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Joanna Nova & Gill Sans Nova

November 05, 2015 by David Sudweeks

When it comes to combining typefaces, my own process is to keep trying until something really works, keeping in mind that it’s the chemistry between the two that holds the thing together. “Design is relationships,” Paul Rand says. I started because we get a lot of questions about pairing typefaces, and because explaining how relationships work (especially in the abstract) is hard.

It’s hard doing it even when you know you won’t be misunderstood. It’s harder still through a medium like this, where terms aren’t clear or well understood. And even when they are, it’s easy to get too specific too soon before looking up and realizing that there are many exceptions to the guidance just given. And at some point I have to admit that there’s a lot I can’t explain because I don’t know — I haven’t figured it out myself yet. So I narrow the focus. I find a combination that obviously works, and we look at it together. I point out a few things along the way, and we both make our own observations from it.

Columns from left to right: Joanna Nova, Gill Sans Nova / Condensed / Shadow & Extra Condensed
Columns from left to right: Joanna Nova, Gill Sans Nova / Condensed / Shadow & Extra Condensed

Today we’re looking at the new Eric Gill Series, specifically our text face, Joanna Nova, and its complementing sans Gill Sans Nova. Though to my knowledge these two were not designed by Eric Gill with combined use in mind, being original works of the same type designer is one solid criterion for finding the unifier that holds the pair together. Jessica Hische mentions this in her piece on upping one’s type game. Then what’s left is to see that your cohesive pair differs in interesting ways. In that regard, today’s pair doesn't disappoint.

Look at the way the taut curves agree across both families. Note the almost silly amount of exceptions to the systematization required to maintain cohesion across a family, and how there is symmetry between those of the serif and its sans. Note the noisy texture of the heavier weights. And note that for all their quirks, both reduce to deliver text pretty soberly. The two support each other well, and together project a round, choral voice.

If you wondered, the series is marked Nova because the Monotype team went back to study Gill’s original drawings and first releases in metal to come up with a type system that’s truer to the original. The planning of the families creates compatible weights for side-by-side setting as well as uniform character sets across the series. Of the updates from previous versions, I’m most impressed by the way Gill Sans Nova maintains a more linear appearance across its middle weights. And I love how Gill Kayo (The heaviest weight of Gill Sans) is not the least bit tamed. Also, there’s a third part to this series that I didn’t yet mention that may be what you’re looking for if you need a sympathetic sans with more regularized proportions. Go check out Terrance Weinzierl’s Joanna Sans Nova. And there are many more Gill Sans Alternatives.

Because the Eric Gill Series was just released with promotional pricing, you can get the whole thing for a very nominal sum. No pressure, just—for your consideration.

Buy this Great Pair