Designing Mobile Apps
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Erik Spiekermann: The Master of Typography

In the world of typography, this German figure is a star. Erik Spiekermann has designed numerous typefaces throughout his career, among them ITC Officina and FF Meta (the latter is often referred to by designers as 90s Helvetica).

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Meta, based on more rounded shapes than Helvetica, has been used in an endless number of designs around the world. Firefox is no exception and, in fact, selected it for its corporate identity. Erik has worked with the company to create Fira, a Meta-based typeface. Simpler and wider, Fira is easier to read on a screen and is ideal for the recently-launched Firefox OS for mobile devices.

Spiekermann explained that digital environments don’t mean a new condition for typography. Instead, they can be compared to specific scenarios that have existed for quite some time:

Bad resolution, small type, lots of information, readers in a hurry, changing environments —all those are not new conditions and information designers have been dealing with those forever. The screen is just bad paper, as far as type is concerned.

FIGURE 15.1. Meta has become a modern classic and is used all over the world.

However, choosing a font family for an app is no simple task. Searching for those with the best performance on poor-quality printing paper is not enough, and there are certain parameters that should be taken into account. Luckily, Spiekermann came to the rescue and told us what we should consider when choosing a typeface:

Use typefaces that were designed for information. If space is no issue, wider ones are better, if space is tight (and it normally is) use those that work for telephone books or forms (all my faces do, eg FF Info, FF Unit, FF Meta, ITC Officina) like Bell Gothic, Bell Centennial, Lucida (still Apple’s best), plus a lot of robust new faces: FF Tisa, FF Yoga, FF Suhmo.
Low contrast for serif faces, open shapes (unlike Helvetica but like Frutiger) and some contrast for sans faces.

Considering the years of experience Spiekermann has in the area of typographic design, when he speaks, we listen.