Keenan Sultanik
Professor of Visual Arts and Media

An Updated Classification System for Typography, by Keenan Sultanik

Presentation Published 10/11/18 Last updated on 10/11/18

Classification systems are a continual subject for debate by designers, with seemingly infinite combinations of categorization and evaluation. The Vox-ATypI system has been long regarded as standard, but with its last revision preceding the computer age, many have determined that it needs to be replaced or updated. Some systems are too complex to be approachable to high school or undergraduate students studying typography for the first time, while others overlook entire groups of difficult-to-categorize typefaces completely. I propose a new categorization system that is approachable to students while including the necessary groups and remaining true to the historical progression from Old Style Serif typefaces to Geometric Sans-serif typefaces. In this system, the focus is placed education and therefore retains the major divisions based on serif and sans-serif, with the incorporation of scripts and display styles.

This new classification system is based on the work of Ellen Lupton, a visual arts professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. Following is a list of the divisions in this system:

  1. Serif: Old Style (Garamond)
  2. Serif: Transitional (Baskerville)
  3. Serif: Modern (Bodoni)
  4. Serif: Slab (Clarendon)
  5. Sans-serif: Humanist (Gill Sans)
  6. Sans-serif: Realist (Helvetica)
  7. Sans-serif: Geometric (Futura)
  8. Script: Formal
  9. Script: Handwriting
  10. Script: Blackletter
  11. Display

This hybrid system is based on the serif/sans/script/display division with several subdivisions (11 categories in total). This would be helpful when introducing type classifications to students and demonstrating variance in emotional connotation, while also remaining true to the historical progression. For each serif and sans-serif sub-category, the representative and historically significant typeface has been provided in parentheses. The complete categorization is displayed in the attached PDF in the form of a pie chart consistent with the information display system from the Parsons Journal for Information Mapping.

I hope this helps other educators as they seek to introduce the exciting world of typography to a new generation of designers!

—Keenan Sultanik, Professor of Visual Arts, West Coast Baptist College

Age Levels
1-2 Hours
Custom Standards
Typography Classification and Identification
ISTE Standards
Students: Creative Communicator, Students: Knowledge Constructor

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