While any choice representing beauty is bound to be very personal and subjective, many agree that the high-contrast typefaces created by Giambattista Bodoni and the Didot clan are some of the most beautiful in existence.
Bodoni was one of the most widely-admired printers of his time and considered amongst the finest in the history of the craft. Thomas Curson Hansard wrote in 1825 that Bodoni’s types had “that beautiful and perfect appearance, which we find it difficult and highly expensive to equal.”¹ In his Manuale Tipografico of 1818, Bodoni laid down the four principles of type design “from which all beauty would seem to proceed”, namely: regularity, clarity, good taste, and charm.
I have to admit that dealing with ugliness was a lot more interesting than revisiting the beauty contests of the classicist printers. The search for ugliness triggers a certain primal, voyeuristic curiosity, and from the designer’s perspective there is simply a lot more space to explore. Capturing beauty has always been considered the primary responsibility of the traditional artist, and even now it is rare to find examples of skilled and deliberate ugliness in type design, (although examples of inexperience and naïveté abound).
The eccentric ‘Italian’ from the middle of the Industrial Revolution was a clear choice. This reversed-contrast typeface was designed to deliberately attract readers’ attention by defying their expectations. Strokes that were thick in classical models were thin, and vice versa — a dirty trick to create freakish letterforms that stood out in the increasingly saturated world of commercial messages.