows which font should be used when the user applies italic or bold formatting — typically through clicking on an “I” or “B” icon in the application’s toolbar.

    Some fonts within the typographic family are associated with each other through styling links that have two properties: “is bold” and “is italic”.

    All fonts that are associated with each other through styling links form a styling group. The styling group name is the name that appears in Windows GDI applications as the family name. It is sometimes called “Windows family name” or “Microsoft menu name”.

    The typographic family must be divided into styling groups, each having no more than four members which all must be connected by styling links with each other. Each styling group within a typographic family must have a unique name.

    The styling link name is the name that appears in Windows GDI applications as the style name. It is sometimes called “Windows style name”.

  • April 6, 2009
    johno wrote

    Many thanks for putting this together. A little surprised by some of the results. Perhaps I’ll return when I’ve finished digesting it all.

    The jaw surgery sounds incredibly painful. Hoping that you make a speedy recovery.

  • April 8, 2009
    rm wrote

    I’m a little inebriated, but, all this info exists in texts that have been published.
    People just don’t know where to look for it.
    Refer to Robert Bringhurst for a complete and thorough system of classification.

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